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Why This Lawyer Made The CJI Proud

March 27, 2024 09:14 IST
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'The most powerful lesson I have learned is to observe discipline, always show up and work hard enough if you have the will to win.'

IMAGE: Pragya Samal being felicitated by Chief Justice of India Dr D Y Chandrachud, March 13, 2024. All Photographs: Kind courtesy Pragya Samal

Ajay Kumar Samal dreamed big and migrated to New Delhi as a young man from Sunapal, his tiny village of 1,000 plus farmers, in Jajpur district, Odisha, and eventually found work as a cook in official capacity at the residence of a Supreme Court judge.

His daughter Pragya, 26, dreamed much bigger.

Growing up in the magnificent shadow of the domed Supreme Court, on the capital's Tilak Marg, a building whose design was grandly and idealistically patterned on the scales of justice, "fascinated" both by advocates and judges, she aspired determinedly to become a lawyer.

In 2021, she earned her LLB from Amity University, after completing her bachelor's in commerce from Delhi University and her matriculation from the Air Force Senior Secondary School in New Delhi.

But she continued to dream and applied to a number of colleges in the US to do her master's in law and was accepted, some offering tidy scholarships too, in several prestigious law schools including Columbia, UC Berkley, University of Pennsylvania and Chicago Law School.

She hasn't finalised her choice, "I haven't decided that yet, but I am inclined towards the Chicago Law School."

Working at present at the Supreme Court's Centre for Research and Planning, Pragya's CV is packed with clerkships at the SCI and internships with several Supreme Court judges, and the 28-odd years of service her father put in with judges, she recalls quite definitely rubbed off and influenced her.

"Right after matriculation, I was called upon by the Supreme Court Employee's Welfare Association, who wanted to reward me for my academic performance. That was the first time I entered the Supreme Court premises.

"The memory of walking down the corridors of the Supreme Court, my father's hand firmly clasped in mine, remains vividly imprinted in my mind. As we approached to receive a letter of merit acknowledging my excellent performance in matriculation, the room erupted in applause, my father's beaming face reflected the pride that swelled within us.

"This incident at the Supreme Court, where the very essence of justice echoed through the halls, played a pivotal role in shaping my aspiration to become a lawyer."

IMAGE: Pragya Samal at the Supreme Court.

Her father, she says, helped her carry her hopes ahead, nurturing them and influenced her and siblings, an elder brother and younger sister. "My father neither had much formal education nor much income. Even though we experienced financial constraints, he always encouraged me to aim big. He always inspired me by using that famous quote: 'Shoot for the stars, so if you fall, you land on a cloud'.

"First and foremost, he is a very hardworking and disciplined man. The most powerful lesson I have learned is to observe discipline, always show up and work hard enough if you have the will to win."

Apart from her dad, Pragya feels there have been several wonderful people who have had her back and rah-rahed along the way, buoying her up so she could reach her goals, no matter how lofty or how much tough work they required.

Interning with judges gave her a ringside seat of the judicial process and insight into how decisions are made and how both lawyers and judges operate.

"I could not have achieved anything without the support and constant encouragement of my parents during my academic and professional journey. I'm deeply indebted to my guide and constant support system, (her mentor) Rinku Patnaik Ma'am. It would be impossible to count all the ways she has financially helped me while I was in law school. Further, my senior mentors and peers have been my certainty, clarity and courage in all kinds of difficulties and concerns."

After eventually receiving her master's in the US (that she said earlier would likely excitingly involve "Socratic dialogue, seminars and stimulations"), Pragya says, "I wish to establish my career as a lawyer advocating for civil rights in conjunction with my studies in Constitutional law and public law."

Meanwhile the beautiful memories of the felicitation ceremony on March 13, thoughtfully and sweetly organised in her honour, at the judgeS' lounge, in presence of Chief Justice Dr D Y Chandrachud and other Supreme Court judges, and the standing ovation a beaming Pragya got, will be enough encouragement to launch her on the road to her master's in America and working for justice wherever she is in the future.

She was presented with several books on the Constitution of India, signed by the bench and CJI Chandrachud, one of her role models.

"It was a memorable day for me as a lawyer -- I am going to cherish those moments forever. While congratulating me, he said, 'It's a matter of great pride for all of us' and 'We know Pragya has managed something on her own, but we will ensure she manages to get whatever is required... We expect that she should come back to serve the country'."

Glimpses from Pragya Samal's felicitation ceremony:













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