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Did The Decision To Have A Common Entrance For Law Colleges in Maharashtra Fail?

By Aakanksha Bhola:

Admissions to law colleges in Maharashtra for the 2016-17 session have been, what can only be described an arduous journey for the students. The admissions were delayed. The session that usually starts in July or August, and has started for students in all other law colleges in other parts of the country, completed its admission process in November. What caused this delay, according to students and teachers, was careless and chaotic policy planning which forced several students to seek admissions in colleges located in other states.

The State government decided to centralise admissions to three-year and five-year LL.B. courses in Maharashtra from this year by introducing the Centralised Admission Process (CAP), where the students were required to give the Common Entrance Test (CET), according to which their ranks were calculated, as opposed to the earlier process where colleges chose their own criteria usually based on the marks obtained in the class 12 board exams for the five-year course and graduation marks for the three-year course. The government sought to streamline the admission process by using this common eligibility criterion. But the process is far from ideal.

Not only is the CAP a complicated procedure involving four rounds, its validity was also challenged by a law aspirant Kedar Warad, on the grounds that the State did not have the power to pass such an order and that there was a delay in releasing the syllabus, before the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. “All such tests should be announced well in advance. This wasn’t announced well in advance. Most of the students did not know what to look at,” says a faculty member of one of the reputed law colleges in Mumbai. However, both the courts upheld the validity of CET, holding that the government was constitutionally empowered to pass such a law. But this was not the only legal hurdle – there was also a lack of clarity on the maximum age requirements; while there was no mention of the age criteria in the initial brochure released on March 11 by the State government, the age limit of 20 years (for the five year course) and 30 years (for the three year course) was later added in August to the admission rules on the Bar Council of India’s (BCI) insistence as per its Legal Education Rules 2008, which prescribes the aforesaid age limits. However, the first round of the CAP was conducted without any clarity on the issue. A member of BCI’s Education Committee clarified that it had given the government the power to decide its own limit, but would not give the students above the prescribed age limit a licence to practice once they graduate.

The pattern of the CET paper was also poorly planned. “It was not about knowing the answers, but about luck and guesswork,” according to Yash Shailesh Bajaj, a law student at KC Law College, Mumbai, who was recently able to procure admission in college through what he described as a haphazard process. According to him, the timing of the paper, which was divided into four sections – Legal Reasoning, Logic, English and General Knowledge – was not planned according to the sort of questions it contained. He also questioned the holding of the paper in three different shifts, where the students who were lucky enough to get either the second or the third shift had an upper hand since they knew what could be expected; something that the students in the first shift did not have. There was no clarity, no uniformity, or even correct conveyance of information on the part of the CET Cell (the Department in charge of conducting the CET). According to a member of the administration in charge of admissions in one of the top colleges in Mumbai, the CET website showed that all seats were filled in that college, while actually several were remaining – something that the Principal of the college personally pointed out to the officials. “The process was not planned, they did not do their homework. It was messed up, total chaos. Unless they start their homework from now for next year, I think history will repeat itself.” She also says that the CET Cell was not approachable – the numbers they gave were not working, the college had to ask students to go to their office where they were made to wait for hours. “Students would come to us for guidance and we couldn’t do anything. It was frustrating for us also,” she added.

Amidst the admission fiasco, the BCI also revoked the power of several reputed law colleges to admit students from the next session on account of certain violations, the foremost being the lack of teaching faculty. While clearance was later granted to these colleges, after they were given a year’s time to recruit the requisite number of teachers, it did add to the mounting confusion.

Several students who were hoping to get into one of these colleges were forced to get admission either in other courses or in other states due to the delay. This has left a vacancy of seats in several colleges, and consequently a considerable lowering of the cut-offs. Even the students, who were able to get admissions before the procedure was officially complete, were at the receiving end. The semester, which usually gets over in December, when the final exams are conducted, has been stretched to January. “The whole system has become staggered. This is one of the biggest drawbacks of the system,” laments a faculty member. To ease the admission procedure, which was to be completed on November 10 (later extended to November 12 after demonetisation) and fill seats, the government also eased various norms for the requirement of documents. But here, too, there was a lack of clarity and uniformity – while some colleges followed the revised norms, others had received no information about them.

The CAP was an ambitious project, but it will be an understatement to say that it failed to take off. The months and months of uncertainty left the fate of nearly 30,000 students in jeopardy. The ensuing chaos forced several students to adjust their hopes and dreams to availability rather than choice. “I lost interest in the profession I was passionate about due to the procedure”, says Yash. “I know several students who had to change streams due to this process,” he adds.

A similar situation arose in the case of the common medical entrance test, the NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test), where the Supreme Court cancelled it after deciding various petitions before it challenged its constitutionality. It was, however, later restored this year. This is a dangerous and repetitive trend. Is it not the time to question the execution of these policies that play with the careers of so many students? Taking feedback from all the stakeholders, especially the students and the colleges is necessary before the introduction of such policies. It is only by general will and consensus that the execution of any policy change can be smooth, without confusion and chaos.

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Image Source:  Network for International Law Students – India/ Facebook
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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