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'Mass movement' for more diverse legal profession kicks off at NUJS


NUJS Kolkata professor Shamnad Basheer has begun a pilot project to increase access to the legal profession to those from poorer backgrounds, seeking to grow it into a mass movement with funding and involvement from lawyers and students across India.

Basheer and four NUJS students visited a government senior secondary school in the town of Pelling in the North-Eastern state of Sikkim last week, with visits to further towns and villages on the agenda.

They gave career advice lectures and administered an aptitude test to around 120 year 11 students in order to prepare them for the possible taking of the Common Law Admissions Test (CLAT) and entry into law school next year.

"The current student composition at many of the NLUs lack any serious diversity and comprise mainly of English medium educated students from middle class or upper middle class families," said Basheer (pictured below left). "The numbers from rural areas, small towns, lower income groups or non-English speaking schools are deplorable."

He explained that the principal arguments of why one would want more diversity were very simple.

"One is the argument that law is an instrument of power and can be wielded to effectuate social justice and change.  Why should a large section of the population not be given access to that power?" he asked, adding that armed with a good legal education these marginalised students would have a  much better shot at improving their lot and the communities they represent.

"Second, law schools ought to value diversity for its own sake. A more diverse student community engenders a more diverse set of views and discussions in the classroom and makes for better legal education in the process."
NUJS team{/ppgallery}Current NUJS second year students Tanuj Kalia and Javedur Rahman, and fourth year students Diptoshree Basu and Radhika Sarkar, and (pictured second l. to r.) accompanied Basheer on the first trip to Sikkim, which Basheer self-funded.

But Basheer said that although this started out as an NUJS group, it would have to turn into a "pan-India mass movement" to become successful.

One of the main challenges faced, he explained, was cultural. "Some of our brightest students [in Sikkim]who had done well in the aptitude test and seemed eager to seriously consider law as a career faced resistance from parents and teachers because they would want them to be doctors or engineers.

"There is a huge cultural bias against the law and there has to be a huge sensitisation programme, preferably from people who have some kind of personal nexus [to rural areas]."

"But students really loved it," he added. "Even the science guys."

A second obstacle, which affects budding engineers to a far lesser degree, was the level of English language skills, which the ongoing programme is meant to address with classes and practice sessions to "crack the CLAT".

The third large obstacle, according to Basheer, was the tuition fees charged at the top law schools. Around 10 years ago when Basheer was a student at NLSIU Bangalore, tuition fees were tiered and based on a means-testing system where less well-off students paid lower fees. But he lamented that most law colleges had now abolished this system and charged uniformly high fees that were unaffordable to those from poorer backgrounds.

However, NUJS has now tentatively agreed to give preference to students from poor backgrounds in the scholarship funds it can provide to up to 10 per cent of students, said Basheer.

"We want to make it into mass participatory collaborative movement," he added, although he admitted this would require funds and support from a large number of lawyers, law firms and spirited public individuals across India.

Earlier this year NUJS student Ramanuj Mukherjee independently launched an online social networking platform to help those from poorer backgrounds to "crack" the CLAT online.

If you wish to assist with funding, time or learn more about Basheer's programme you can email him at

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Like +1 Object -1 Anonymous guest 31 Mar 10, 20:03
Brilliant initiative. Great work by NUJS.
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Like +1 Object -1 Anonymous guest 31 Mar 10, 22:03
This is really great!
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Like +1 Object -1 Anonymous guest 31 Mar 10, 23:49
This is so so terrific. Congrats to NUJS for taking up this cause and best of luck to Shamnad Basheer and his group of students.
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Like +1 Object -1 Anonymous guest 31 Mar 10, 23:56
it's so true about the bias towards medicine and engineering :sad:

in the usa, the brightest students go to law school. in india, if you study law it means you were too dumb to do engineering etc. thankfully, things are slowly changing. i know someone at nalsar and someone at nujs, both of whom chose those colleges ahead of BITS pilani. but most middle-class, especially lower middle-class families still have this bias.

