Access to resources and guidance can make all the difference for underprivileged students aiming for higher education. Abhay Jain explores how an initiative is helping students of Shivpuri district in Madhya Pradesh pursue their dreams of studying further.
Students from small cities and villages face obstacles in exploring opportunities for higher studies. Guidance, counselling, and preparatory material can go a long way to helping them build their careers. Additionally, rural and small-town folk face discrimination. They are often unaware of their rights in the face of exploitation. By learning to use the tools of the law, these students can exercise their rights and participate in the institutions of civil society.
Shivpuri, a district in Madhya Pradesh, is replete with talented students who do not have the wherewithal to pursue opportunities in higher education. With more than 1,300 villages, Shivpuri is home to many small and medium farmers and labourers. They live in poor conditions.
Many are not literate and lack knowledge of policies and schemes of the Government that could benefit them.
Zenith-Feel the Change initiative started as a student movement in December 2013 when Abhay Jain reached out to the students of Shivpuri pursuing higher studies in universities across India. A group of dynamic students came together and discussed problems in education and exploitation of the underprivileged. They discussed how students in small cities have less access to higher education. They have inadequate knowledge of their interests in various social welfare legislation and schemes from which they can benefit.
Noticing these inequities, a set of dynamic students from different fields resolved to be the change they wanted to see. They boldly left their internships and returned to Shivpuri. The group got together and contacted authorities, including the Collector and Municipal Council. They urged individuals and local government bodies to provide infrastructure for running a library-cum-legal aid centre.
They envisioned a centre that would give students access to books and literature, and also give opportunities to participate in legal aid programs.
The student’s efforts bore fruit when the Municipal Council of Shivpuri, on the recommendation of the Shri R.K. Jain (Former Collector, Shivpuri), agreed to provide a space for this Library-cum-Legal Aid Centre. Late in January 2014, this Centre’s work commenced. The students involved in this initiative went for a massive book collection drive, wherein they went from house to house to collect books and funds to run this initiative. By the end of the month they were able to collect around 10,000 books, chairs, tables, shelves, and some funds to appoint a Librarian.
This Library hosts a vast collection of books for people of diverse interests. It has the entire study course of Resonance, Allen, Vibrant, and other coaching institutes who offer training for IIT-JEE, and similarly updated materials for CLAT, UPSC, Banking exams, CDS, etc. are also available. This library also has a good collection of law books. These books have been donated by the Judges of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. Apart from this, the library houses a rare old collection of literature in Hindi to encourage studies of this fading literature. The Library has more than a thousand books on politics, sociology, and spiritual science.
There is a mandate to make the library accessible to print-disabled readers when resources come in place.
The Library caters to students who require space and materials to prepare for higher education, participants of educational and legal aid workshops, and recipients of legal aid. Zenith Students Society conducts Legal Literacy Programmes in various schools of Shivpuri to make the students aware of their rights and duties. To kick-start efforts, Aniket Kanhua and Ananya Singhal, students from NLU Odisha, conducted sessions in which students were taught how to file RTIs. Subsequently the students gave several representations to the local administration to comply with the provisions of RTI.
Recently, Aditya Rathod, a student in the NMIMS School of Law, surveyed 20 schools in different villages of Shivpuri to analyse the implementation of the Right to Education Act, 2009, and submitted a report to the Government through the Collector, followed by a press conference. As a result of this survey, the local newspaper Patrika began a campaign called Neev which publishes stories of schools in Shivpuri weekly.
In December 2016, Himashu Goyal, a student from NLU Jodhpur, and Aditya Shrivastava and Anchit Jain, students from ICFAI School of Law, put together their efforts to create RTI awareness for district officials and elected representatives, which was moderated by Prof. M. Sridhar, Central Information Commissioner.
This RTI awareness programme was followed by an interactive session for civil society organizations and students on how to file RTIs for public purpose.
In January 2017, Paras Jain from RGNUL Patiala, Abhishek Goyal, a final-year CA student, and Mishkin Gautam from UPES Law, with other students, organized a Seminar about rights of women and children for the students and teachers of Shivpuri, chaired by Justice N.K. Gupta (Judge, Madhya Pradesh HC). The students engaged in discussions with the judge about their rights and redressal for violations, and the District Legal Aid Officer offered the students visits to the Legal Aid Centre for any kind of help they require.
Zenith Society also offers legal aid to the villagers in Shivpuri displaced by the extension of Madhav National Park. There were seven villages, with more than 400 families dependent on their lands and the forest for life and livelihood. These villagers received neither proper information about any displacement, nor any proper rehabilitation or compensation. Zenith Society has helped these villagers make several representations to the local administration. They are now in the stage of filing a petition for proper rehabilitation.
What is on the horizon for this dynamic student group? They will publish a newsletter that gives simple legal analysis of everyday incidents in different places. The newspaper will be in the local language of Shivpuri. This will be a first-of-its-kind weekly student-run newsletter to create legal awareness and provide legal advice. It will also give updates about opportunities in higher education. This group of students also aspires to create similar dynamic libraries in other districts of Madhya Pradesh.
(The author is a member of the IDIA Research and Policy Programme.
Editor: Vidushi Kothari, Director-in-Charge, IDIA Research and Policy Programme.)