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NLSIU debaters Vanshaj & Isha Jain interviewed: How they did better than any other law school at the debating world cup

For Indian success in American and British International debating professional strategies should be aligned to overcome presentation barriers

Vanshaj and Isha Jain: A bitterweet success at the WUDC this time despite Western judges not used to Asian styles
Vanshaj and Isha Jain: A bitterweet success at the WUDC this time despite Western judges not used to Asian styles

For NLSIU Bangalore - India’s first ever law school to break at the 36-year-old World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC) – it took a professional debating coach, a voluminous matter file, and “a good amount of luck” this year, said the team.

NLSIU final year student (and Rhodes scholar) Vanshaj Jain, and fourth-year student Isha Jain were the debaters who went to The Hague to compete with around 400 other teams at the WUDC 2017 (also called the Dutch WUDC). The team ultimately came 45th in the competition, after progressing up to the first elimination round – the double octafinals as we had reported yesterday – and competing against Stanford A (the best out of multiple Stanford University teams), Queensland and Western Australia universities before being knocked out.

“Its bittersweet because we did get knocked out in the first round which is a little dissapointing," mused Isha. "Vanshaj is still very happy."

Vanshaj added: “I think we had a very extensively researched matter file, which is a summary of a lot of major world issues and facts to support our arguments, which we had arranged by continent and issues, that supported our knowledge.

“Apart from that the training made us improve the method in which we give our speeches in terms of better and clearer structure, better ways to be compatible during the debate and communicate better.

"And finally, a good amount of luck was involved."

Professional boost

The team had enrolled with a debate coaching start-up called Debate India, owned by IIT Bombay alumnus Souradip Sen and VIT alumnus Jaya Jain, who broke at the WUDC 2015, Vanshaj told us. Sen had accompanied the team to The Hague.

“The coach is really important in the rounds as the nine [preliminary rounds] can be exhausting,” noted Vanshaj. He said that each round lasts little more than one hour, with 15 minutes of preparation for each team and 7.5 minutes of speaking time per speaker.

The rules of the British parliamentary debate styled event require teams to compete in nine preliminary rounds, being matched up in each successive single round with competing teams that acquired a similar rank in their singles. At the end of the nine rounds, the teams with the highest scores qualify for, or “break” into, the elimination rounds.

Traditions reversed

To break, a team requires at least 18 points (collecting two points in each preliminary round), explained Isha. She said that over the last four to five years NLSIU had come pretty close to breaking, collecting 15-16 points each year.

“Almost 90 per cent, or a very large chunk of the teams that come here, have judges who are either American or British.The teams that do well are Harvard A, Yale A, Stanford A, Oxford A. They compete against each other regularly. The judges are literally friends with them often and have biases against [Asians’] manner of speaking, which is very different from [American or British styles],” commented Vanshaj.

Isha added: “In a lot of these colleges there is a stricter culture of preparation that goes into these debates, while we are just figuring out the sort of preparation strategies that go into international tournaments.”

She said that coaching with Debate India was something they did differently from previous NLSIU teams.

The NLSIU culture

At NLSIU, through annual internal rounds, aspiring debaters are given ranks according to which they are allowed to apply for the national and international debates they want to take part in. As preparation for these debates, the final year and fourth year students coach the junior year students, also with the help of NLSIU’s debating manual.

Vanshaj and Isha also progressed this year to the quarter finals of the Asian British Parliamentary Debate – the largest parliamentary debate in Asia - and have participated in a few national parliamentary debates as well, together as a team as well as in teams with other NLSIU debaters.

The world’s best debaters

The other participants from India in the Dutch WUDC were a team of adjudicators from NLSIU – Ritika Ajitsarya and Anubhuti Rabha, and a team of speakers and adjudicators from IIT Bombay. The NLSIU adjudicators’ team did not break this year, while the speakers from IIT Bombay broke up to the quarter finals. (NLSIU alumnus Vipul Nanda has broken previously, as an adjudicator, at the WUDC, Vanshaj said.)

The semi-final and final rounds are being held today at the event. One team from Asia made it to the semi finals, Isha said.

Being the largest and the oldest among parliamentary debating events in the world, Isha said that not only was the quality of debating showcased here, extremely high, but the diversity was huge.

“To be able to qualify you do have to meet a very high standard, higher than any other debate in the world. Also there is a huge amount of diversity – we were trying to reach an extremely wide audience. So at the Worlds you have to adopt a speaking style [keeping in mind] that the judges can be from any country at all,” she remarked.

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