Empowering Underprivileged Students through Legal Education
When he was teaching at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (WB NUJS),  Prof Shamnad Basheer noticed that a majority of students at this premier legal institution came from urban, English-speaking, English-medium-educated backgrounds. This was a pattern that repeated across elite law institutes, with richer, English-speaking youngsters forming a majority of the students. This is not at all representative of the diverse population of the country. 
 
Prof Basheer realised that by placing the tool of legal knowledge in their hands and allowing them to take up their own cause, he would be empowering underprivileged people far more meaningfully and removing their reliance on privileged people. He made up his mind to initiate an effort to increase access to millions of students from underprivileged backgrounds and marginalised communities. Then, with the support of the then vice chancellor of WB NUJS, 
 
Prof MP Singh, he conceptualised IDIA—Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access. A not-for-profit entity called IDIA Charitable Trust was set up with Dr Basheer, Prof Singh as well as Justice Ruma Pal and Shishira Rudrappa.
 
IDIA works with a community of dynamic student volunteers. Dr Basheer says, “Their passion and motivation on the ground keeps the organisation charged up and constantly engaged.” Interacting with the IDIA scholars is also a learning opportunity for the team which works at converting each adversity into an advantage and build resilience. These volunteers travel to specific schools and begin with sensitising students, teachers and parents about the benefits of a legal education. IDIA then conducts a basic aptitude test to identify promising students. These students are guided and trained to for the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) which includes help with written and spoken English. It provides study material which will now be provided online as well. IDIA is also working with national law colleges to get fee waivers for scholars to help pay their way through college or arrange support from lawyers and law school alumni.
Candidates who clear CLAT are also allotted mentors in law schools to guide them and to ensure that they are not rendered as ‘misfits’ or feel ‘socially awkward’ in law schools but hone their talents and abilities to their fullest potential. 
 
While this work began in West Bengal, IDIA now has local chapters operating from New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Ranchi, Jodhpur, Gangtok, Bhopal, Cochin, Gandhinagar, Bengaluru, Chennai, Guwahati, Bhubaneswar, Lucknow, Patna, Cuttack and Hyderabad.
 
Getting the law institutes to see the value of diversity on campus and to understand that IDIA scholars are not charity cases that would cause the institutes’ standards to plunge, was a challenge. Over time, it became evident that IDIA scholars did well and are actively engaged in campus activities, after overcoming the initial hurdle of dealing with English as a medium of instruction and the relative socio-cultural isolation that occurs in the first year or two. IDIA arranges for financial support for IDIA scholars, once they gain admission into the top law schools. Fund-raising is a huge challenge. “On the one hand, law institutes are constantly rising tuition fees but there is no corresponding increase in scholarships/waivers. On the other hand, there is the constant hunt for institutional support for funding which is, strangely, not forthcoming within the country,” says Shruthi Chandrasekaran, director, IDIA.
 
IDIA believes that “a good legal education enables the cultivation of personal autonomy, intellectual independence and the development of critical life skills beyond the traditional goals of teaching/training/learning of specific skills.”
 
Its ultimate goal is bigger.  Ms Chandrasekaran says, “In the long run, we hope that the ecosystem evolves to self-correct from time to time and embrace diversity as its core theme, to the point that the presence of an external third-party organisation addressing the diversity deficit (such as IDIA) is rendered unnecessary.”
 
All donations to IDIA are exempt from income-tax under Section 80-G. 
 
IDIA Charitable Trust
No. E 1/9, Hanumanthappa Layout, 
Ulsoor Road, Bengaluru - 560 042
Telephone 080-42197924

 

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BISWAJIT DE

2 years ago

I read this article with interest and found an alternative avenue to be taking a second career after my retirement in September 2017 from LICI

Livelihood through Handicraft Development
The slick website of Sabala handicrafts, offering chic ethnic cloths, jewellery and footwear at premium prices provides no clue about the humble beginnings and hard grind behind its current status. 
 
Mallamma Yalawar, who founded Sabala, hails from a small village in Bijapur district. A girl child in a family of eleven children, born at a time when parents did not think it was important, or necessary, to educate their daughters, she worked on farms as a daily wage labourer and earned her school fees. She went on to do her BCom and also obtained a diploma in industrial relations and personnel management, while giving tuitions to fund her education.
 
She was only 24 years of age when she founded Sabala. She was helped by the NGO Oxfam to create awareness about women’s rights. She realised that empowering women is not possible if they are not financially stable. She got the women artisans at Sabala to choose an activity that could be done from home and was not dependent on the erratic availability of electricity. Traditional crafts and embroidery, which is taught and passed on from mother to daughters in tribal communities, was the answer. 
 
After several rounds of training and effort, Sabala has started to make high-quality products suitable for the urban market. Today, its handicraft and products are sold in various parts of the country and it supplies to Fabindia and also exports to USA, Spain, Italy and France. In the initial days, Ms Yalawar tells us that Sabala hired designers from NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) and NID (National institute of Design) to design clothes and jewellery. Over time, Ms Yalawar herself learnt designing and, today, her daughter Tejashwini, who had done a course from NIFT, helps out. People also bring their own designs if they want customised items.
 
But sourcing raw materials and finding markets for Sabala’s products was a challenge, since Bijapur is not well-connected. That was a long time ago. Sabala, today, is a member of the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts and participates in national and international exhibitions and shows. The organisation is also a member of the World Fair Trade Organisation and Ms Yalawar is vice-president of the Asia Board. 
 
