A look at IDIA’s effort to break the elitist barrier and help the less privileged join law schools

It began as a chimera, a Utopian dream. Equal opportunity for all, irrespective of their caste, class and creed, is a constitutional dream. The team of IDIA (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access) found this dream worth chasing.

Shamnad Basheer, Professor at National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, was the pioneer of IDIA, which sees participation of students of National Law Universities around the country in reaching out to the less privileged students, to make law education accessible to them.

“There is no diversity in classrooms of premier law schools of the country, which is important to improve debates within a classroom,” says Prof. Basheer, an alumnus of NLS, Bangalore. IDIA aims at diversifying the student crowd at these ‘elitist’ universities by empowering the less privileged factions of society. Belief in the proverbial ‘law as an empowering tool’ is IDIA’s mission statement. “Students, irrespective of their background, should have access to it,” says Prof. Basheer.

The barriers to entry into these law schools are myriad. It begins with a lack of awareness about law as a profession. It costs Rs. 3,000 to just take up the entrance test, and the tuition fee of law schools is around Rs. 1.5 lakh per annum, culminating as other dissuading factors.

The format of the entrance test itself poses much challenge. Requirements of proficiency in English, thus leaving the students educated in vernacular languages in the lurch, and prior knowledge of basics of law (as witnessed in CLAT, 2012) giving rise to a need for training at expensive coaching centres, pose more hurdles.

IDIA tries to solve these problems with a three-pronged approach. One: provide awareness about law as a profession and identify promising students from poor, rural background; two: prepare them for CLAT; and three: waive tuition fees of law schools for successful candidates.

An all India eligibility test, INAT (IDIA National Aptitude test), is conducted to identify promising students. This year, 44 INAT scholars were trained and 11 of them cleared CLAT all over India. Of these, nine scholars were trained by the Bangalore chapter and two cleared the CLAT to take admission in NLSIU and NUJS.

The success stories of these two ‘IDIA scholars’, as those chosen through INAT are referred to, can be attributed to the efforts of these IDIA volunteers of NLSIU. The nine chosen scholars were given free boarding at the NLSIU campus for the duration of the training.