LAMP Fellowship Interviews: Interview with Renjini Rajagopalan, NUALS Graduate, LAMP Fellow 2012-13 [APPLY BY FEB 20]

Renjini Rajagopalan

Age : 23 (at the time of the fellowship)

Education(Graduation) : B.A LLB (Hons.), NUALS, Cochin 

Education(Post-Graduation) : LL.M (Human Rights), London School of Economics and Political Science

As a Human Rights Lawyer committed towards societal change, I can think of no better training ground than the LAMP Fellowship. After all, where better to learn the socio-political and economic realities impacting our country than at the apex law-making body in the world’s largest democracy? Our Parliamentarians set the wheels in motion for change when they engage in policy formulation at the national-level. Being able to work with them will enable me to be an active part of this change, rather than its passive recipient. In this Fellowship, I see a unique platform – previously, legislative research, executive action and judicial discretion remained distinct, separate points on the governmental spectrum. LAMP, in its one-of-a-kind venture, manages to bring the three together by affording eager young minds like mine the opportunity to interact with my elected representatives, gauge public opinion, and help make balanced decisions backed by high calibre research.
NOTE: The last date to apply is Feb 20.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself (school, college, hobbies, and achievements)

I’m a human rights lawyer by academic qualifications, and research associate dealing in policy analysis by profession. I grew-up with the ubiquitous tag of a ‘Gulf-returnee’ having spent a good part of my childhood in Saudi Arabia.

My father had a job that took us across the country, and as a result I had to change schools some 5 times before attending my final one in Cochin, which also happens to be my hometown.

I pursued my bachelor’s degree in law from the National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), Cochin, following which I went to the LSE for my Masters in Law, where I specialized in Human Rights Law.

I have a keen interest in working with the community and so have engaged with numerous NGOs and other collectives throughout my college days including Make A Difference (MAD), Rotaract, and the LSE Mentorship programme.

I’ve also volunteered with Detection Action, a London based charity working with asylum seekers in the UK. I’ve always had a keen interest in public policy – an area I was introduced to, and have had the good opportunity to explore in different capacities thanks to the policy think-tank CPPR based at Cochin.

As for my hobbies, I happen to be a bit of a nerd and so love to read and write. I don’t have a favourite genre – I read anything I can get my hands-on, but I have a definite weakness for poetry. Cooking, people watching, and music are some of my other favourite things.

2. What prompted you to want to take this up?

On returning from the UK after completing my Masters, I was very sure I didn’t want to work in a corporate environment. I wanted to do something different with my degree where I’d still be putting my academic qualifications to use, but also bringing about some tangible change to the world around me.

The LAMP offer came in at the right time. Also, from a legal perspective, law students are given plenty of opportunities to observe the functioning of the Judiciary, but not so with the Legislature, which is where the laws are passed.

Being able to contribute to that process in whatever way possible was too good an opportunity to pass up. It sounded unique and challenging and I was excited to take it up.

3. Any ‘application’ related tips.

Be honest in filling up the form and make sure you keep a copy of it with you. Short and precise answers to the questions help. Just answer the questions the best way you know how, by keeping it coherent and concise.

Also, you get the necessary training once you’re chosen into the LAMP programme, so you don’t have to worry about looking like an expert on paper.

4. ‘Interview’ related tips.

I was quizzed on the basis of my CV and the LAMP form, so it pays to remember what it was that you filled in (which is why you need a copy!). Be courteous.

Don’t bluff and answer the question as directly as you can. There is no correct answer.

It is more about finding out who the candidate is, so you can be honest.

5. Tell us about the work you did as a LAMP fellow?

Under whom did you work, where was it, what sort of work did you do? I had the opportunity to work with Rajya Sabha MP Shmt. Kanimozhi from the DMK. I worked from her Delhi office and had quite the coveted opportunity to have home-cooked lunches with her.

Work-wise, I had plenty to do.

It was interesting and covered a range of subjects – refugees, women issues, education, external affairs to name a few– and varied areas of work –committee work, bill summaries, the occasional letter, framing private member bills & questions, speeches, working on a documentary, state-based research etc.

Having been a LAMP Fellow during a very dynamic year allowed me to work on many interesting bills like the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, FDI, Food Security Bill, Land Acquisition Bill etc.

I was also extremely lucky to have been matched with an MP who had a keen interest in human rights related issues which in turn allowed me to put my LL.M into practical use.

My MP and her office were extremely accommodating of me, which was a definite plus. All in all, it was a very positive learning experience for me!

6. Insights/Lessons you gained during the 11 months?

As a self-confessed political cynic, it was quite a revelation for me when confronted with the type of work most MPs have to do on a day-to-day basis. I’ve had many of my biases shattered after taking up the Fellowship, and developed a healthy respect for all MPs.

In many ways, I’ve also become more interested in the political process of my country – I understand, follow and comment on politics far more than I did before.

My work with LAMP has also pushed me to confront topics I’ve previously discarded as uninteresting or too difficult to grasp like economics, finance etc.

I’ve had to work on these issues and find that I’ve enjoyed learning them.

7. Pros and Cons of doing the LAMP fellowship?

There are a lot of pros for me – It’s been a great learning experience, wholesome especially because of the people you come into contact with.

Not just the politicians, policy analysts or government officials, but also the sheer diversity of the LAMP Fellows who come from varied fields and across different states.

I’ve made a lot of contacts, and most importantly a lot of strong friendships. The negatives – I think the LAMP stipend, considering the cost of living in Delhi, can be quite trying for outsiders who come to Delhi for the Fellowship.

Also – and this isn’t really a con, only an observation – much of LAMP is dependent on the MPs you get and how much work they can give you, so you could have periods where you may not have much to do.

That said PRS does its best to remedy this with interesting talks, projects and sessions in between. In any case, the positives far outweigh the negatives, and I’d definitely encourage law students to apply!

8. Future plans.

I’ve very much enjoyed my stint at policy work, so I don’t think I’ll ever completely divorce myself from it. I definitely see myself getting a PhD somewhere down the line – something multi-disciplinary incorporating law, policy and development.

I’m also deeply passionate about human rights, so my dream job would be at the UN, preferably at the UNHCR or the UNDP, which is what I’ll be working towards.

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