Research Foundation for Governance in India | Learning law through debates
This not-for-profit aims to work in the area of legal reforms
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Pagloo, a bespectacled school-going child with curly hair, cannot hide his anxiety when he comes to know that a circus team is camping near his home. The noise is nightmarish, and he is soon seen having a debate with the circus clown on the rights and freedom of the people. Pagloo, the cartoon character, is part of Lawtoons—a comic series started by Kanan Dhru, a lawyer, as part of a project for Global Shapers Ahmedabad hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum. The comics are aimed at creating awareness about elections and governance issues. And with the general elections due next year, Dhru thinks the timing is just right for Pagloo.
These books will be made available in Gujarati and English and will be circulated in private and municipal schools in Ahmedabad this year. Through this project Dhru plans to directly reach out to more than 1,000 children from diverse socio-economic backgrounds as a part of the pilot study in Ahmedabad district.
Dhru is the founder and chairperson of Research Foundation for Governance in India (RFGI), a non-government organization she established in 2009.
About six years ago, when Dhru came back to India from the London School of Economics, UK, after a degree in law, she started practising in the Gujarat high court. She was encouraged by many lawyers, even judges, to join some corporate office instead and take home a fat salary. In court, she realized that a “lot of injustice prevailed within the legal system”. She quit in December 2008 and set up the RFGI. Over the next six months, she interviewed about 150 lawyers across six cities—Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai—to find out what it meant to be a young lawyer in India.
Dhru found that many junior lawyers were being exploited by their seniors—47% of the junior lawyers working with seniors did not get paid in the first three years of practice and only 6% of the lawyers got more than Rs.8,000 as a monthly salary.
Her findings were initially dismissed by many as “Kanan stories” but matters changed when at a national seminar organized by the RFGI, the chief justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and the founder-director of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in Bangalore, N.R. Madhava Menon, endorsed the RFGI’s findings.
“The then Union law minister Veerappa Moily, came to know of this seminar. As a result, ‘junior’ lawyers in the Supreme Court in Delhi have been entitled to scholarships by the government for a period of five years,” says 30-year-old Kanan.
She has taken some inspiration from think tanks like the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution and the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research. The focus of her organization is to bring about legal and political reforms by way of research and public debate.
“I realized that issue of governance was the biggest issue in India and I wanted to work in the area of legal and political reforms. Even today there are barely any organizations in India that work in these areas,” she says.
The RFGI works completely on a voluntary basis and has over 100 local volunteers, consisting of students from prominent academic institutions and working professionals, in Ahmedabad.
Nirad Purani, 28, of the RFGI, who has a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and is now pursuing a master’s degree in law, has been mobilizing the urban educated youth of Ahmedabad for the past two years to participate in public debates.
“At the RFGI, we prepared a report on internal democracy within political parties and showed the flaws in them. Representatives from both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janta Party attended a debate on the same and discussed corrective measures,” says Purani.
Another core area that the RFGI is developing is providing help in the process of drafting legislation at various levels of the governance system.
In one of her articles published on The Huffington Post, titled “Creating a Better Society: At What Cost?”, Dhru wrote about the barriers faced by individuals like her in running an NGO in India. Yet she remains optimistic about her venture. She aims to set up a world-class research institute to help ensure good governance at every level. The RFGI has already signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Gujarat government for this and Dhru has plans to have a new-age organization based on the Google model. “It’s still a long way from here to realize this dream,” she says.
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Rs.10,000 can help them to
* Conceptualize five more cartoon books on law and democracy.
* Organize seminars and awareness programmes on mediation.
* Make an interactive documentary on importance of mediation.
If you volunteer, you will
* Help organize debates and awareness programmes.
The RFGI doesn’t have any major grants. It works by taking help in kind.
To contact Research Foundation for Governance in India (RFGI), visit www.rfgindia.org