Our country’s diversity has been a source of pride for Indians throughout history. We thrive amongst many different cultures, backgrounds and communities. This diversity, however, has not quite encompassed certain sub-sections of society, who often have to rely on others to champion their cause.
Trying to reverse this chain of events is what led to the founding of IDIA (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access). Anusha Reddy isa director of the disability vertical at IDIA. An IIS (India Inclusion Summit) fellow and warrior for the under-represented, Anusha is passionate about offering people opportunities to empower themselves and their communities. Here’s what she had to say about her work:
Breaking It Down – What Is IDIA?
IDIA or ‘Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access’ is an institution working towards optimising opportunities for underprivileged and disabled students. What do they do? It’s simple yet incredibly effective – based on aptitude, they coach underprivileged students and persons of disability and help them gain entry into top law colleges in India.
Anusha explains that IDIA focuses on the idea of empowering communities to fight for their own causes by creating community leaders. She opines that it is far more meaningful than the privileged fighting for the underprivileged. She also recounts how the lack of diversity she observed around her as a student at law school inspired her to join IDIA.
Presently, many individuals and institutions are working to empower people and giving them the chance to enrol in professional courses. However, IDIA focuses on law as a career path for these students. Anusha believes that it is necessary to change or challenge laws to bring about change in society and to ensure progress. She also believes that communities themselves are best suited to bringing about the changes necessary for their well-being. She had a great story to share with us as an example:
Our first student Nagababu, a son of a farmer from a small town in Andhra Pradesh, graduated from NLU, Orissa in 2016. He wanted to sit for the judicial services exam to become a judge in Andhra Pradesh. But AP rules do not permit blind people to even sit in the exam. He was upset with that. He challenged the law at the AP high court saying that there is no reason why a blind person cannot become a judge with today’s adaptive technology. He won the case so far as being permitted to write the exam with a scribe. The case is still ongoing, but with what has happened so far, opportunities will open up to many other blind students who want to become judges.
Anusha reaffirms her passion for the law by saying, “Change has always occurred when laws have changed.”
Behind The Scenes
Today, IDIA has a presence in 18 states across India. They currently work with 65 students, out of which 13 are visually impaired. Their good work doesn’t stop there, they also work with underprivileged kids who have no idea that law is even an option available to them.
Anusha believes that the amazing work that she is getting a chance to do is because of the organisation’s founder – Professor Shamnad Basheer. Anusha speaks of him with immense respect and admiration,
Professor Shamnad Basheer is a visionary in my opinion. It was his idea to do all of this. We were given a lot of freedom as students. Without any inhibitions, he allowed us to start an entire chapter and train students. We took on problems as and when they came, but he believed in what we believed.
A largely student-run organisation, IDIA functions due to the efforts of their tireless volunteers who took up the challenge of creating chapters and organising outreach programmes to find new candidates. How does it work? Anusha elaborates,
We have students from law schools who sensitise underprivileged students to law as a career option. Students who are interested are then given a carefully curated aptitude test. Many students come from vernacular medium and English is not their strongest point. So, we test them on logic and critical thinking abilities. If they crack that, we can train them for English. It is followed by 2 years of intensive coaching, and then 5 years of law school.
A major challenge they have come up against is financial aid. Though some law schools like NLSIU Bangalore grant scholarships to their IDIA students, others aren’t as lucky and have to look for alternate sources of income. IDIA has taken on the task of helping these students financially, but their work doesn’t stop there. Once they are admitted into law school, these students face a number of difficulties, which range from fitting in socially to coping with the syllabus and teaching methods.
To tackle these issues, IDIA introduced their ‘CHAMP’ programme,
We pride ourselves on developing scholars after they get into the law school. We run a ‘CHAMPS’ program where we imbibe the attributes of a champ (C-Creative, H- Holistic, A-Altruistic, M- Maverick, P- Problem solver) in each of our scholars so that they become competent lawyers. The idea is to guide them through 5 years of law school as well.
The Diversity Chapter – How It All Began
Anusha Reddy currently works with IDIA full time. However, when she first graduated from law school she dove into the world of corporate law. Her experiences at a top law firm cemented her decision to work in the diversity space, “I finished law school in 2014 and joined a corporate law firm. I was part of the private equity team. I always felt that there had to be more inclusion and accessibility. Though I worked with big deals at the firm, I was not satisfied, so I decided to jump back into IDIA full time. Now, I head the disability vertical and also take care of training and material. We cater to people with disabilities as well as underprivileged students. But the disability vertical is always special to me because we started it.”
Anusha, along with her friend, Vaishnavi, was inspired to join the disability chapter of IDIA. She says, “Vaishnavi’s mother does voluntary work for blind and low vision students. So, we thought why not teach the students at the blind school?”
The venture was also partly inspired by one of their fellow students, “We also had a completely blind senior, who I think was one of the smartest seniors we ever had. We realised that with adaptive tech and guidance, nothing can hold back blind students from achieving as much as their able-bodied counterparts.”
Anusha says that the aptitude test revealed that there were many talented students who just needed the proper guidance and support. This served as a starting point for setting up the diversity chapter at IDIA.
In addition to all of the aforementioned endeavours of IDIA, the team is also working to build a digital platform for persons with disabilities. The project, once launched, will be the first of its kind in India – much like the students that IDIA is helping. These once disenfranchised students will soon be community leaders, paving the path for others to rise to new heights. With such a diverse legal community in the making, we can’t wait to see what’s in store for our country in the years to come. It’s a future we don’t see anyone objecting to!
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