BENGALURU: What started as an observation by Chirayu Jain, a fifth-year student of National Law School of India University (NLSIU), turned into the first comprehensive demographic report on the student population of a premier law school in India.
The report titled “Elusive Island of Excellence” concludes that the top college lacks diversity and that it is far from inclusive.
It shows that dominant religious and caste groups form a majority and the number of female students are falling. However, there is also a positive trend in the increase in share of students from smaller towns and from lower-income groups.
When City Express contacted the heads of NLSIU law department, they said that they didn’t want to comment on the report. Professor Dr OV Nandimath, registrar of NLSIU, said, “I know that the report has been released but I haven’t yet had a look at it.”
Chirayu’s report was started in his second year, when he observed that majority of his classmates were Brahmins. He got curious and decided to conduct a survey on the institution’s diversity. The results were shocking, even for him.
The study showed that most of the students came from a dominant religious group – 81.86 per cent of the total student population are Hindus, with only three Muslim students in the whole university. Manzoor Ali, assistant professor of political science in Giri Institute of Development Studies in Lucknow, says that less than one per cent of students in NLSIU are Muslims is “not a surprise” for him because this trend has been prevalent “since the colonial era”. “Muslims have not opted for higher education,” he says. “The same trend will reflect in other higher education colleges as well.”
Gender disparity in the law school, the report noted, had increased over the last five batches. The female-to-male ratio had fallen over the years. Females form 52 per cent of the senior-most, while they form only 39% of the newest batch.
Will this gender imbalance in a premier school affect the practice of law? Not really, says a former NLSIU student, because women rarely practise in courtrooms. Spadika Jayaraj, who was part of the 2016 batch, is currently working as an analyst in a consulting firm. She says that since more than 60 per cent of the women choose law firms over courts, the decline in female students will not affect the courtrooms.
According to Chirayu, the fall in female student numbers can be linked to the rise in number of male students from tier 2, 3 and 4 cities. The survey shows that the 2016 batch had 45.21 per cent students from tier-1 cities whereas the batch of 2020 has 28 per cent.
He credits the Common Law Aptitude Test (CLAT), which was introduced in 2008, for making law a more popular career choice. It brought in more male students from smaller town but they, consequently, displaced females from tier 1 cities. “Women come from more privileged classes than men in law schools. So when the students started coming from tier 2,3 and four cities, it was mostly men,” says Chirayu.
The senior batch has 13.6 per cent of students coming from tier 3 and 4 cities while the 2020 batch has 23.1 per cent, double the share of the senior batch.
This new affinity for law studies also brought in more students from lower income groups, says the researcher. Number of students from higher income groups – above `36 lakhs – has fallen.
Similar Survey Attempted Earlier
Even before Common Law Aptitude Test was introduced, two 2003 NLSIU graduates, Rohit De and Sudipto Dasgupta had conducted a similar survey as they had noticed that demographic transition was under process and more students were from North India and women were more in number then.
“We never tabulated the entire survey, or were anywhere close to the level of detail and analysis Chirayu and his colleagues have done,” says Rohit De, who is now an assistant professor in department of history at Yale University. “But the 2003 survey showed a strong correlation between caste/income group and participation in a range of activities like mooting and debating which are more than co-curricular activities, in the social capital that it creates,” De added. That is, if you can debate well, your social status (used loosely) on campus can shoot up.
Describing the new survey as “sophisticated”, De says; “while the majority of the upper caste students want to work in corporate law, the majority of SC/ST and lower income group students want to work with government. It echoes other scholarly works that show that government service has an important role to play in constituting the Dalit middle class. It also suggests the perception of discrimination in the private sector.” De added that NLSIU is a tiny institution and the survey revealed “the lens of dynamics that are being reproduced at most of India’s elite institutions.” He suggested that similar surveys need to be conducted in other large elite institutions like IITs.
Shamnad Basheer, founder and managing director of Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA), an NGO that has been conducting similar surveys since 2011 and provides admission to law aspirants from underprivileged sections of society, says that the report was not surprising since these trends were noticed earlier.
Contrary to Chirayu’s view, he believes that Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) is the main cause of lack of diversity and inclusivity in law schools. Almost 80 per cent of law students have spent lakhs on coaching classes and has taken a year or two off just to get admissions, he says.
“That huge sum of money is not everybody’s privilege. All these people are from high class and are well spoken in English. We believe that CLAT is less of a law test but more of an English test,” he added.
Shravan Gupta (name changed) a fifth-year law student at National Law School of India University (NLSIU) agrees with Basheer and says that without a sound knowledge of English there is “absolutely no way” a person can attempt even 66 per cent of the CLAT paper. “There are English, logic and legal reasoning based questions in the CLAT paper along with GK and Math. The first three require a good vocabulary and good comprehension,” he says.
The Chirayu and his co-researchers too, in their study, concluded that a uniform language is crucial. But they point towards better English proficiency. The researchers suggest a mandatory English class, apart from classes in law.
(About 97.9 per cent of the students were covered in the survey conducted in July 2015; 389 out of 397 students of current five batches were surveyed. )