In its initial phase, IDIA focussed mainly upon two categories of underprivileged communities: economically weaker sections and the differently-abled. In the very first year of operation, we were fortunate in that 13 of the scholars that we trained (from both these categories) made it to the leading law schools. Our biggest joy was the fact that all the 5 visually impaired candidates that we trained made it! Unfortunately, only 2 of the 5 decided to take admission.
With time, we hope to expand out to other categories of “underprivileged” sections. What categories should we include? Caste, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation? Some categories such as “caste” are already addressed (to some extent) through reservation categories at the various NLU’s (National Law Universities) and IDIA has picked up students from within these sections. These categories have been critiqued by many, with the obvious refrain centering around the so called “creamy layer”. IDIA attempts to redress this (to some extent) by picking up economically weaker sections within the SC/ST communities. In other words, by picking up the truly disadvantaged from within the SC/ST group, we’re hoping in some way that we can make “reservations” work better. However, is “caste” a valid marker for diversity and affirmative action? What are the various challenges in using caste as a focus category for IDIA?
Secondly, are the current reservation categories within the law schools optimal? We have around 10 reservation categories at the various NLU’s including one seat reserved at NLU, Patiala for a child belonging to an ancestral family from the village of Sidhuwal. I’m curious as to why this category was instituted and whether it has been filled at all in the past?
What are the key challenges with using “caste” as a diversity category?
What about sexual orientation and/or sexual identity? Of the “invisible” diversity categories, this is perhaps the most invisible, owing to social sanction. The NLU’s are yet to admit someone from the transgender community: can we change this? It bears noting that the CLAT form now provides for this additional category (within gender categorisation). But what use is a mere formal “category” on a form if we do not pave the way for a person from within this community to walk these hallowed halls of allegedly premier legal education?