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Sanchi Chhabra is a Delhi based lawyer who has handled Criminal, Labour and PoSH matters for industry giants. She is an advocate of interdisciplinarity, who is exploring behavioural sciences so as to intertwine them with law. She is also a mental health crusader, trying to use her experiences to make a difference.
She has led campaigns for promotion of menstrual hygiene amongst women and children in the slums in and around Delhi and has been an active volunteer with NGOs like Umeed and Robin Hood Army. She is an avid reader, enjoys Urdu poetry and is also an amateur writer.
Here’s an excerpt of the interview conducted by Team Legal Bites with Sanchi Chhabra
Legal Bites: Ma’am, you been practising law for a long time now. You have worked for famous law firms, sports companies, lifestyle brands and the list continues. But you tend to have developed a deep interest in Psychology as well, after which you have been working to combine law with gender role. What inspired you to delve into the realm of psychology and law combined?
Sanchi Chhabra: Psychology and the study of human behaviour is something that had me interested since school. I used to bunk classes, and sit and talk to the counsellor for hours! Maybe what got me into it was the reason that I myself had been struggling internally and to understand that better, I started reading about it and soon got hooked.
I took up law after school and, when I started litigating I realized how important behavioural sciences were, whether it was dealing with a client, working with senior and junior colleagues, appearing before the Judges or even seeking help from the Court staff! So, when the lockdown began, I signed up for a course on Psychology and now that I’ve got my basics right, I’m exploring social and gender psychology in order to develop a different perspective towards law and crime.
Legal Bites: Ma’am, you have emphasized on the importance of mental health. You have experienced highs and lows in your life a lot too and have been vocal about it. How do you deal with the negativity that comes into your mind at that point, where you are feeling low?
Sanchi Chhabra: All of us in this fast-paced and super-competitive world go through our personal highs and lows that may or may not be triggered by any external circumstances, which is something we need to understand. It makes it all the more important to nurture our health, both physical and mental. But, it is only cool to go to the gym and not for therapy. We need to slowly move away from the stigma it is associated with and get closer towards caring for it.
Mental health needs as much nourishment as your physical health does and once you have a strong foundation you’ll know where to put a stop on your negative thinking.
Most of our negative thoughts come from over-analysing and overthinking about situations that are beyond our control, be it our personal lives or professional.
What helps me deal with such conundrums is by detaching myself from them and thinking as if they’re someone else’s problems and I have to give them advice. Might sound juvenile, but it does help!
We often give better advice than follow, and its simply based on that premise. Another thing I do is write it down. Draw columns on a sheet of paper, write what you think are your options/approaches or pros or cons, whatever comes to your mind. It helps to declutter your mind and bring clarity of thought.
Legal Bites: In this modern era, social media has become an important part of our daily lives. But as you stated once, people often validate their success in life, based on numbers such as that of followers, friends, views and bank balance. How does one preserve sanity while also bearing our self-esteem proportionate?
Sanchi Chhabra: What we as individuals need to understand is that this journey we’re on is ours and ours alone. Unpopular Opinion: It has nothing to do with our parents too! They definitely play an indispensable role in our lives and nobody can wish better for us, but that does not change the fact that the journey is ours to embark upon and take forward.
Most of our lives we’re surrounded by dogmas dictated by the society which includes our parents, teachers, peers and friends, and we grow up an insecure and confused lot.
But when we develop an understanding of right and wrong independent of any conditioning, we can surely make conscious choices for ourselves.
Try to read, and read a lot. Different genres, different philosophers, different authors, push your boundaries of likes and dislikes. Along with that, think. Sit quietly and think about anything and everything. And, you’ll gradually start to develop a perspective of your own. It’ll, in turn, help you understand yourself better, and that’s what the goal is, right?
Get to know yourself better and you’ll stop comparing yourself to anyone else, you’ll stop seeking validation from outside when you’ll be secure on the inside. For those of you who don’t like to read, watch videos, listen to audiobooks and Ted Talks, expand your horizons as much as you can. Am I not being too preachy? *rolls her eyes*
Legal Bites: There have been problems relating to an unhealthy work environment. You took notice of the instances where one ends up working with an unreasonable senior or a junior which, unfortunately, has become a matter of competition among them while nobody addresses the question of the exploitative nature of work in the field of law. Since this is a matter of concern, what are the things you wished happened differently to ensure a better conducive atmosphere for all?
