IDIA has been expanding its horizons to include more and more diverse communities in India, while trying to provide the opportunity for accessing legal education to the underprivileged. Recently, IDIA made its presence felt in the interiors of one of the most disturbed regions in India, better known as the Red Corridor.
Making of plans for Sensitisations in Kondagaon
I am a 4th year law student at National Law University Odisha, and have been associated with IDIA as a team member and Deputy Team Leader. I met Indo-Tibet Border Police Commandant Surinder Khatri in Shivpuri for organizing an event for students in 2013, and then in October, 2016 when he came to deliver Guest talk in NLU Odisha.. When speaking to Commandant Surinder Khatri about the problems in Kondagaon, one of the Naxalite affected districts near Jagdalpur in Chattisgarh, I came to know that the tribal students there are very bright, and if they are provided the kind of education and facilities like we do in our college, they can really help in solving problems of their respective communities.
The only thought that came to my mind was – ‘Why not go for IDIA Sensitisations there, and figure out the possibilities of getting the tribal students in law schools?’. So, after speaking to IDIA that readily agreed to the idea, I contacted CO Khatri, who assured us that he will provide every help in taking this initiative forward.
Journey to the Red Corridor
On 15th November, Abhishek and I left for Kondagaon, and reached next morning. We were received by Inspector Manoj, who always works with speed of light, and had been PSO to the Prime Minister. We tried to acquaint ourselves with the socio-economic conditions of the area through interaction with different people. Also, having read about the problems there, we were a little apprehensive about our security.
After figuring out the details of the schools in the District, and contacts of concerned authorities, we set out in the evening to visit some hostels for tribal students. There we meet Harsh Lahoti, an accountant in one of the schools there. On understanding what we are doing, he was very willing to help us connect to most of the schools in the town. We had to be back before 08:00 PM because the area was not safe.
When CO Khatri was back at the camp, we took a power walk with him where he asked us about our journey and the plans for the trip. After understanding the plan and the requirements, he directed Inspector Manoj to render every assistance required in conducting sensitizations. Also, when our walk was about to get over (as our power was lost in the walk unlike CO Khatri), he offered to take us to the interiors of Kondagaon where they are organizing a race.
On 17th morning we set out to Mardapal, a village in Kondagaon, just 3 kms away from the core Naxalite location. The route passed through dense forests where dynamites have often been found. We reached the ‘B’ COY of 41 Battalion where Assistant Commandant Ashish briefed us about the place and the Civil Action Activities that they are conducting there. We told him about IDIA, and discussed how we should get at least some students from such disturbed areas in law schools.
We got the permission to conduct our first sensitisation at a school in Mardapal. The Block-level Sports Meet was taking place there. There was a mass gathering of students and villagers there, showing the passion and interest of students in sports. We started the session by asking random questions to make the atmosphere comfortable and friendly. Next, we talked about law as a tool of social change, and about IDIA. We got an overwhelming response. The school authorities didn’t know that five years’ courses in law even existed.
In the afternoon, we met the Collector and other officials present at a meeting. We introduced ourselves and spoke about IDIA. The members in the meeting were really supportive and on request of the Collector, agreed to provide accommodation and other assistance required by the students for IDIA related works in Kondagaon.
On 18th November, we started visiting the schools in the morning, but exams were going on in some of the schools. We went to the Girls’ School where we got the permission to do Sensitisation and test next week. We met Mr. Shailendra Chauhan, Member-Secretary, DLSA (Kondagaon), who is a kind person taking various initiatives to provide legal aid to needy people in the area. He discussed about legal education, NLUs (national law universities), placements and IDIA with us. We mutually agreed that to get the tribal students in law schools, either they have to be given proper English training, or the imperialism of CLAT being an English language medium exam has to change. He decided to take some English classes for interested students in Kondagaon.
Our next stop was ‘Uchchtar Balak Vidyalaya’, where the Principal Mr. Gopal Devangan was very co-operative and immediately gathered all the students of Class XI and XII in the assembly place. Also, Mr. R.K. Jain, NSS District Co-ordinator and an excellent teacher who has received numerous awards, helped us in understanding how to talk to students and the tactics involved.
The students, as they were lined up, seemed very excited to see two strangers, and the brightness on their faces was glaringly visible. We introduced ourselves to the students and started with informal interactions about rights and exercise of their rights by them. Then we talked about Judges in the town. They were fascinated about such posts. Finally, we told them about law and IDIA, and asked them if they would want to meet us frequently from now to learn English. The happiness on their face from learning something new, an opportunity never given to them before, made us feel content. After that, we spoke to teachers and shared each others’ contacts to know if any student is interested in giving CLAT next year.
In the evening, we went to the place where the tribal students were being given archery, judo and other sports’ training by ITBP. We sensitised them by talking about the role of law, the problems they face and their solutions using law. They were most excited about Sports Law. We also spoke to the trainers from ITBP – Trilochan Mohanta, and Jawan Anoop, about career in the field of law, and asked them to get us in touch with interested students. We practiced with them for a while that gave us time to connect with the students and trainers.
Bidding goodbye, with hope for future
Finally, we were back in the camp and had a long conversation with CO Khatri on how ITBP can act as an active agency in providing English training to these students and other sessions can be taken by DLSA and students from different IDIA Chapters who will visit the place frequently.
At night we were ruminating on education, and other social issues. We finally thought that if these students could get into law schools next year then maybe some of the problems in the communities could be solved by active engagement of the students who go into law and can act as community leaders. This is what we went to Kondagaon for and we look forward to – the children living in disturbed and distressed regions get exposure and resources to develop themselves and their own communities with them.
On 19th November, we left for Raipur with hope, which at least we could afford to have!
See also, our blog post for the Better India about the transforming activities by ITBP under the commandant of Mr. Khatri that are giving new avenues for tribal children, and mending relations between the forces and the population – http://www.thebetterindia.com/77728/itbp-commandant-change-lives-tribal-students-remote-areas/.