A well-received lecture back in college, and the belief that history could be taught engagingly is what made V.S. Elizabeth make inroads into teaching. What ensued was not only a career in academics, but also an engagement with issues of gender and the need for a feminist perspective in law. She is now Additional Professor at National Law School of India University (NLSIU) at Nagarabhavi.
Elizabeth, who joined NLSIU in 1991 to teach history, recalls a time when she stayed on campus, and virtually all the commercial activity in the vicinity would shut down when the students of the various institutions were not around.
“Earlier, there were only educational institutions around here, and the small shops like photocopying shops relied entirely on the students for business. So when the institutions closed for breaks, the shops had to close too,” she adds.
But, that was then. “From being totally isolated with only one BMTC bus an hour, and having to travel to Vijaynagar to eat out, Nagarabhavi has come a long way. The auto drivers no longer ask where Nagarabhavi is and there are many residences and layouts.”
When asked about how the character of the neighbourhood has changed, she feels the semi-rural area that Nagarbhavi once was, is fast waning. “We have basically encroached upon what was once a rural area. So, on the one hand you have well-planned and broad layouts like the Income Tax Layout and on the other you have tightly packed small, old houses. Though it is called Nagarabhavi Circle, there is no circle anymore. The cattle used to sleep there and there used to be a vegetable market there.”
After she joined NLSIU to teach history, Elizabeth completed her law degree in 1997 by attending evening classes in a college affiliated to Bangalore University. Gender sensitisation among law students as well as those in the legal profession is vital, she believes.
On gender issues
“Once at an International Woman's Day conference in the city, a panchayat comprising of women members was asked how they would use Rs. 2 lakh for the betterment of the village. We would say infrastructure, roads, and so on, but they said that they would build toilets.” So it is always about perspectives, she points out.
“You cannot use a top-down approach,” she adds
She adds that women, much like any other marginalised section of society, do not get justice because decisions, opinions and evaluations of situations are made through ‘upper caste', upper or middle class and male perspectives. Law, she is says, is not made, interpreted or taught in a vacuum.
“We need to understand the socio-economic, political and historical context.”