In what has now become an annual affair in our debating calendar, a team comprising Chaitanya Kediyal, Ishaan Kapoor, Devang Laddha and I participated in the 26th Oliphant Memorial Inter-School English Debates hosted at Welham Boys’ School last week. Having taken home the trophy last year, the onus was on us to defend the title for a consecutive annum – a stratospheric goal that we, with all our frantic preparation, hoped to accomplish over the two-day debate-athon we were soon to face. The plenary session on Friday was quickly followed by our first round. Held in the modified British Parliamentary Format, the method of debating was certainly a departure from the World Schools’ Format that we had adopted at School in recent years; now we would debate in four teams with two speakers (rather than the familiar system with two teams of four). The more salient difference, however, was the style of argumentation. Rather than adopting three or four broad arguments (as is usually done in the World Schools’ Format), we were instead expected to build a case with six to eight arguments along with rebuttals; that too presented over two speeches of a shorter duration. Fortunately though, we’d received our motion the night before which gave us time to adjust ourselves to the complexities of parliamentary debating.

Up against our three competitors, Ishaan and Devang took to the floor as the Closing Government for the motion “This House will ban the release and continuation of addictive videogames such as Pokémon Go!” while the rest of us served as researchers. In arguing against the game’s various socio-psychological and health hazards, coupled with establishing the effectiveness of a ban, we were able to secure the first rank, with Devang being adjudged the Best Speaker. Shortly afterward, we received our second motion “This House will reserve seats for transgender people in schools, colleges, government jobs and the parliament”, speaking again as the Closing Government. Here, Chaitanya argued for the symbolic need of reservations for an oppressed community, while I – as Government whip – outlined the efficacy of such reservations in practice. The debate ended on another triumphant note, with Chaitanya being adjudged as the Best Speaker. After a short (but much needed) break for lunch, we soon delved into preparation for the final round of the day on the motion “This House would limit the powers and freedoms of social media.” As Closing Opposition, Chaitanya presented arguments cementing the importance of social media, both as a method for gaining awareness and support for ideas, and as a peaceful outlet for grievances which serves as an alternative to physical outburst. Ishaan - the whip and last speaker - replied to the debate and effectively refuted the opposing side. The debate ended with a coupled success, for we emerged not only with the first rank, but also with a joint-Best Speakership that was shared by our two teammates. Later that night, we attended an ambient ‘candle-lit’ dinner at the school’s Staff Club, which certainly helped in bringing all some relief from a hard day’s work! After a swift (and short) Saturday breakfast, we headed out again for the next leg of the tournament. Having led the preliminary league, we were pitted in the Semi-Finals against three more competitors: soon to experience one of our most challenging, yet thoroughly interesting rounds. As Opening Government, we spoke to defend the motion “This house will not eat meat”. Elaborating on our humanitarian responsibility towards animals vis-à-vis our occupation of their habitats and the economic impact of meat consumption, the debate proved to be quite interesting, and despite facing a challenge mid-debate from the Closing Opposition, we managed to retain the top spot; the judges sealing their approval for our team’s stately speeches, in which Chaitanya added another Best Speakership to our tally.

Advancing to the final round, we were presented with the motion “This House Believes That universal primary education in developing countries is a misallocation of resources”. While we did recognize the importance of primary education, our team argued that developing nations should primarily allocate resources to deliver priority shortterm goals first (i.e. poverty alleviation through economic growth) and not long term goals that require primary and secondary education. Suggesting an alternative, we advocated for short-term vocational training instead, which would provide people with much needed occupational skills in lieu of, for the time being, complete education. Our efforts bore fruit, and after two exhaustive but truly enjoyable days of debating, we emerged victorious: lifting the trophy for the second consecutive year and taking home a considerable cash prize, with Chaitanya being simultaneously declared as the competition’s Overall Best Speaker. Having put (or brought back) our first piece of silverware this season, the debate was truly a success, and in my hope, will serve as a prelude for successes yet to come.