The IDIA project is geared towards the cause of under-represented communities at Indian’s law schools. The project seeks to empower these communities and aims to provide for a diverse crowd at such institutions. A diverse student body would ensure multiple views and perspectives thereby enriching the process of education. The Research and Policy Wing (I-RAP) of IDIA has carved out a niche for itself by acting as the brains behind several IDIA policies. It seeks to evolve a more optimal framework for legal education in the country. The initiative undertaken by IDIA are backed by the research work conducted by the team at I-RAP, which relies on primary and secondary research materials, and other methods of information collection such as petitions, complaints etc.
The team consists of a group of law students acting under the guidance of Prof. Shamnad Basheer (Founder, IDIA) and Vineet Bhalla (Assistant Director, IDIA). While IDIA focuses on providing solution in the present system by working within the contours of the current framework; The I-RAP team intends to bring about a much required change in the system by acting on initiatives and other policy issues that will benefit the cause in the long term. To this end, the I-RAP undertakes research based approach to develop a more inclusive policy for future legal education. Being in a nascent stage, the I-RAP has undertaken limited projects but the impact of such projects has been far reaching. For instance, an initiative taken by the I-RAP in the form of a Note lead to an overhaul of CLAT, 2011 which gave higher weightage to legal reasoning and current awareness, as opposed to static knowledge of laws and history.
Two reasons can be attributed for such a change: firstly, such knowledge is less relevant to a paper which tests legal aptitude, and secondly, the format discriminates against students from lower strata who do not have the means to access such information. In addition, I-RAP also conducts diversity surveys in order to record and review the socio-economic composition and diversity of law schools. The survey highlights the under-representation of students from the economically and socially backward classes, the disabled communities, minority communities, ethnic groups, etc. The list found below presents a brief overview of the projects being currently undertaken at the I-RAP:
1. Note on Reforming CLAT:
CLAT, which was aimed at creating a uniform ground for selection into the NLUs, has failed to achieve this basic goal. The IRAP team, along with IDIA Training and Reading Materials Team is currently in the process of going through all of the CLAT papers and listing out questions that are unfair or erroneous. Questions are being categorized as culturally non-neutral questions, irrelevant questions, and questions requiring prior legal knowledge, questions having multiple correct answers or questions having no precise correct answer. This project is being undertaken with the ultimate aim of providing a fairer test for all.
Pursuant to the note by IDIA (authored by Professor Basheer, Debanshu Khettry and Shambo Nandy), WB NUJS, the CLAT conducting institution in 2011 announced a changed and detailed syllabus doing away with “legal knowledge” questions and with static GK questions. We hope that in the coming years, the proportion of marks given to GK (which is now the joint highest: 50 out of 200 marks) will also reduce, as we strongly believe that GK is not the most important component to test for one’s aptitude for the study of law. Professor Basheer highlighted the key problems with the exam and advocated for reform in an Indian Express editorial here.
The IRAP team also conducted a study on the statistics relating to recruitment by the ‘Big Five’ law firms from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 batches of NLSIU, NALSAR and WBNUJS, and the presence of diversity markers within the students recruited. The study showed that there is marginal presence of students from low-income backgrounds and students from reserved categories among those recruited by the Big Five law firms. The study can be found here.
IRAP has also advocated for a disabled – friendly entrance examination and made representations before the CLAT Committee highlighting the disadvantages faced by students with disability. Click here for the copy of an email sent by Prof. Dr. Basheer in 2012 to the then-CLAT Core Committee Convenor and then-NLU Jodhpur Vice-Chancellor Justice N.N. Mathur urging him to allow differently-abled candidates to be allowed the use of scribes while attempting CLAT. This representation was accompanied by a case note outlining the existing legal framework and judicial pronouncements within which the right of the visually impaired to scribes can be placed, and a draft policy in this regard for CLAT. The CLAT Core Committee agreed with our suggestions, and allowed differently-abled candidates to avail of scribes.
2. Note on Scholarships at the NLU’s:
‘Get learning with a great sum of money, and get much gold by her.’- this line in Ecclesiasticus appropriately captures the significance of legal education in the NLUs as well as its expensive character. While the NLUs impart quality education, this comes with a price beyond the paying capacity of a majority of India. IDIA realizes that one of the major reasons for the lack representation from under-privileged and marginalized communities in law schools is the lack of financial support to fund legal education. Given that NLUs at present have fees of over Rs 1.5 lakhs per annum (resulting in a total fee of over 7.5 lakhs for 5 years), it is critical that we find funding for poor students, who have a good shot at a decent legal education and of improving the lot of communities that they represent.
In the strong need of persuasion of law schools and government to pump in more funds for scholarships, the I-RAP is working further on this Note and will be sending it to high level officials in the government as well as the judiciary. The idea is to bring to attention the inadequacy of financial support in the law schools among the legal fraternity and persuade the governments to offer financial assistance in a need-based approach.
3. The Disability Note:
Law schools today have undoubtedly achieved academic success, but they have been found wanting when it comes to providing support facilities for the differently-abled. Not only is there a dearth of basic infrastructural facilities at present, but also of institutional support in the provision of the most basic equipment for the disabled. At present, the I-RAP is working on a Note highlighting this lack of support through empirical research. The Note will further provide guidelines to law schools to create a disability-friendly environment.
4. Diversity Surveys:
Legal education in India is at the cusp of an ambitious new phase. Indeed, the Law Minister unveiled what he labeled the “second generation” legal education reforms in Delhi a couple of months ago. At this function, the Indian Prime Minister spoke of the National Law Universities (NLUs) as “a small number of dynamic and outstanding law schools” in the country which “remain islands of excellence amidst a sea of institutionalized mediocrity.
Unfortunately, these islands of excellence have become increasingly elitist over the years. A variety of factors have contributed to this, including the extremely high fees charged at these institutions, an entrance examination (CLAT) that now requires extensive and expensive coaching as a pre-requisite, and most importantly, a lamentable lack of awareness about law as a career amongst low income students in small towns, rural areas and other non-affluent backgrounds.
The net result is that the current student composition in many of these law schools lacks any serious diversity and comprises mainly of English-medium educated students from middle class or upper middle class families. The numbers from rural areas, small towns or non-English medium schools are deplorably low. Apart from this, the composition also suffers from under-representation from the economically and socially backward classes, the disabled communities, minority communities, ethnic groups, etc.
The above is more than borne out by the various IDIA “diversity” surveys at the various national law schools.
See the survey results
Meet the team
Visit the team page here: http://idialaw.com/research/idia-irap-team/
Law : A Student Guide is a series for student considering studing law at an undergraduate level. Published by The Guardian, UK.