Earlier this month, Somerville College announced the Cornelia Sorabji Scholarship in Law, to honour the first female lawyer in India and the first Indian woman to study at Oxford. Divya Sharma, Somerville’s first Cornelia Sorabji Scholar, arrived in October to begin the academic year at the University of Oxford thanks to the generosity of alumni and friends of Somerville.
Divya graduated from the National Law Institute University, Bhopal, in 2012 placing first in a cohort of 85 students. Before Somerville, Divya was practising corporate law in India for four years and after completing the BCL, Divya intends to return to India to resume practising as a transactional lawyer.
‘Cornelia Sorabji is a celebrated figure in India. She is a source of inspiration for many young lawyers, including me. Many of my Indian friends and seniors from college have studied in Oxford and a majority of them are from Somerville. I had heard wonderful stories about the College from them and was very excited when I got an offer to study here. I want to go into academia and am hoping that this course will gear me with the requisite knowledge and skills that I need to become a good academic.
I have wanted to pursue a career in Law from a very young age. I hail from a family full of lawyers and judges and was especially inspired by my grandfathers – one was a lawyer and the other was a High judge in India. As I grew up, I became more determined to follow their legacy.’
Through the generosity of Mr Hemant Sahai of New Delhi, the College has also launched the HSA Advocates Award to another Indian BCL student, Navya Jannu, under the Cornelia Sorabji Law programme.
Navya graduated from Jindal Global Law School in August 2016. She has wanted to become a lawyer from a very young age and has had a diverse array of internship experiences in the Indian Law sector. After the BCL, Navya aspires to become a practitioner and legal academic in India in the area of public, energy and environmental law.
‘In the first semester of my undergraduate year, the first book I picked up was Cornelia Sorabji’s autobiography. To now be studying at her alma mater and on a Law programme in her name is very special to me. India’s first female lawyer and first female prime minister came from Somerville and to be part of that legacy of strong Indian women is something that is really encouraging and inspires me.
I feel that India is at a stage where it needs intellectual leadership to inform the development of laws, particularly in the realm of renewable energy. Here, the energy-environment binary, as true in most developing countries, depicts a collision between aspirations of an ambitious government, anxieties of vulnerable groups and environmental concerns flagged by social agents. Law plays a balancing role in this chaotic paradigm.
In this regard, I feel law students carry a responsibility to engage with the state critically and society constructively, often acting as a bridge between them. I am grateful to Mr. Hemant Sahai for his support in realizing my aspirations and remain encouraged by our shared interest in the same law.’
The Cornelia Sorabji Law Programme is based at the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development, which provides a thriving postgraduate and postdoctoral programme for talented Indian graduate students who seek to lead change on their return to India. The College is actively seeking further funding support for future recipients of the scholarship. For further details, or if you are interested in supporting the scholarship, please contact Development Director, Sara Kalim.