Is the CLAT-2021 exam for NLUs elitist and exclusionary?

A significant portion of the questions were long English passages, which some argue would restrict the chances of a marginalized student from entering any of the NLUs.

Hyderabad: The recently conducted Common law admission test (CLAT) on July 23 for entry into the National Law Universities (NLU’s) has been criticized for its length and the quandary in which it placed the students who wrote it. The students who hoped to enter these prestigious institutions, had to read a 41-page question paper as they attempted to tackle the long-form questions in a two-hour duration.

A significant portion of the questions were long English passages, which some argue would restrict the chances of a marginalized student from entering any of the NLUs, given its complex structure. Some lawyers Siasat.com spoke to, also aired similar views. The arduousness of the paper is made more difficult by the limited duration in which they have to be answered.

“The exam makes it difficult for students from underprivileged groups. Getting a foot inside any of the national law schools is currently limited to urban, rich students. As it is, corporate firms only hire graduates from the NLU’s and if getting into the university itself is difficult, then only the privileged groups manage to get high-paying jobs.” remarked Sourya Banerjee, a litigator from Hyderabad.  

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Anas Tanwir, a lawyer and the founder of Indian Civil Liberties Union remarked that if he were asked to write the exam at this point, he probably wouldn’t be able to crack it either. Speaking about specific questions in the paper, he bemoans the unfairness of asking aspiring candidates to answer questions related to res judicata and compassionate appointments.

While a meeting held by the members of the Consortium of National Law Universities, scrapped the question discussing res judicata alongside other questions in the exam, Tanwir’s overarching complaint of elitism still remains.

 “These are specific aspects of law which students learn in due course throughout their program. The only thing the National Law Schools are proving so far with this exam is that they are comfortable aiding wealthy students alone,” he remarked.

Banerjee notes that judges in the Supreme Court and High Court are unlikely to look favorably on litigators who are unable to speak good English.

“The irony of the situation is that being able to speak in any vernacular language aids lawyers in administrative offices. If the National Law Schools are keen on producing thoughtful lawyers who also work at the grassroots and defend the ideals of the Constitution, they should make it far more accessible than it is currently.”

When the above concerns were put forth to Dr. Faizan Mustafa, the vice-chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, he had a different view of the situation.

“The CLAT-2021 question paper at this current juncture is far easier than what it used to be prior to 2019 when there were 200 questions and some of those tested a student’s memory unfairly. If anything the current criticism should be levied against the coaching centers for their poor training and exorbitant fees.”  

Dr. Mustafa added that while he was personally opposed to testing teenagers on their in-depth awareness of the law, he saw no harm with the length of the paper. “A good lawyer is supposed to be skilled in the art of reading as they will have to sift through judgments which are around 800 pages long. If anything the CLAT question paper since 2019 is far more inclusive than it was before as it only tests a student’s reasoning abilities.”  

However, Bhavya Johari from Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access, a trust which trains marginalized students for law entrance exams flagged a separate concern.

“For every objection the student raises to the Consortium regarding a question in the exam, the amount they have to pay is Rs 1000. While the amount is returned once the objections are accepted, the objection mechanism creates an exclusionary bubble inaccessible to marginalized groups,” he remarked.

With the Consortium defending the exam and some activists and lawyers criticizing it, it is yet to be seen what shape the CLAT exam takes in the coming academic years.

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