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Nalsar top prof Amita Dhanda becomes first ever prof emerita, to ‘drastically improve research output’ of univ

Prof Amita Dhanda now emerita, not exclusively at Nalsar (picture by Anindita Mukherjee)
Prof Amita Dhanda now emerita, not exclusively at Nalsar (picture by Anindita Mukherjee)

Nalsar Hyderabad academic dean and professor Amita Dhanda has been made professor emerita at the university by the executive council (EC), in order to focus on primarily on research and having been due to reach the mandated retirement age of 65 later this year.

According to a press release from the law school, “she is the first amongst NALSAR’s faculty to be honoured with this title, the highest academic recognition a University can bestow”.

Dhanda commented that she would still continue to do teaching on-and-off, as she saw a “robust relationship between research and teaching”.

However, she would primarily be focusing on research, “anchored” at Nalsar while also aiming “collaborations” with other institutions, she said.

Vice-chancellor (VC) Prof Faizan Mustafa added: “For me it is a matter of great satisfaction that Prof Dhanda has consented to remain with us.

“She is indeed a researcher par excellence and the tallest professor of our university. I am sure under her leadership we will drastically improve our research output.”

“I have consented to the honour and agreed to continue my relationship with NALSAR,” she said. “I am passionate about research and feel may have more elbow room to experiment as well as opportunity to reach out to all those who wish to research with requisite collegial support. Collegiality in my opinion is the single most prerequisite to robust research.”

“Or let us say an encouraging interested environment,” she added. “Prof [and vice chancellor (VC) Faizan] Mustafa has been that secure leader who has unswervingly backed merit, a quality not commonly found in persons heading institutions.

“It is always fulfilling when you are recognised by the institution to which you have contributed.”

“I feel we disseminate the law not reflect on it,” she noted. “Reflection comes with research and deliberation and I am hoping to create triggers for that to happen. Talking and thinking about the law by who ever has the capability to revel in uncertainty and is not in a hurry to wrap up and close.”

According to the university’s press release:

Dr Dhanda, who is retiring effective November 30, 2020, joined the University in 1999 and has since played an unparalleled role in building the institution to what it is today. Prior to her association with NALSAR, she worked solely in research at the Indian Law Institute, New Delhi. Her pioneering work in disability rights, and in mental health law in specific, set the stage for several legislative and judicial interventions at the national level. Her doctoral work, published as Legal Order and Mental Disorder (Sage, 2000), was the first full-length analysis of the legal status of persons with mental disabilities in India. Her co-authored report on the status of persons with mental illness in the jails of West Bengal, caused the apex court of the country to declare the practice of housing persons with mental illness in jails unconstitutional in Sheela Barse v Union of India. She was also a member of the drafting committee which sowed the seed of legal capacity in the National Trust Act, 2000.

In making the shift to full-time teaching, Dr Dhanda brought with her an exacting research ethic and the love of a well-crafted argument. Her teaching encouraged a generation of students at NALSAR to view the world of the law through a critical lens and her trademark course in Law and Poverty pushed the student body to reckon with the structural inequities that the law creates and maintains.

Through her two decades at NALSAR, Dr Dhanda has seamlessly juggled teaching, academic research, legal advocacy and, more recently, administrative responsibilities as the Chair of the University’s Academic Committee. As an internationally recognised authority on legal capacity, she has lectured and taught on the subject across the world. She joined the Ad Hoc Committee tasked with drafting the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as part of the civil society—a member of the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry. She was the spokesperson for the International Disability Caucus on legal capacity (Article 12) throughout the negotiations. The contribution that Dr Dhanda made to the concept of universal legal capacity with support was recognised by the United Nations by inviting her to speak on the concept in order to inform State parties and members of the treaty body. Her writings on the subject have been relied upon in the formulation of the General Comment No 1 on Legal Capacity and in law reform efforts in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, France, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Moldova, Philippines, Poland, Serbia and South Africa. Since the ratification of the Convention by India, the Centre for Disability Studies at NALSAR (which she heads) led the consultative drafting of the Disabilities Rights Act and worked on State Report on Disability to be submitted to the United Nations.

Dr Dhanda strove, through her career, to match theory with practice. She was instrumental in bringing in wide-ranging changes to NALSAR’s academic programme, in order to centre students’ and faculty members’ preferences and to move away from a one-size-fit-all system. Under her guidance the University embraced a reasonable accommodation policy and universalised its application to the entire student body. In time, she has become one of NALSAR’s most steadfast pillars, a source of support in times of crisis and mentorship for students and junior faculty alike. Over the last few years, she has spearheaded two Ford Foundation funded research projects which have supported several young academics and produced scholarship published by renowned international academic publishers.

The Vice-Chancellor notes that it is a matter of satisfaction that the grateful NALSAR family has recognised Dr Dhanda’s institutional and academic contribution and decided to confer on her the the title of Professor, Emerita and our good fortune that she has very kindly consented to remain associated with the University and guide its research programme in the years to come.

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