wtf...why would you want to do engineering if you can earn even more if you get a good placement from an NLU?
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Like +1 Object -0 LegalPoet 01 Apr 10, 03:35
LegalPoet is moved. He will soon do a poetic piece on this :-)
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Like +1 Object -0 Anonymous guest 01 Apr 10, 04:08
This is such great project. This is what we call true human resource development. A bottoms up approach to empowerment of people. I wish you success and hope that other law schools emulate your example.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 01 Apr 10, 07:02
this is a great initiative and deserved to be promoted. Particularly noteworthy that Basheer self-funded it. Not many of our bleeding heart NGO leaders would put *their own* money into causes they espouse.
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Like +0 Object -0 Bihari Babuu 01 Apr 10, 07:26
This means my dear pee-pool in Bihar will also get great education in colleges like national law schools. Hamara 100% support hai!
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 01 Apr 10, 09:59
Great! Keep up!!
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 01 Apr 10, 12:19
its a very nice initiative by Mr. Shamnad Basheer and NUJS. Since their inception, law schools have kind of become attached to a certain class of the society and have not been able to reach the large sections of our society...I hope this sincere effort of Mr. Basheer generates positive results and helps in making a common man understand that a law school is at par with IITs or in some cases even better...way to go....BEST of LUCK.... :-)
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 03 Apr 10, 09:03
Great Initiative by Shamnad Basheer & his team from NUJS. I am just back after addressing first batch of first year students B.A-LL.B.-LL.M.(14 semester) course of School of Law of Sikkim University(Central University) at Tadong,Gangtak.
Supreme Court of India
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 03 Apr 10, 10:15
This is an amazing news. What a brilliant effort by NUJS. Kudos to Mr. Basheer and NUJS students! The legal community should support this with everything they have got!
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 03 Apr 10, 13:18
Great job, All the Best to the entire team! :-)
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 04 Apr 10, 07:49
NUJS is receiving some great responses from students of NLS and NALSAR and also from its own alumni. I hope more people will pitch in and do their bit for this mission! BTW...the name of the project is IDIA- Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 04 Apr 10, 10:58
What an Idea Sirjee!!
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 04 Apr 10, 13:46
grt initiative

I hav an idea clat should be in hindi also coz many of brilliant student do not give clat only because of medium prob and many students are there who can do gud in there career if they get in law schools. there are many examples in iits and medical collages that students from hindi medium (generally lower middle n poor class) who got admission there done well in there institutes and rest of career.

and if the moto of the the initiative is "increasing Diversity by Increasing Access".
then this idea will definitely work.

iit jee, aieee aims nda...... etc ........ all these exams are conducted in both mediums and medium of instruction is English only in these institutes then y nt law schools hav their entrance in both languages.

plzzz feel free to comment

jitendra bansiwal
nlu jodhpur
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Like +0 Object -0 LegalPoet 05 Apr 10, 06:06

Please contact Mr. Basheer on this. I am sure that it will be great if you and some other students can take this up at NLU, Johdpur!
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 05 Apr 10, 08:27

Its really a good proposal that CLAT should also conducted in hindi as well. But, I believe It would become problematic for us as law students in the long run. It is a fact that a certain degree of knowledge of english is required in this profession. However, at the same time, engish should not be tested in CLAT question papaer in such a way that it becomes a great hurdle for the students who are coming from non-english background. This can be done in various ways. one might be that the comprehension and the vacabulary should be scrapped in the english part. Secondly, the wording of logical reasoning and legal reasoning should not be in such a way that students find difficulty in understanding the problem. In fact, the entire team of this diversity project is working on the structure of CLAT question paper.
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Like +1 Object -0 Anonymous guest 05 Apr 10, 11:52
the suggestion to have the CLAT is hindi is ridiculous. while hindi is the biggest language in terms of numbers, 60% of the population does not know hindi. the dominance of hindi in parliament, bureaucracy etc should be condemned as it tramples on the rights of non-hindi speakers. the last thing we need are law-schools being filled up hindi-wallahs. if anything, here should be reservation for non-hindi people in law schools!! the solution to empowering village students who want to go to school is to teach them english

please also read the works of dalit scholars like kancha ilaiah and chandra bhan prasad, who favour english instead of hindi, and consider the latter as representative of the patriarchal hegemony of the so-called cow belt. english represents rationality and modernity. these are essential to the legal profession. our constitution and our laws are in english (thank god).
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 06 Apr 10, 11:41
kudos to the whole team!! :-)
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Like +1 Object -0 Anonymous guest 06 Apr 10, 12:06
I think Anonymous #19 has got it wrong. Though our Judgments are reported in English, as far as I know there are diglot editions of Bare Texts of our Constitution and other statutes available. The same method is followed with the Official Gazette as well.
And I do think that calling a certain group of people as Hindi Wallahs is a bit too harsh.
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Like +1 Object -0 Anonymous guest 06 Apr 10, 12:10
the dominance of Hindi in parliament, bureaucracy etc is not because of any undue reason it is because the person have qualified the UPSC exam whcich is being conducted in all scheduled languages. however if my frnd (anonymous guest no. 19) feel that our national language should be condemned I feel very sorry sorry for him.

