The Centre for Law and Policy Research (CLPR) in collaboration with its partnered Indian and American universities is organising a series of workshops on U.S.- India Comparative Constitutional law in October and November 2021. Four Indian law universities have been paired with four U.S. law universities for an interactive session. These workshops are supported by the U.S. Consulate General, Chennai.
On the 23 and 24 October, CLPR kickstarted the series with its first virtual workshop with students of Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University, Chennai (TNDALU). The very engaging interactive session had the pairing of the students of University of California Los Angeles School of Law, Los Angeles and TNDALU. The workshop was attended by over 40 enthusiastic students from the two Universities and 10 others including faculty members, U.S. Consulate staff and the CLPR team.
The workshop sessions were rigourous with discussions and simulation exercises that focused on critical constitutional law issues such as equality and affirmative action with a U.S. - India comparative framework.
The first workshop was divided into four distinct sessions:
The first session, ‘Constitutional Founding’ recounted the constitutional stories of U.S. and India. This was followed by students discussing critical institutions and processes that informed the democractic foundations of the constitution making processes in both countries. With this background, the second half of the session focused on originalist conceptions of the doctrine of separation of powers in both countries. After understanding the framers' views on separation of powers, the students participated in a simulation activity where they evaulated the U.S. and Indian perspectives on separation of powers between the executive and judiciary. To tie together the discussions and activity with larger theoretical questions, Prof (Dr.) Pritam Baruah (Dean at the School of Law, BMU Munjal University) delivered a special lecture on 'how founding moments chose to articulate common projects through distinct values in the two countries and how that has unravelled in different ways for each'.
With an understanding of the constitutional stories of the two countries from the first session, the second session devled on the constitutional value of equality. Titled, 'Merit and Affirmative action in Education', the session concentrated on constitutional and legal provisions on equality and non-discrimination in both U.S. and India. Student discussions invoked these provisions to discuss the concept of merit and its relationship with affirmative action. Students deliberated on the idea of diversity and affirmative action in the U.S. and participated in activities that helped them use the constitutional framework to understand contemporary issues on affirmative action in education - particularly qualification exams and minority considerations during the application process. Prof. Sidharth Chauhan, (Assistant Professor at NALSAR University of Law) concluded the session with his remarks highlighting the need for examining alternative measures/ structures in addition to reservation, the need for an interdisciplinary approach while deciding the beneficiaries of affirmative action and examining the social and cultural capital when determining ‘merit’. This session pushed participants to ponder about formulation of equality claims with respect of affirmative action and merit.
While the second session highlighted the relationship between merit and equality, the third session took a step back with understanding the place for affirmative action in the constitutional design of the two countries. With the participatiin of students from UCLA and TNDALU, the session witnessed diverse views and perspectives on affirmative action in education. In this session students discussed the affirmative action architecture in U.S. and India and eagerly participated in an activity which required them to design an admission policy to ensure a diverse student body at a university. The activity encouraged students to reflect on the rationale for affirmative action, forms of affirmative action and the role of the state in enforcing affirmative action. This was followed by Prof. (Dr.) Stephen Gardbaum’s, (Professor at University of California Los Angeles School of Law) speech on the trajectory of affirmative action in the U.S. after 1978, different forms of affirmative action and how contemporary political positions inform affirmative action programs in U.S. and India.
The final session on 24 October 2021 began with a summary of the discussions and reading material used in the first three sessions. It was followed by an essay competition where students were given one hour to write an essay reflecting on the reading material and discussions. Students used this time to think about the issues and concepts discussed and to indulge in a form of comparative enquiry into the constitutional themes. The purpose of the essay was also to help students explore the subject further. The top 2 essayists will be invited to attend the grand finale in December 2021. Prof. Ranjit Abraham, (Assistant Professor at Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University) concluded the session with his remarks.
Students participated in workshop sessions with enthusiasm and have expressed interest to engage further with U.S. – India comparative constitutional law themes.