Access to the national law universities (NLUs) in the country was earlier restricted to the well-heeled and students from big cities. However, the efforts of a city-based non-profit is helping bring diversity in these university campuses by ensuring that students from low socio-economic and disadvantaged backgrounds too get an opportunity to study in these institutions.
Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to Legal Education (IDIA) was founded in 2011 by the late Shamnad Basheer, who was an intellectual property law expert. The organisation trains and mentors students to crack competitive examinations to get into these universities.
This academic year, as many as 21 IDIA scholars have already got into NLUs – which is their highest ever since inception, and around 30 students are expected to get admissions. IDIA funds their education and continues to mentor them once they get into these universities.
One of their trainees - Jai Singh Rathor from Patna - bagged the third rank in the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) 2020 and has joined the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru. He said that he wanted to pursue law but was sceptical as it was an expensive course.
“The annual fees at the law universities is more than my father’s annual income and I knew that I had to get a scholarship if I wanted to pursue this,” he said, adding that he learnt about IDIA through a social networking site.
Apart from financial hardships, he faced another setback as his family members fell ill. Despite all the challenges, ask him what kept him going and he said, “People from lower middle class families like mine have to fight, if not we will not survive. When I saw my father, who runs a kirana shop, stand in his shop for 12 hours, I knew I had to make him proud.”
Like Jai, 69 other students from across the country were chosen as IDIA trainees and underwent training for over a year. Explaining how the trainees are shortlisted, Shishira Rudrappa, Managing Trustee of IDIA said, “We conduct a preliminary assessment to check if the candidates have an aptitude towards law. We also do due diligence to ensure that they are from underprivileged communities.”
The trainees are trained at coaching centres and are also assigned mentors – which consist of students studying in law universities. IDIA has 22 state chapters which are run from 22 law universities.
Another trainee, Abhishek Kumar – a visually impaired student from Koriviched – a village in Telangana district, has secured a seat in National Law University Delhi. He says that it would have been impossible to achieve this without IDIA and his mentor Pooja Bharadwaj. He was inspired to pursue law after IDIA members conducted a sensitisation programme at his college. “As somebody who struggled to get two meals a day, I wanted to pursue a career where I could help people. I chose law as it will help me bridge the gap between the have and have nots,” he said.
Abhishek’s mother, a widow, and his elder brother, are daily wage labourers. He lost his vision in an accident when he was 14 years old and says that his urge to make it “big” has only increased since.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Rudrappa says that IDIA also tried to break the digital divide by providing students gadgets and also paid their internet bills so that they could attend online classes. Eighteen-year-old Yashwant Kumar, who hails from Masaurhi in Patna, secured the 48th rank in CLAT and has got a seat in NLSIU Bengaluru. He said he would be the first person in his family to pursue a graduation course.
Besides this year, as many as 74 of the IDIA trainees have got into NLUs. As for the long term plans of the organisation, Mr Rudrappa said, “Our founder Shamnad Basheer would say that there should be a time when IDIA ceases to exist and all law universities should become more inclusive.”