By Mrityunjay Joshi, Campus Leader at Lawctopus and a 4th Year Learner, SLS Noida
Ms Shiwani Agrawal is a young law student who has the potential to make a change in society. She is a brilliant student who is good at studies as well as in Extracurricular Activities. She got the prestigious Felix scholarship and is also the founder of “Break the Silence” Campaign. This interview has been taken by Mrityunjay Joshi.
Hi, Shiwani. Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hey, I am Shiwani Agrawal, a law graduate from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. I am from Forbesganhj, a small town on the border of India and Nepal in Bihar. I will be pursuing LLM in Human Rights, Conflict, and Justice from SOAS, the University of London in 2022-23. I like reading and animals.
Tell us something about your childhood and school life.
I come from a small town in Bihar, called Forbesganj. I went to boarding school at a very young age, so most of my memories are based around dorms and hostels. I studied at multiple schools, some of the most impactful ones were St. Helen’s Convent in Kurseong and Scindia Kanya Vidyalaya in Gwalior.
What made you pursue law? Are you a first-generation lawyer?
I studied commerce in my 11th and 12th, but I would try to borrow and read books from my friends who were studying Arts, so my interest was always in history and political science.
I took a drop year after my 12th, where I was studying Political Science in Calcutta, while simultaneously preparing for law school exams because I realised that law is one of the most powerful methods to help people and deliver justice.
Yes, I am a first-generation lawyer.
What was your student life like at Symbiosis Law School? Would you like to share your favourite memory of law school?
I think everyone studying law or any long professional course has their own set of ups and downs, and mine was no different. I was actively involved in every event that the college hosted, and I absolutely loved the dramatics society. I also cherished the fact that there were campus dogs around always.
Haha, there are too many good memories to choose from, but I think what I like the best was the tradition that we began – during every social event we scheduled a section for climate change and diversity inclusion conversation. That was really productive and interactive, or so I would like to believe.
Tell us about some of your internship experiences during your law school journey.
My internships were mostly at NGOs or Think Tanks. The ones that I enjoyed the most were at MAP (Migration and Asylum Project), where I got a chance to work with internal and other displaced communities, along with Agnagnwadi and ASHA workers.
Another one was at India Migration Now, where I worked on internal migration, climate change-induced migration, labour laws etc. And of course, my favourite one was the Baala Fellowship.
Tell us something about ‘Project Baala’ and ‘Break the Silence’? Would you like to share some of the experiences of field visits made by you in the furtherance of these projects?
I started doing the Project Baala fellowship in my 3rd year. It was a very enriching experience because I got the opportunity to work alongside many dynamic women, and learn things from them. Project Baala provides sustainable menstruation choices to women through new innovative products that facilitate safe periods and seeks to end period poverty.
We travelled across multiple villages in Mirzapur, Alwar, Indore etc, to conduct workshops on sustainable menstruation and to distribute sustainable sanitary napkins in an attempt to reduce period poverty.
Break the Silence was my own brainchild, I started it back in 2018, with a local NGO in my town, and soon after, I converted it into a campaign of its own. We conceptualised age-wise modules for sexuality education and travelled across Bihar, Nepal, and Gujarat to deliver workshops.
SOS- Sexual abuse.
I think some of my experiences with Break the Silence have been very heartbreaking because the motive of the campaign is to empower people to speak about their abuse. For example, I once visited an orphanage in Nepal, where students spoke up about harassment that they faced by one of their teachers.
It was the first time that we saw an actual impact from the workshop and we did everything in our capacity to handle the situation. Another workshop in a school in Gujarat resulted in a teacher speaking up about how she had to vacate a flat in her society because a neighbour would abuse her daughter, but no one in the society believed it.
So although empowering, these workshops require a lot of strength for one to deliver.
Your profile depicts significant contributions made by you towards social services. What drives you to work in that area?
I think my upbringing and experiences have always taught me to work towards the betterment of society and of those in need. Like in my town, even if it rains for 2 hours, all the roads are blocked and flooded, this made me want to study climate change and infrastructure.
My experience with abuse drove me to help out those who might be in a similar situation or to avoid any similar situation from happening ahead.
Recently, you were awarded the ‘United Nations Volunteers Award, 2021’? How did it feel? Would you like to walk us through all the hard work that went into winning the award?
I was beyond elated and grateful, of course.
Starting Break the Silence was not tough because I was working with a local NGO then, but taking it to a bigger level was because of all that I had to do alone. It was only last year, that other people joined and it became a full-fledged movement.
I think the most difficult part about doing these workshops is where one has to persuade the institutions where the workshops are to be delivered since both sexuality education and sustainable menstruation are taboo topics in most parts of India.
Then, to keep the momentum going while studying a course as indulging as the law was also difficult. But when your heart is in the right place, and you are working for what you want, things fall into place.
What is that one change you wish to bring in the society through your social services?
That is a very difficult question because you know there are so many intersections to all the issues, that one can not look at simply one issue and ignore the other.
For example, climate change-induced migration leads to trafficking, which in turn leads to sexual exploitation of the vulnerable set of people- this involves, Rights of Women and Children, Protection of Rights of minorities, Accountability from the administration and the need for policy changes.
So I think the intersection of social issues has to be kept in forefront of all policy recommendations.
Now that you have graduated, what are your future plans? Any plans for further studies?
Haha, that still sounds unreal, but I have accepted an offer from SOAS- School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, where I was granted the fully paid Felix Scholarship, to study LLM in Human Rights, Conflict, and Justice.
Any parting words for the budding lawyers/young law students reading the interview?
I think, just explore everything before deciding what you like, and once you do find what you like, work ardently towards it.
This Interview is a part of our Star Student/Faculty interview series wherein our campus leaders interview the star student/faculty of their college. Stay tuned for more!