anyways we should not deviate from the motive of this initiative. what is understood from whatever I read and heard is that prof. Basheer and these students are trying to bring diverse people in law schools for that the idea of holding the clat exam in Hindi *too* (too is emphasized because we don't want too deprive anyone from the opportunity) will definately work and the data provided by my frnd tht 60 % of Indian population do not know hindi is absolutely wrong in that case I want to know how much population of our country know English.

the only concerned people directly by clat exams are students who are passing there 10+2(high school) exam in that academic year and I think they % of students passing from hindi medium school is not less. Therefore the purpose of bringing diverse and backward people will be definitely served.

moreover I want to clarify here that my Idea is not to scrap the English language and comprehension paper from clat it should be the there but the knowledge of English should not be tested in paper of reasoning or maths or legal aptitude it is pointless. It is the aptitude or iq which should be tested.

and once a student get in the law school after qualifying the clat exams which his/her friends english convent schools have also qualified he will definitely have the potential to learn the language in some time.

the point of reading Dalit literature and and condemnation of Hindi as a Whole os need not to discussed.

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Like +1 Object -0 Anonymous guest 06 Apr 10, 13:38
dear friend anynymous no. 19 your post lacks factual correctness as well as substance, it appears that you are one of the harliner towing the line of DMK which it did in 1960s in wake of anti-hindi protest. Majority of the indian population speak and converse in Hindi and as regards the dominance of Hindi heartland people in burecracy is concerned it is not because of the bias towards the hindi speaking people. I expect you to have a basic grouding of the Constitution of our country , UPSC exam are conducted in 22 languages which is given in the 8 sechedule of the constitution and i expect you must have atleast some idea of what all language are the part of our 8 sechdule. your comment smacks off the divisive ideology which u have in mind by way of even thinking of reservation against the hindi people. the essence is that there has to be modalities in placed so that students from far flung areas appear in the exam and clear it in order to bring diversity in the law schools. it is equally respected to great extent that English is pre-requsite for law but in garb of that no body should try to disrespect the sentiments of hindi speaking people. Stats do say that around 80% ppl speak hindi in our country.
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Like +1 Object -0 Anonymous guest 06 Apr 10, 15:35
desh chalte hai hindivashi..angreji ke ukhadna hai ukhaad lo..hindi ko national language se hattha sako toh haatha lo agar g*** main guda hai toh

vp tiwari
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Like +0 Object -0 LegalPoet 07 Apr 10, 01:16
Kian, please delete the above post at #24.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 07 Apr 10, 22:41
Great effort by the NUJS team; makes me a proud alumnus! Issues highlighted are very true and quite problematic...coming from a small town myself, I remember when I decided to quite medical school after a year and get into NUJS, an army of relatives/well-wishers/ac quaintances descended upon my parents asking how they could allow me to do something so "stupid"! Thankfully, my parents are of the opinion that children should be allowed to choose their own careers, but honestly, how many parents in rural or even semi-urban India think along the same lines?

Also, even if the desired target group manages to overcome societal barriers (parents/guardians' aversion to law may not always extend to the seven-figure annual salary packages their off-spring/ward has the potential to earn after five years of education - after all, parents will want their children to be prosperous and happy), the language barrier may present more of a problem. Unfortunately, since the courses in all the national law schools are conducted in English, a command over the language is a must. May be a month-long bridge course in English (or Legalese, as we call it) just before the first semester begins for students who require it - or something similar - to bring them at par with the primarily English-speaking students who will, inevitably, at least for the next decade, constitute the bulk of the student body. Perhaps the evaluation of CLAT papers would need to be a little different...the cut-off for the English section would need to come down - so that students who score well in the other sections (thereby showing great legal aptitude) but fail in English, would still be admitted.

Overall, I feel this is a great initiative and maybe, just maybe, a diverse selection of students would mean that more students would opt to litigate - their command over their local languages, added with premier education, would be an advantage that the entire legal community in the country will benefit from. The elite and semi-elite and wannabe-elite who account for majority of the student body in most law schools, do not litigate (I know I am being unfair to some people by making this generalisation, but very few people actually go to court - and that includes me - I opted for a comfortable life with a high-paying desk job at an air-conditioned office instead of running around in courts and learning the "real" stuff, and most people do the same - or perhaps it is merely romanticisation of litigation; but that is another issue altogether).

