Even 70 years after the enactment of the Indian Constitution, there is systemic under-representation of Dalits (Scheduled Castes), Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes), Other Backward Classes, Nomadic & Denotified communities, transgender individuals, persons with disabilities, people from North-East India, women, and other minorities in both the legal profession and the judiciary. In the 70-year history of the Indian Supreme Court there have been only 5 Justices who have been from Scheduled Castes. In the absence of due representation, the legal profession and the judiciary cannot ever be truly representative of the historically marginalised. The lack of representation also raises questions of caste exclusion, institutional credibility, and accountability.
CEDE (Community for the Eradication of Discrimination in Education and Employment) was founded when one of the founders attended a webinar by their University on diversity in the legal profession. 6 panellists were called, and not a single Dalit or Adivasi person was represented on the panel. This limited idea of diversity, commonplace in the corporate world, is all the more pernicious in the legal field, where social capital and networks mean everything for career prospects.
CEDE works towards reducing the gap in representation by acting as an intermediary between students/graduates from marginalized communities, and the legal profession and judiciary. We have created a network of lawyers, law firms, judges, and other organisations and individuals, who are committed towards reforming the Indian legal profession.
CEDE has undertaken four key-initiatives towards its vision:
- Crowdsourcing Opportunities: Our network of lawyers commits to offering at leastone paid internship each year to a student selected by us from marginalized social backgrounds. Today, CEDE has empanelled 95 lawyers/law firms/academics, who have committed to the cause, including some of the top law firms and advocates in the country. We conduct a detailed intersectional selection process to find the right candidates, taking into factors such as income, residence, gender, sexuality, and parent’s level of education. CEDE also offers scholarships for students to be able to attend enriching physical internships, which are often in cities that they do not live in.
- Capacity-building: We host regular sessions where both soft and technical skills such as preparing resumes, email etiquette and legal research are taught. We also help students from marginalized communities in applying for higher education abroad. You can find recordings of these sessions on our YouTube channeland other resources here.
- Research: We believe research and advocacy are crucial components of any mission aimed at structural change. More importantly, there has not been much research done with respect to representation in the Indian legal field. CEDE conducts research focused on closing these gaps so that educated policy can be framed to remedy the current situation.
- Advocacy: To raise awareness about the need active efforts to improve representation, CEDE organises regular public events. Our notable events have been lectures delivered by Justice DY Chandrachud (Judge, Supreme Court of India) and Dr. Justice S. Muralidhar (Chief Justice, High Court of Orissa), among others.
Our experiences see this community-based model as scalable across industries, be it business consulting, engineering, technology or non-profits. It is sustainable and is relatively low cost and low maintenance, as once an individual or firm is empanelled they take it upon themselves to fund a candidate each year. The legal field is a good starting point, as the sway of social capital is particularly significant in this arena, with far-reaching, permanent consequences. CEDE hopes to start these conversations in other fields as well, and leverage our learnings in the legal space to help other organisations who want to make a difference in this respect.
You can read more about CEDE here. If you would like to donate towards our cause, you can do so here.
Note: This editorial is a part of the second edition of 'Vividh’- our bi-annual newsletter on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). To read the full newsletter click here