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An IDIA that democratised law

Funding depends primarily on the milk of human kindness.

Written by Express News Service | Mumbai |
June 25, 2013 12:45:50 pm

This special IDIA was born of the eternal need to inform,educate and empower the voiceless. The problem it faces is as common as it is frustrating — lack of funds.

IDIA or Increasing Diversity By Increasing Access is a student-powered movement that aims at picking out the bright sparks from marginalised communities and training them to become leading lawyers and community leaders. Law,says IDIA managing trustee Shamnad Basheer,prepares them to advocate any cause,and most importantly,their own.

Basheer,who is currently the Ministry of HRD Professor for IP Law at the National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) in Kolkata,conceptualised IDIA in 2010. He handed the movement to students of the elite national law schools (NLUs),and in its third year,they have walked into classrooms in nearly 17 states.

Looking for the ones who otherwise would have never made it. In three years,the good toll is 32 of the 90 found and trained. The scholars include children of stone quarry workers,farmers,clerks,shopkeepers and many others belonging to marginalized communities. Braving severe odds,they managed to make it to the leading law schools. Those who didn’t make it to NLUs have found place in traditional law institutions,and some are even pursuing degree courses in other universities.

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Why law? ”Law is viewed as a dirty profession! We were shooed away by some principals when they heard we would train their students for law. But creating lawyers from the underprivileged is one of the best ways to empower such communities,” says Basheer. ”After all,law and leadership are intrinsically connected and a legal education helps build significant advocacy skills. Who could be better to advocate the community’s cause than one of their very own?” he adds.

The IDIA website says: ”History has shown how an education in law has served as the nursery of great judges,statesmen,even revolutionaries – it has thrown up or produced,relatively speaking,the largest number of great men in public life in all ages and countries.”

The movement also aims to enrich law school students,who choose to make the journey from the ‘privileged’ to the ‘underprivileged’. ”After the course,many of our students join prestigious law firms which furthers their insulation from the ‘real’ India. This programme opens their eyes and makes them socially sensitive. They experience the true power of transformation as they train students from underprivileged backgrounds through the process,” Basheer said,adding,”English is the main problem. So we dedicate one whole year,that of class XI,to teach the language to these students before training them for CLAT and other competitive law exams in Class XII.”

So,these teams have visited a large number of schools across India,from the Sunderbans in West Bengal and Pelling in the North East to Jitholi in Uttar Pradesh and Sopore in Kashmir to Tumkur in Karnataka.

Funding depends primarily on the milk of human kindness! ”But those with good hearts are finite in number,” says Basheer,adding that contributions come in largely from the legal fraternity. IDIA has approached governments for scholarships under existing schemes,like the SC/ST one. They have also approached law schools to to waive fees,”since IDIA is doing their job of enhancing diversity in the classroom”. Corporate and institutional funding is a possibility,but the response hasn’t been good,admits Basheer.

”Our programme enriches the very profession of law. Students from multiple backgrounds bring in more diversity. They and the communities they represent are empowered in return. The process is truly transformative,” says Basheer.

IDIA director Arnab Roy feels ‘passion is perhaps our strongest ingredient. And this is what makes us tick’. Another director Shouvik Kumar Guha says the goal of IDIA is to tell our students how to dream big and then to work towards it. Director Diptoshree Basu says,“The reason I have chosen to be a part of the IDIA family is to experience this raw talent that has been excluded from mainstream India and to play a small role in enabling their inclusion and empowerment.”

What do IDIA scholars say? Yugal Jain is a visually impaired student from Rajasthan. He comes from a family of six with his father,a general store owner being the sole breadwinner with an annual income of less than Rs 1.2 lakh. He started suffering from deteriorating vision when he was in the fifth standard. Having lost his eyesight,he had to start over at the Nethraheen Kalyan Sang in Jaipur,where he acquired basic knowledge of Braille. And he graduated with 75% marks in his Class XII Board examination. Yugal has won many chess tournaments at the state and district levels. His goal was to get a very high score in CLAT and secure a place in one of the premier NLU’s in India. He did that with help from IDIA. He says: ‘’Where there is a will,there is way.’’ He wishes to finish law and then join the Civil Services in future.

He is now in his second year at NALSAR,Hyderabad. Yugal adds,“IDIA showed me that if I reached for the moon,I’d at least get the stars. It not only assisted me financially in pursuing my education,but also offered me a lot of love and support as a result of which I was able to cope with the intimidating environment of a top law school.”

Scholar at GNLU,Donnie Ashok says,‘’I hope to make my IDIA mentors proud and am working round the clock to realise my dream of becoming a top class lawyer.”

His story is truly inspiring. His painter father could only manage to earn Rs 1.5 lakh a year. His schooling was erratic as he had to earn when young. He had to drop out in class XII. Then he heard of IDIA and has not looked back.

For those willing to contribute,all details are on the IDIA website,

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