But yes, the fact remains that we need more "good" lawyers from different walks of life - law is, after all, meant for everyone, and not just for a high-flying, English-speaking bunch. At the risk of sounding terribly political, I would say we need lawyers who can connect with the "aam aadmi", which, unfortunately, very few current students/alumni of national law schools are capable of - because most of us (even small-town middle-class people like me) have had a rather sheltered existence and are not really adept at dealing with practical realities at the ground level - something, which you can only learn hands-on. Think Thomas Cromwell.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 13 Apr 10, 11:40
great effort!! keep it going!! :D
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 17 Apr 10, 12:34
Many congrats to Prof. Basheer and the other visionaries in NUJS who are behind this project. This endeavour will definitely clear the national law schools of the 'elitist' tag, and make them instruments of social change which all great institutions aspire to be. One problem that students from the vernacular medium schools may find is the fact that the law school system including the entrance test is entirely in English, which is of course inevitable and perhaps even desirable. Having said that, I apprehend that students from the vernacular medium may struggle in the law school environment. I was wondering if it may be possible to specifically select a small number of class 10 students to join law school after 2 years and train them in the basic language and other related skills before joining law school. I understand it may not be immediately feasible, but was wondering if it may be considered. Congrats once again, and keep it up!
---- NUJS alumni.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 19 Apr 10, 08:36
In response to Comment #28,
we have already planned to start english training as a major and separate component under the training for CLAT, especially for those students who study in vernacular medium schools. We are in the process of creating tie-ups with specialised institutes which deliver english training and some of the NUJS students involved in the project are themselves training CLAT aspirants from kolkata in english. It is only with a certain level of proficiency in english will students from vernacular mediums be able to compete with others in english. Also since it shall be the medium of instruction/materials in law school, we shall ensure that students are comfortable with english as a language before they secure admission in law schools.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 20 Apr 10, 00:38
though the initiative does seems pretty innovative, lets not get carried away. A National Law School is what it is because of the sort of people who form it, and yes, most of them happen to be elite. but there is a substantial chunk who come from a middle class background, or maybe who are a bit lower. i find it pretty amusing, and bemusing at a certain level, that there was not a whisper amongst the faculty and chief protaganists of this scheme, who i am sure think of themselves as social samaritans and go to sleep with a smile with that thought in mind, or perhaps use it as a nice conversation piece over a sponsored dinner table at ITC, or at any other five star digs, and yes the eternal quest for CV value, we never come out of it do we?
ah, i digress, to come back to the point, i didnt see a whimper of protest when our fee was doubled, did anyone think of the subalntern then? publicity aint that great when your own palms are getting greased is it? ("self funding" the trip was indeed admirable) nd who, pray will subsidise these less fortunate people ? let me guess the other 'elite students'? and arent the state run universities good enough, all i am saying is, that please spare us this pseudo intellectual hogwash, these social experiments never work, only profit the formulators and the undeserving benefactors, there is suffering all around otherwise, take reservation for example,

these sc's and st's are a large enough pain in the ass already and now we are taking about subsidising 'dehats', case in point anonymous number 24(pls refer to above comments).

i have been blunt, i know i have offended, but its not a personal attack on anyone, even though it might seem so from my comment. i have enourmous respect for mr. basheer, one of the best things that could happen to the university. its just that the way things stand, the system can get pretty frustrating at times. and yeah i meant every word about the schedule classes. most of whome by the way belong to the so called 'elite', in our college.(NUJS)
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 21 Apr 10, 23:56
congrets... keep it, very nice and holy initiative , change the mindsets of rural students tell them you can do it, in reality rural studenta generally feel that they can't do , they are lavking financial and family plz encourage the younge blood of india and keep it, i will really help in making India developing and growing and let the Mahatama Gandhi dream come true of rural development and growth.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 22 May 10, 04:37
Marginalised and under represented sections of society would end up in ghettos in elite law schools. I wonder if Mr. Basheer has spent valuable thought about the same. Its a great project and all the other comments only are a testimonial to the overall appreciation for the great work that is being undertaken. However, the plight of PG students in most law schools can be a good example of the kind of treatment that students from diverse backgrounds face in elite law schools. Last I heard certain law schools were asking PG students to do classes with their UG students, considering the PG students non-law school UG degrees were redundant vis-a-vis law school UG degrees. The problem of little diversity surely is partly for the reason that elite law schools suffer from a certain mindset which is difficult to change. I hope suitable inquiries and alterations are made which might help the project achieve its objectives.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 06 Aug 10, 01:11
This is a great effort. English language is very much important in legal field. Instead of having CLAT in Hindi or other languages, special programme may be started wherein students from vernacular school shall specially trained to enable them to be conversant with English Language.
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