Sukma, a town in the Sukma district, the newly formed southernmost district of Chhattisgarh carved out of the Bastar district in 2012, looks like any other nondescript Indian small-town. About 400 km south from the state capital Raipur, it is so tiny that one can walk across the town end-to-end within 30 minutes, pretty much everything shuts after sunset, and all residents know each other and can easily recognize outsiders; you will be perpetually asked where you are from, and what you are doing there. Unlike most Indian small-towns, however, Sukma has a heterogeneous population, consisting of Hindi, Telugu and Odiya native speakers as well as tribal groups that have their own tribal dialects. Sukma also happens to be part of the Red Corridor and is one of the districts facing severe Naxalite-Maoist insurgency.
In early April 2016, Sukma became the latest addition to the growing list of areas that have played host to an IDIA sensitization. Over two days, a three-member IDIA team consisting of yours truly and IDIA volunteers Avinash Reddy and Pallavi Dehari — both first year students at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad — spoke to roughly 190 9th through 12th standard students from three different schools, sensitising them about the law and prospects of a legal career. These students were invited to the sensitization sessions by Mr. Naresh Babu Kunche, the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow at Sukma. Mr. Naresh arranged for the sensitization sessions, ensuring participation by the schools and the district administration on board, and was a warm and generous host to the IDIA team during its stay in Sukma.
During our time in Sukma, we held sessions at the Model Public School and at Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalay. The former session was attended by students from both Model Public School as well as some students from IMST English Medium High School. At both sessions, we started off by giving the students context about IDIA, and explaining what its name means. We then performed a small skit for the students to demonstrate the impact a person with knowledge of law can have. The students were then quizzed about their experiences with, and perceptions of the law, the legal profession, and lawyers. This was done by us to gauge their existing level of knowledge of and notions about law. We then gave them a series of factual scenarios involving a dispute, and asked some of them to function as plaintiffs, defendants and a judge. In this way, we managed to engage all of them in discussions about the different perspectives on ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and introduced them to the concept of thinking like a lawyer. Next, we informed the students about the various fields of law, the multitude of career choices available to lawyers, National Law Universities and other top law schools, and the pattern of CLAT. The best aspect of these sessions was the tremendous engagement shown by the students; they were incredibly curious about the new legal world into which we provided them a small glimpse, and there was a lot of interaction and communication between the students and the team, which made the whole experience a lot of fun. Having built their interest in law, we then administered a practice aptitude test. After this practice test we explained the questions in the test and discussed the correct answers to the students. Finally, we capped off the sessions by administering IDIA’s aptitude test in order to identify potential trainee candidates.
Throughout these sessions, both Avinash and Pallavi captured many moments on their phone cameras and kept the energy levels high. We would like to thank Mr. Gopi, a UNICEF project consultant at Sukma who teaches at these schools regularly, for assisting us during the sensitizations. From participating in the class discussions and explaining the practice questions and their answers to students, to marking the aptitude test copies, his help was invaluable.
We were very pleased with the students’ performance on the aptitude test, and quite a few of them managed to do very well. Most encouragingly, many of the highest scorers were students from Classes IX and X. Bear in mind that one can count on one hand the number of years these students have been studying in English medium, and all of them lack regular access to an English daily newspaper. Most of them haven’t ventured outside the state of Chhattisgarh their entire lives, and far too often their lives and mental space have been marred by mindless conflict and violence. Many of the cases of shootings, bomb blasts and deaths that we read about in the news from time to time, constitute these kids’ lived reality. This lends even more import to the strong performances exhibited by many of these students.
At the conclusion of the test we interviewed the highest scoring students to gauge their interest in studying law as well as their willingness to commit to the IDIA training programme. Following these interviews, we tentatively selected six students as IDIA trainees, and gave study tips and recommendations to those who did not express an immediate interest in law.
After meeting these students, we realized how important it is to help some of them to reach top law schools, not just for the exposure, opportunities and potential for empowerment for them and their communities, but also because their experiences and perspectives can enrich the lives of many of their fellow law school students, ensuring that the quality of their education at the top institutions would be all the more rich and inclusive. That is what IDIA strives for, and with the continued support of all our well-wishers, that is the reciprocal change these students can help catalyse in only few years’ time.
Written by Vineet Bhalla, Assistant Director, IDIA