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Why a course on Harry Potter is absolutely meaningless for Indian law students

Law and literature are entwined. But what good an insight into Potterverse would do to our law students!

 |  5-minute read |   06-12-2018
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Nicolo Machiavelli, the Italian political philosopher, considered to be the father of modern political science, is called a child of his times. To reframe, Machiavelli was a child not just of his times but also of his geography. Thus his acclaimed books, The Prince, The Art of War, and The Discourse among others clearly bear the stamp of contemporary Italian-European politics and Renaissance.

Western approach

However, the above statement is limited not just to Machiavellianism.

In fact, ideology, art, culture, values, rules and laws and other institutions are products of their space and time. By implication, it will be more appropriate to understand and apply them in the context of the specificities of their own space and time.

Western theorists identified this as the doctrine of Cultural Relativism.

It’s a different matter altogether, that the very same colonial/western social scientists themselves rarely showed such sensitivity.

Unfortunately, the ‘English’ ‘Manasputra’ (‘Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, opinions, morals, and in intellect’; ‘Useful for colonial rule’) of Macaulay’s Education in India suffer from the same colonial mindset, even 70 years after independence.

The proposal to introduce a course ‘Harry Potter and its interface with Law’ in Kolkata's National University of Juridical Sciences from winter semester is the latest example of this mindset.

Richard Weisberg, professor at Cardozo School of Law, a pioneer of law and literature, as well as others, advocates the use of literature as a means of discussing legal topics.

They argue that literature reveals a great deal about socio-legal situations of society. It must be underlined here that a literary work in law study would be more helpful to understand the society where the literary work actually originated.

As reported in media, the proposed course professor proclaims that "given the many societal, legal and political changes, including the slew of landmark Supreme Court judgments, law students need to learn to adapt and respond to events unfolding around them".

nujs_120618115432.jpgColonial mindset is still ruling our education sector. (Photo: NUJS)

But because of the obsession with the West, instead of choosing a composition rooted ‘around’ (i.e. Indian socio-cultural milieu) to understand the unfolding sociolegal events, a fiction based in western backdrop was chosen. The course outline points towards the "significance of fictional narratives, mirroring socio-economic realities to mould generations of future citizens".

The moot question really is how understanding British/European socio-economic realities would help to mould generations of future Indian citizens?

It is pertinent here to look at the syllabus.

Topics include: Legal traditions and institutions in Potterverse (the fictional world of Harry Potter); morality, social values, identity and class rights in Potterverse; economy and politics in Potterverse; family including blood relationship and familial ties in Potterverse; religion and destiny, philosophical significance of Potterverse characters. And lastly, there is influences of Dante (the Italian poet-philosopher), Edmund Spenser (British litterateur) and George MacDonald (Scottish poet-writer and Christian preacher) on Potterverse.

Indian context

Many questions arise: Can the Legal Traditions and Institutions in Potterverse be applied to Indian contexts?

Does European morality, social values portrayed in Potterverse reflect the Indian psyche? Are the familial ties and blood relations depicted in Potterverse as close knit as among Indians? Is the European identity paradigm applicable to Indian society? Is the western concept of religion or western socio-economic or politico-social structures relevant to the Indian context? How will the delineation of philosophical significance of Potter's characters be meaningful in the Indian milieu?

Lastly, what is the significance for us as Indians, to learn the influences of Italian, British and Scottish writers, including a Christian preacher, on Potterverse?

Even a layman can infer that this course could be helpful to understand the sociolegal nodes of the West, but has little usefulness in the Indian context. Using Indian writings would be more useful. We have several oeuvres in Indian languages (with their English translations) providing a literary pedestal, opening a new horizon of legal study in India.

potter-inside_120618115446.jpgAren't there enough Indian works on India's socio-legal phenomenon?

New paradigm

Thematic aspects apart, pedagogically also studying socio-legal phenomenon in Indian contexts, using the two main pedagogies — inductive and deductive — through the Potters has its limitations. In the inductive method illustrations are given first, and general principles are derived therefrom.

Reversibly, in the deductive method, theories are presented first, followed by practical examples.

The socio-legal principles derived, using inductive method, based on the Potter's narratives, will be far off Indian realities, whereas applying these derived doctrines to explain the Indian phenomenon by deductive method would be a fiasco.

In fact, the Macaulay model has created an atmosphere of superiority of English/West, where everything is ‘best in west’, which ignores even the glorious features of Indian tradition.

When we call Kalidas the Shakespeare of India, or Samudragupt as India's Napoleon, the comparisons reveal an inferiority complex. Kalidas and Samudragupt, are both above their Western counterparts in terms of chronology, talent and achievements.

English books at even primary classes in private schools betray the impact of the same complex.

Barring one or two lessons, most are British authored, based on British/European social-cultural background, which the children can neither enjoy nor cognize fully.

This is despite the fact that English compositions by Indian writers using Indian settings besides English translations of writings in Indian languages are abundantly available now. Our academia needs to be more cautious keeping in mind the Indian environment and needs. They have a great responsibility while planning and designing the curriculum with a vision which serves the interest of both education and the Indian society.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also Read: American television has been making fun of Indian pronunciation for long. But whose accent is it anyway?

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