Sanchi Chhabra: I think a lot of people would resonate with the fact that there’s glorification of struggle in our profession. Part of our culture, where one takes pride in being arrogant or it leads to a sense of entitlement. We’ve seen our grandparents proudly tell us how they waded through all the odds and built their lives from scratch while we have always had it easy, which is not true.
With time, types of struggles have changed too and the most demeaning thing to do would be to compare them!
As a first-generation lawyer, I personally have had great seniors and colleagues to work with and I’m eternally thankful to them for giving me immense opportunities to learn and grow from.
However, I know that a lot of law students and young professionals have to go through harassment at the hands of their seniors solely for the reason that he/she is a senior and is entitled to lose it. Those at the receiving end seldom think of it as wrong, but it is a red flag. Identifying a red flag doesn’t seem enough either, as one feels calling it out would mean losing out on the opportunity.
At the same time, it is incredibly important to set clear boundaries for oneself of what is acceptable and what is not. Apart from that, set limits and goals for yourself, and strive to be better than you were the previous day instead of comparing yourself with any other person or standards. It is also imperative to find a mentor to turn to for advice or even for the times you don’t feel too good about yourself.
Legal Bites: Sexual harassment at the workplace is a serious issue and you have taken a stand against it. There are many such cases associated with workplace sexual harassment where a female employee is only chosen because of her sexual value and not her skills. If you could advise the victims of such acts, what would it be?
Sanchi Chhabra: I was a part of a panel discussion recently where my co-panellist was asked the same question to which she aptly replied that for certain positions such as secretaries, receptionists, or sales representatives, it is a pre-requisite to look presentable, not pretty, as they’re representing the firms they work with, irrespective of their genders. That’s one part.
The other one is where a recruiter or a senior might indicate to an employee that she’s solely hired for her sexual value and not her skills, in that case, it is clearly sexual harassment and she should first put it across to the person that it makes her uncomfortable since, in a lot of cases, the perpetrator doesn’t know he is making the other person uncomfortable through his conduct. If that doesn’t deter him, she should go ahead and file a complaint with the Internal Committee of the firm.
Legal Bites: Being a law professional who practices law all across the country, you also give insights to students on methods to help them ace important exams while also pursuing diverse interests, like psychology. How do you manage to get time for these, given the hectic nature of your work?
Sanchi Chhabra: Honestly, I have two things to be thankful for all the time I have, one would be to cut off from social media and the other would be the lockdown period. I actually never thought I could be so productive by only logging out of a few superficial apps! Being a ‘millennial’, the time we spend around these is enormous, be it consciously or subconsciously.
After we’re done surfing, we keep wondering about a certain someone doing so much better than us and backpacking through Europe while we’re stuck at a 9 to 9! So, as soon as I got the courage to ‘uninstall’, I realized what a blessing it was. I began to focus more on myself, trying to better my skills, spending more time on the things I’d put on the back burner since I started to work. I’m not too sure if I’d be able to continue once the running around in the Courts resumes, but I’ll still try to stick to it!
Legal Bites: What advice would you like to convey to the potential lawyers of our country?
Sanchi Chhabra: I often wonder how I would have done law school differently, and I always end up regretting the way I actually did. So, to the ones who’re still in school, give it your everything and make those 3 or 5 years the best experience of your life. I can’t stress enough on the importance of trying out and saying ‘yes’ to everything that comes your way.
Do not shy away from participating or volunteering in any Moot, Fest, Seminar or Workshop, the skills that you acquire from doing these are incomparable to those that you acquire from attending classes!
Although the students today are way ahead than where we were back in our days, I’d still say don’t listen to that one friend who you think knows more than you do, no one knows what’s best for you, better than you. Seek a mentor, talk to the seniors, build relationships with your professors, help out your juniors, go for internships in different fields and if possible, in different cities, organize events, provide legal aid to the disadvantaged, read and write on whatever that interests you, dance or be a part of your college’s band, just don’t leave out on anything that you’d regret later!
Thank You so much for talking to us.