Examining the problem of the abysmal representation of Muslims in national law universities: a question of diversity and inclusion
The under-representation of Muslims in national law universities in India is not only a concern on the parameters of diversity, but is also detrimental to the few Muslim students who enroll in law schools. Government and public need support to correct this problem, writes SYED MOHD WAQUAR.
AINAB (name changed), a student from a small town in Uttar Pradesh, was preparing for the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) in a program that trains students from disadvantaged backgrounds for free entry into law school. She was my junior on the program and often dispelled her preparation doubts with me. Seeing her hard work and performance in mock tests, I was sure she would enter a top law school.
My heart sank when one day she told me of her decision not to take the CLAT exam because the application fees, priced at Rs 4,000, were too high for her to afford. Even if she had passed the CLAT, she would not have been able to afford the high fees of the National Law Universities (NLU). Zainab is now preparing for other more affordable universities.
There are thousands of similar stories. Some do not accept admission after passing the exam, and others drop out during the form filling phase.
India strives to be a diverse and inclusive country. Unfortunately, this diversity is not visible in top institutions and workspaces.
Poor Muslim representation in law schools
The under-representation of Muslims in higher education is a well-known fact. The 2019-20 All Indian Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) claims that Muslims represent only 5.5% of total students enrolled in higher education, which is better than ten years ago. In comparison, social groups such as Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST), which are considered the most socially disadvantaged groups, make up 14.7% and 5.6% respectively of the total. registered students.
When it comes to NLUs, the representation of Muslims is even worse – and frankly, a concern on diversity metrics. This fact has been evidenced by various diversity surveys carried out in law schools over several years.
A diversity survey conducted by non-profit organization IDIA in five major NLUSs in India in 2018-19 shows that although Muslims make up 14% of India’s population, their enrollment in law schools remains at a measly 3.88%.
This figure has improved since 2016-2017, when the percentage was as low as 1.51%. “The increase observed this year may well be a random event and requires special attention to be paid in the years to come,” according to the investigative report. In comparison, the survey found that 13.79% and 7.18% of the total students were admitted to the SC and ST categories, respectively.
In addition, a 2015 National Law School of India University (NLSIU) diversity survey found that there were only 3 Muslim students among the 389 students surveyed from NLSIU, the top ranked NLU and the oldest in the country, forming less than 1% of the university population. Other religious minorities like the Jains, who make up around 0.5% of the population, are fairly well represented, constituting over 5% of the NLSIU student body.
The NLSIU survey also sheds light on the fact that Muslims make up only 2.75% of all CLAT aspirants. This could be explained by the fact that the price of the CLAT application form is exorbitant compared to other national level exams like the JEE or the NEET.
In addition, 85% of NLU students have taken coaching, according to the NLSIU survey. It is well known that the average coaching fee is between 1 and 2 lakh rupees.
The relationship between high application fees, high coaching fees, and low group representation can be understood from a survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), which shows Muslims are the poorest. of all religious groups.
This under-representation not only harms the diversity of the institution, but also affects the mental health and academic success of Muslim students.
Consequences of under-representation
Certainly, Islamophobia is at an all time high and the experience can be extremely alienating when there are too few Muslim students in a batch of 120-130 students. It causes anxiety, depression and sometimes even thoughts of suicide, especially among disadvantaged students from provincial towns, who may feel overwhelmed by the different types of exposure in NLUs.
The feeling of being the object of subtle jokes, suspicion and Islamophobia exacerbates the alienation of the “small town student at NLU”. There is also a correlation between the feeling of general inclusion in the school and its community and success in extracurricular activities.
Read also: Even 100 years after the advent of democracy, equality and rights elude minorities around the world
In this regard, it is relevant to refer to the NUJS 2019 Diversity Report, which is by far the most comprehensive diversity survey conducted in any of the NLUs. The report states that 18.6% of the 544 students surveyed at the National University of Legal Sciences published research papers, while there was only one Muslim student (of the 15 students who identified themselves as Muslims) who had published a research article.
There is no Muslim member in the NUJS Law Review (out of a total of 54 members) and only one in the Journal of Indian Law and Society (out of 39). Regarding participation in mock trials, which is a mock judicial experiment conducted in law schools, among all religious groups, Muslims had the lowest participation rate.
