39 year old Bangalore based Shamnad Basheer is a lawyer with a difference. He sacrificed his career in intellectual property rights to educate the poor in legal education. His initiatives IDIA (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to Legal Education), and P-PIL (Promoting Public Interest Lawyering) are aimed towards making India as inclusive as possible by giving the underprivileged the best possible legal education and building community leaders to acquire access to the power corridors of law.
“IDIA is a nationwide movement that trains underprivileged students and helps transform them to leading lawyers and community advocates. Conceptualised in 2010, IDIA was deliberately operationalised as a student run movement to ease administrative bottlenecks that came with most law schools and to help channelize the energies of bright law students, who contribute in large part to the reputation of law schools. IDIA volunteers (law students) from various law schools travel across the length and breadth of India to identify marginalised students with an aptitude for the study of law. They then train these selected students (called IDIA scholars) through a rigorous program for the leading law entrance examinations, CLAT (Common Law Admission Test) and AILET (All India Law Entrance Test). In this way, IDIA volunteers are also sensitised to the role of the law in social empowerment. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough, given that the vast majority of current law students at the leading law schools hail from highly privileged backgrounds and have very little access to the various inequities that inform India. In fact, one of the key aims of IDIA is to foster more diversity in law schools that have become increasingly elitist over the years,” informs Prof. Basheer.
In the last three years, 40 scholars trained by IDIA volunteers made it to the leading National Law Universities (NLUs) in India. They reflect a truly diverse mix, comprising candidates from various backgrounds (children of farmers, stone quarry workers, shopkeepers and clerks) and across various states such as Karnataka, West Bengal, Jharkand, Rajasthan, Bihar, Manipur and Mizoram. Once selected to the top law schools, IDIA supports these scholars by arranging for sponsorships/scholarships and mentorship schemes that would enable them to blossom to their full potential. The main goal is to empower underprivileged communities by creating skilled advocates from within.
P-PIL on the other hand is an informal coalition of students and lawyers to work towards shared public interest goals. “The idea is to sensitise more students towards public interest work and to encourage attorneys to do more probono work and engage more with law schools. It is also hoped that this would result in some level of clinical training for law students who are otherwise taught law from mainly a theoretical perspective. One key aspect of P-PIL is to promote access to law for the common man,” says Basheer.
P-PIL’s portfolio includes:
- Launching several public interest litigations which foster academic engagements with courts.
- Helping families of missing sailors who went aboard rogue ships in tracking them down and also in potentially claiming compensation.
- Advocating change in competitive examinations such as CLAT to make it more disabled friendly.
- Undertaking empirical studies to demonstrate that there is a serious issue of access to most higher education text books, as they are excessively priced by international publishers.
After graduating from the l of India University, Bangalore, Professor Basheer joined Anand and Anand, one of India’s leading IP firms. He went on to lead the firm’s telecommunication and technology practice and was rated as a leading technology lawyer by the IFLR. He then went on to do his post-graduate studies at the University of Oxford, where he completed the BCL, MPhil and DPhil as a Wellcome Trust scholar. He was, till recently, the first Ministry of Human Resource Development Professor in Intellectual Property Law at the National University of Juridical Sciences (WB NUJS). He is the founder of the popular Indian intellectual property blog, SpicyIP, a blog that covers leading Indian IP developments and also advocates for a more transparent IP system.
“Through SpicyIP I campaigned for more transparency by petitioning the Prime Ministers Office to make valuable patent data (and associated scientific/technological information) freely available to the public. The campaign finally paid off and patent data is now available in open access mode,” informs Prof. Basheer. SpicyIP is rated as a leading IP blog, in India and around the world. In particular, it was included as one of the 50 most influential IP personalities in the world by Managing Intellectual Property (MIP), a leading IP magazine in the year 2014 (and earlier in 2011).
Prof Basheer was awarded the Infosys Prize for Humanities in 2014-15 by a jury comprising Prof Amartya Sen for his outstanding contributions to intellectual property research and scholarship. The award was also for his work pertaining access to law, legal education and justice.
Along with a team of disability activists, Prof Basheer also advocated for and procured one of the most liberal copyright exceptions in the world for the disabled. The exception permits any conversion of a copyrighted work with a view to making it more accessible to a person with disabilities. This is a very critical development as people with disabilities (particularly visually impaired) face a literal book famine and are unable to access more than 90% of printed material.
Prof. Basheer lives by the mission to make intellectual property law more inclusive by making the language of the law simpler for the general public to understand. ‘Knowledge regulations are the most important things in today’s world and I intend to bring the benefits of IPL to the bottom of the pyramid, to make it possible for all to participate in the knowledge economy and to get the underprivileged the best lawyers from our outfit,’ says Basheer.
Son of a teacher father who runs a school in Kulathupuzha, 3 hours from Trivandrum, Prof. Basheer lives a humble life, loves travelling and is a confirmed bibliophile. “I am especially fond of biographies as I love to know and understand people. Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand is my all time favourite,” says Shamnad Basheer who also reads spiritual and philosophical books including Buddhist literature. Shamnad is also a sports enthusiast and regularly played football and hockey in college. A keen follower of Zen Buddhism, Shamnad doesn’t believe in making plans. “Take one day at a time as life will take you into and unplanned courses best suited for you,” enumerates the young professor.