We’re very happy to announce that Yamuna Menon, a 2nd year IDIA scholar at NLSIU, Bangalore, won the first National Constitutional Law Olympiad amongst great odds! She takes us through her exciting journey through this blog post, focusing on the types of challenges she faced and the arduous Constitutional Law exercises she went through to win this. Read on below!
I came to know about the 1st National Constitutional Law Olympiad 2017, organised by ILS Law College in alliance with MKCL (Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Limited) to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, through VC Sir (of NLSIU) and Shamnad Sir (Managing Trustee, IDIA). I was quite hesitant to apply in the beginning when I saw the age group for the Olympiad which allowed participants till age 35. I was unsure if I will be able to do well when the participants would include experienced and learned individuals including law graduates. But, my parents convinced me that such experiences are essential learning opportunities, and should never be given up without a try. And finally, I applied for the Olympiad.
Online Selections and the first Anticipations
The competition subjected students across India to questions on Constitutional Law and Philosophy. Two online rounds were conducted, out of which top 10 students were selected for the Semi-Finals at ILS, Pune held on 24th February.
I had the first online round on 15th January, Sunday. I had installed the necessary software for the exam with visual (camera) recording which was being checked by the examiners. I did some preliminary preparations based on the syllabus provided by the organizers and the general notes prepared by me for university courses. In several places, I made guesses since I could not remember the exact phrases in the constitution. We were provided with a copy of the attempted paper with correct solutions later using which we could raise any grievances.
I was happy to find out that I was selected for the next round. Since I had my exams till two days before this second round on 5th February, my preparations were confined to the last minute. My vacations commenced soon after my exams, and I was preparing for this round during my travel to home and while I was at home. I made sure that I glanced through some important provisions in other constitutions like that of South Africa, Canada, US, Australia etc. And it actually paid off! I was able to remember some of these provisions which helped me answer many questions.
I was ecstatic to find out that I came first in this last qualifying round. I was ready to go to Pune with IDIA’s support. I revisited my notes, prepared case notes, referred to several links provided, summaries and other prescribed materials in the Olympiad website for facing the upcoming challenges.
And off to ILS Pune
The Semi-finals and Finals were held at ILS, Pune. There were several rounds for Semi-finals which tested the research skills of the participants:
- Constitutional Engineering Round – In this round, certain articles in the constitution had to be redrafted to omit the repetitions and avoid redundancies. Word limit was specified. I first looked at the phrases which could be omitted without hampering the essence of the article and then rephrased and combined some of them. This was the round where I realized that drafting provisions that encompass various aspects was not an easy task and this increased my respect for the drafters of our Constitution.
- Treasure hunt – Treasure Hunt had two parts – written test, and the actual treasure hunt. In the written test, there were questions on several features and symbols used in the research databases e.g. for an overruled case. In the second part, certain clues on Indian and foreign judgments like the bench, year and topic were given. Students had to use the specified research database like Lexis Nexis, Manupatra, and Westlaw to figure out the clues. I really enjoyed this round. It was pretty exciting when you found the correct case law and the given clues matched with it.
- Const Quiz Round – it involved buzzer round, puzzle solving and several other questions in quiz format. I do not enjoy quiz rounds and hence was really nervous for this round. It was one of the rounds where negative marking could change your place from first to last. Somehow, I could crack the two bonus questions which helped me move to the finals.
Following were the rounds for Finals:
- Comparative Constitutional Law Round – It involved written and oral presentation. First, the students had to compare certain provisions in other constitutions like that of Canada, USA, South Africa and Australia, and redraft the current provisions in Indian constitution within the specified word limit. Next, the students had to present their main arguments and the redrafted provision on which the judges questioned us. I liked this round as it helped me gain insights about various nuances of a provision. I was asked to redraft the equality and non-discrimination provisions in the Constitution. Comparing the similar provisions in other Constitutions, I found that we have long provisions that address various issues. Adopting some terms and phrases like unfair discrimination, reasonable accommodation, and proportionality, I redrafted the provisions. I also made a presentation regarding this, where I explained the reasons behind adopting such terms from the other constitutions.
- Mock Constituent Assembly – It had two parts – written and group discussion. The written part involved redrafting the preamble and drafting a clause to further agreements with aliens from the outer space. The group discussion was a forum to put forth our views on the redrafting of the preamble and the ‘alien’ clause. This round was fun as we could listen to views of the others and agree or disagree with them. Most importantly, the judges including justices, authors, and jurists also gave their feedback pointing out the solutions that we missed out. I was of the opinion that the ‘alien clause’ will come under Art. 253 (regarding international agreements), while one of the judges pointed out that no amendment is necessary as the alien clause will be governed by the residuary power. While redrafting the preamble, I included some of the concepts related to liberty of opinion, sexuality, decentralisation and so on. I enjoyed being part of this discussion and learned a lot from this round.
- Constitutional Interaction Round – There was an oral presentation (turncoat) for 8 minutes on a given topic. We had to speak for and against the proposition and finally conclude. Then, the judges questioned the students on the given topic. My topic was that Article 370 should be abolished. I was quite happy with this round and was the last one to present. I was questioned by two out of the three judges on other similar provisions in the constitution, the need for Article 370, a recent judgment and sovereignty. I felt relieved after this round as I was very tense.
All these rounds were very challenging and the whole Olympiad was a great learning experience. I could also meet several dignitaries from the legal arena, including Professor M.P. Singh, IDIA’s trustee, and also made some new friends.
It was quite exciting when the prizes were announced in the reverse order. I also received a ‘pagdi’, and wearing it was a first time experience for me. I was able to perform well in this Olympiad and become the winner only because of the God’s grace and the support of many. I must thank my parents for being encouraging as always. I also thank my university and IDIA for all the support.