“The respondents who followed Islam and the ‘others’ are the only two religions to have a majority of respondents who have never mentioned a subject,” says the survey.
When it comes to membership in the Student Legal Association (SJA), the university’s student body, 46.7% of Muslims were not part of any SJA society, while the overall figure was much lower at 34%.
The NUJS report also claimed that over 53% of Muslims and 55% of atheists say there is religious bias in celebrating festivals at NUJS. These numbers are limited to NUJS, but it would not be wrong to assume a similar structural bias in other NLUs as well.
High barrier to entry
As noted above, the NSSO survey tells us that Muslims have the lowest per capita spending among all other religious groups. The fees for national law schools vary from 12 to 15 lakhs for five years. Another IDIA report states that an additional average of Rs. 5 lakhs per year is required as the base amount for the additional expenses of an NLU student.
The exorbitant fees in NLUs therefore become a hindrance for underprivileged Muslims, as there are few or no scholarships for minorities studying law, further resulting in a problem of representation in NLUs.
It is also important to note that the few Muslims in the NLU are predominantly from affluent backgrounds, with Muslims from disadvantaged backgrounds constituting a negligible portion of the student body.
Like all other social groups, Muslims also have social stratification based on caste, class, and sect, among others. This social stratification leads to the participation of a tiny minority of well-off Muslims, and the majority of those belonging to the lower class and caste remain in absentia in these institutions.
Therefore, institutes like Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), Jamia Hamdard and the Muslim University of Aligarh become a beacon of hope for the majority of Muslim students. While the average annual income of Muslims found in the NUJS survey was 13 lakes, Jamia’s diversity survey of JMI law students found that 49.8% of annual student income was less than six lakh rupees.
There is a government scholarship for minorities with an annual income of less than 2.5 lakh rupees, where students from 85 institutions including Indian Institutes of Technology, National Institutes of Technology, National Institutes of Fashion Technology, Indian Institutes of Medical Sciences, Indian Institutes of Management, and so on, enjoy full fee waiver. However, NLUs are not covered in this list.
This highlights the urgent need for minority scholarships for top law students, in the same way they are available at other public universities. The situation must be corrected urgently in order to open access to the NLUs.
It is high time to take corrective action
Although a few NGOs like Access to Legal Education for Muslims (ALEM) are working to improve Muslim representation and success in law schools, there is a broader need for support from the Indian government and the public. .
In addition, the CLAT application fee should be reduced, at least for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, so that no one is left behind to take the exam themselves. While there are structural reasons for these problems which require structural solutions, measures such as scholarships and mentors are urgently needed.
Read also: Rethinking the debate on reserves
Raising awareness among faculty and students from other communities in law schools should be the next step in making these institutions more inclusive and student-friendly from all religious and social backgrounds.
Students should be made aware of the harmful effects of Islamophobic and stereotypical jokes. This not only harms the lives of Muslim law school students, but also takes a heavy emotional toll on them.
There is also a broader need for mentoring for Muslim students in law schools so that they can be successful in their studies as well as in extracurricular activities.
The under-representation of Muslims in higher education should be seen as a problem for the nation, rather than a problem facing the Muslim community alone. Numerically, Muslims form 1/6e of the nation, and it would be foolish to think that India can prosper without leaving out such a large percentage of the population.
The under-representation of Muslims in higher education leads to their under-representation in white-collar jobs, which in turn leads to a decrease in economic and social capital. This vicious circle continues to continue.
While discussing the representation of Muslims, the diversity within the community should be taken into account so that any project designed for their upliftment not only reaches a tiny wealthy minority, but the larger group.
My heart goes out to all Muslim students who are subjected to alienation, Islamophobic jokes and slurs and discrimination, and yet make their mark in leading institutions.
I would like to conclude with the famous verse of the poet Allama Sir Muhammad Iqbal:
“Tu shahin hai parwaz hai kaam tera
Tere samne aasman aur bhi hain ”
(Syed Mohd Waquar is a second year BA, LL.B. (Hons.) Student at WB National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. The opinions expressed are personal.)