There was the issue of finance. Initially, when women formed SHGs (self-help groups), banks denied loans to these women. Ms Yalawar was involved in setting up Chaitanya Mahali Sahakari Bank Ltd at Bijapur. It is a cooperative bank which started with 1,520 women members and a capital of Rs23.6 lakh. Ms Yalawar says, “Personally, I have not invested my personal money in this Bank, but I have invested my time, energy and commitment to set it up.” The Bank now has 8,000 women members, Rs48 crore in deposits and Rs1.98 crore as share capital; but, as she correctly says, those funds are not available for Sabala’s initiatives. 
 
So what is next on Ms Yalawar’s agenda? Apparently plenty; both on the personal front as well as for Sabala. She plans to expand Sabala’s area of operations to the neighbouring district of Bagalkot. The goal is also to educate and organise women in the unorganised sector to develop a focus on sustainable development. She takes pride in Sabala’s ability to transform the lives of women like Boramma, who was married off at 14 but lost her husband and a little child within two years of marriage. She learnt embroidery and tailoring at Sabala and is an independent woman today. There are many others whose lives have been transformed because of Sabala’s contribution. 
 
Ms Yalawar is now working at promoting craft tourism around Bijapur which has many famous historical monuments including the Gol Gumbuz and a strong Lambani tribal base with their rich embroidery and dances.   
 
Interestingly, Sabala is self-sustaining enough not to have a donation request on its website. Ms Yalawar says that the organisation already has a tax exemption on foreign donations under the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) and is in the process seeking a tax exemption under 80-G of Income Tax Act mainly for support received under corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes.
 
Sabala
Samatha Building, Keertinagar, 
B Bagewadi Road, Bijapur - 586 101
Karnataka
Telephone: 91 - 08352 - 278204
Fax: 91 - 08352 - 278890
Mobile: 91 9448118204
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Jyoti Dua

3 years ago

Brave act by Ms Yalawar. India need many more such courageous persons. Those who keep awaiting for job should learn a lesson from Ms Yalawar and such other persons who have changed the life of many.

Nudging the Debate for Gender Equality
Prajnya Trust’s understanding of peace, justice and security, is holistic and its initial work areas reflect this. Swarna Rajagopalan, founder of Prajnya in 2006, recalls that “We chose to work on gender equality issues, including gender violence awareness, and peace education.” They wanted to do something tangible that the general public could relate to.
 
Swarna is a political scientist by training. She points out, “Those who work on gender, do not engage with those who work on security; those who train Panchayat leaders, do not work with ordinary citizens.” To avoid too narrow a focus, in its day-to-day work, “Prajnya was imagined as a space that could, by design, transcend pigeon-holing and offer fluidity between methods and media,” insists Swarna. 
 
So almost everything that Prajnya does is through a loose network of volunteers; they come and go at various stages of their lives and the organisation’s needs and keep its multifarious efforts going. Its blog seeking volunteers says, “We don’t have an office. So it’s not possible to come and help in the office every Thursday morning. We actually don’t have assignable tasks. We are so small we only have responsibilities we are happy to share with or delegate to volunteers. In fact, ALL Prajnya’s core team members are volunteers. We give our time, while earning a living. So the work happens all the time, and yet not all the time.”
 
Swarna is the focal point of its activities along with Shilpa Anand,  partner in Eastern Engineering Company, Dr D Jayashree, an Ayurvedic physician, and Saundarya Rajesh, founder-president of AVTAR Career Creators. It also has a powerful advisory panel. 
 
So how does Prajnya reach out? Dr Rajagopalan tells us, “From the beginning, we have drawn committed volunteers who have given all their spare time to working with us. They have made donations. They have called their friends to give us use of their time and talent. They have trained. They have written. And they have built Prajnya to a point where our work has grown beyond their ability to support it.” 
 
So a full-time salaried team is next on the agenda as well as fund-raising for better logistics, resource persons and hiring space and equipment for conducting programmes. In her appeal to donors, Swarna says, “The kind of work Prajnya does calls for a special kind of donor who can think beyond traditional charity giving or public works, to see knowledge and communication as integral to social change. We need donors who understand that salary and operation costs are critical; without people who are well-supported, nothing can be accomplished. Finding those donors—we believe they exist!—and building a proper full-time team in the coming year is critical.”
 
Its broad spectrum of work includes conducting 16-day awareness campaigns against gender violence, spreading the message through concerts, theatre and satsangs which focus about gender equality. Future plans include setting up of the Prajnya Resource Centre on Women in Politics and Policy which seeks to fill the gap created by scattered and unsystematically compiled information in this field. There are several components of this project: the creation of a database with salient statistics and lists of women in politics and policy-making; a series of oral histories and life-stories of women who have played a pivotal part in politics and society; and a user-generated visual archive of photographs of women participating in the public sphere.
 
People are usually told that “Prajnya is like an Indian wedding. People come and go. Pick up the work in front of you so it gets done—folding clothes, putting away newspapers, whatever.” If you would like to be a part of this attractive effort to spread gender equality, chip in, in whichever way you can. 
 
Or you can simply send a cheque to ‘The Prajnya Trust’ at the address alongside. Donations qualify for deduction under Section 80-G of the Income Tax Act. 
 
The Prajnya Trust
B402 Prince Villa, 7 Rajamannar Street, Chennai 600017.
Mobile: 9840079133

 

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Jyoti Dua

3 years ago

Very useful work is being undertaken by PRAJNYA. Gender violence is a big issue all over the world, including developed countries. It is heartening to know that work is being done on this issue in India too.

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