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Legal education in India: How IDIA is revolutionizing it

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Legal education in India is the passport to a better and brighter tomorrow!

legal education in India
(Source: Anthony Messeh)

Welcome to IDIA (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to legal education)!

IDIA is a student run nation-wide movement. And it aims to promote legal education in India. It all started from the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS). The IDIA founder and current managing trustee, Prof. Shamnad Basheer, was teaching there. That’s when the idea took shape. He noticed the lack of diversity among the background of students in classrooms.  This made him decide to do something about it!

The lack of diversity in law colleges is a grave problem. It squarely translates into lack of diversity in the legal profession. Legal profession should ideally reflect the demography it serves. And this starts right at the stage of legal education in India itself. Moreover, diversity in the classroom is important for a holistic educational experience too. Access to law education further empowers communities. Especially those that have to rely on sporadic legal help due to lack of access to legal resources.

IDIA aims to bridge these gaps by creating lawyers and community leaders from within the underrepresented and marginalized communities.

In 2010, Prof. Basheer walked into a school in Pelling, a quaint little town in Sikkim. Of course, along with handful of volunteers. The rest, as they say, is history. They spoke to the students about law, legal education in India and law as a career. Or, as they now call it, conducted the first ‘sensitization session’. They made an aptitude test on the spot to select deserving students. This was for training them to crack law entrance examinations. Since then:

  1. 28,000+ students have been sensitized to see law as an attractive career option
  2. 300+ students have been selected and trained for law entrance exams. Out of them, 123 students have cracked it
  3. 97 IDIA scholars took admission to various law schools across India
  4. Of the 65 IDIA scholars currently studying at the law schools:
    • 49 are in NLUs
    • 16 are female
    • 13 are visually impaired
    • 21 belong to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  5. 30 of their scholars have already graduated from law colleges. And are now pursuing diverse careers. Ranging from litigation to law firm work. And from preparing for the civil service exams to even working in-house, etc.

So, what does IDIA do?

IDIA is a pan-India project to empower underprivileged communities. Via law education. 400 highly passionate student volunteers run IDIA. For promoting diversity in legal education in India. They travel across the length and breadth of the country. And sensitize underprivileged students regarding the empowerment potential of the law. They identify marginalized students with an aptitude for the study of law. And then they train them over a 1-3 year period for the leading law entrance examinations.

The first step is to make the trained students get admission. Then, IDIA takes care of the entire cost of their education via sponsorships or scholarships. IDIA also provides mentorship and academic support to help them blossom to their full potential. This helps them take their rightful places as leading lawyers and community advocates. And promotes diversity in the field of legal education in India.

legal education in India - kyabae
(Source: Education World)

Additionally, IDIA has various verticals and programmes. This enables a translation of its vision at both the micro and macro level.

These are:

  • CHAMPS: The CHAMPS training programme delivers rigorous academic support and mentorship. Alongwith a specialized leadership training to IDIA scholars. The aim is to transform them into community leaders and lawyers who are “Creative, Holistic, Altruistic and Maverick Problem Solvers”. Or “CHAMPS”. You can find more information on this form of legal education in India here.
  • IDIA Research and Policy (IRAP): This vertical undertakes high level research and policy advocacy. It is aimed at creating a more diverse and inclusive legal ecosystem.
  • IDIA Disability Access Programme (IDAP): This vertical provides academic and other support to differently-abled IDIA scholars. Particularly to those who are visually impaired. Additionally, it also advocates for systemic changes in law schools. And within the wider legal ecosystem as well. To make spaces more accessible for persons with disabilities.

There is another unique initiative..

  • Promoting Public Interest Lawyering (P-PIL): This vertical seeks to further the cause of public interest. This is done via litigation and related policy intervention. To this end, it brings together pro-bono lawyers, academics and students. It also aims to deliver clinical style legal education in India to IDIA scholars. They involve them in such litigations and have them liaise with the lawyers on the case. Till date, this vertical has undertaken a number of significant PILs in court. An example is a challenge to a proposed age-limit imposed by the Bar Council of India for the study of law.
(Source: IDIA)

Meet an IDIA scholar

This paragraph will take you through her story. Firstly, Karthika Annamalai spent her childhood with her single mother. Secondly, her mother worked in a quarry breaking stones. Shanti Bhavan supported her then. It is a non-profit organization for children from economically and socially deprived families. Inspite of her circumstances, she made up her mind. Karthika had then itself decided that she would become a human rights lawyer. It was her dream to fight against the many social injustices that exist in India. Many of which she had witnessed in her own family and community. That made her intention of studying in the field of legal education in India stronger.

In her own words, Karthika said:

I hope that working in the law field in India will provide me the skills that I need. To one day alleviate poverty and injustice on a broader scale, hopefully in a political position in India.

IDIA provided her with appropriate training and guidance. After which, Karthika secured an admission at NUJS. During her tenure at the law school, she won many accolades. In addition, she was also one of the top 50 participants in the Budapest Forum. Which is the final stage of the Global Debate and Public Policy Challenge (GDPPC). She competed against renowned and accomplished candidates from all over the world. Upon graduation, Karthika was recruited by AZB & Partners. It is a premier law firm in India. Moreover, the media also reported the inspiring journey of Karthika.

Thanks to her legal education..

Karthika took a step forward to help empower her own community. Thanks to her empowerment via pursuing legal education in India. She was one of the group members of the team which kicked off the pilot phase of the CHAMPS programme by scheduling a visit to her village. During the visit, the team spoke to the villagers at length. In addition, they discussed ways which secure employment for individuals with higher education degrees. Otherwise, these teens had been forced to work in the quarry due to paucity of jobs elsewhere.

The journey of Karthika is truly inspiring. Most importantly, she never allowed her past to prevent her from scaling to great heights. Additionally, her story has definitely contributed towards the change in the mindset among the communities. Especially in relation to the education for the girl child. In addition, a blog post on the IDIA website contains a detailed account of the visit.

How can you help?

IDIA is constantly looking to partner with individuals and organizations. And their partners include NGOs working with marginalized communities, law entrance coaching centres, training organizations, scholarship awarding partners, etc. Moreover, if you or someone you know would like to partner with them, email them at [email protected].

Additionally, if you’d like to share your experience with the legal education in India, click here.

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