From a tribal hamlet in Manipur to an elite Law school in India – The journey of Thangminlal Haokip

From a tribal hamlet in Manipur to an elite Law school in India – The journey of Thangminlal Haokip

Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do — retired Brazilian professional footballer, Pele.

IMPHAL, May 16: When one door closes, another opens; when poverty strikes, hope arrives; when failure hits you, restore your confidence – Faith in oneself is perhaps the driving force for Manipur’s Thangminlal Haokip to fight the societal and stereotypical battles and challenges to get into one of India’s premier Law institute in the country.

Born in a small village in Churachandpur, Manipur, Haokip fondly known as Lalcha, belongs to a family of seven members (five brothers (presently) including his parents who reside in L. Gamnom Village in Churanchandpur. Tribal conflicts forced Lalcha to move out of Manipur and move to Bangalore where he was provided shelter at different charity homes.

But as fate has it, Lalcha who didn’t had a proper education was introduced to the Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access organization (IDIA), an organisation which aims at eradicating the increasing elitism and homogeneity at the leading national law schools in the country. Funded and trained by IDIA, Lalcha managed to crack the Common Law Admission Test to get into the India’s most pre-eminent law school, the National Law School of India University (NLSIU).

In an exclusive interview with TNT-The Northeast Today, Lalcha hoped to be a successful lawyer in Manipur even as he stated, “I owed it back to social good for who I’m today. I don’t wish to narrow myself to say that I will help a particular organization or school because they have helped me. I believed I owed it to society to help anywhere I can wherever I’m in.”

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Thangminlal Haokip

LIFE IN MANIPUR BACK IN THE DAYS

A poor tribal boy whose parents were cultivators, lived a normal village life until the tribal conflicts in mid-1990s in Manipur between the Nagas-Kukis, militancy rose and affected all the tribals. It became very difficult for Lalcha’s parents not only to send the boys to school but even provide for them.

“We were moving from one village to another; from one town to another for food and shelter. In the process, I end up schooling at different places without completing any of it properly. Once I was sent to a Govt. School at Tuiboung, Churachanpur because they supplied oil and rice to the students and when they stop supplying, I stop going,” Lalcha said.

When life became too difficult for him in Manipur, in 2001, Lalcha moved to Bengaluru where his uncle S. Seikhojang Haokip was residing. Whilst in Bangaluru, Lalcha stayed at the “Hope Children Home”, a children home set up by his uncle to help children especially from Manipur who were orphans and suffered during the tribal conflicts.

“I lived in the children home and was schooled at ‘Parikrma Humanity Foundation’. The school aim at providing education to children in slums, orphans and hugely deprived children in Bengaluru city such as children of vendors,” he said.

He have studied in a total of seven schools until his 12th grade and stayed in three hostels or children homes. Owing his academic success to ‘Parikrma Humanity Foundation’ and ‘Hope Children Home’ in Bengaluru, Lalcha said both has played an important role in his life, and have made him believed in the power of social services.

THE TIPPING POINT

When Lalcha was in the 12td grade, the student’s groups of National Law School of India University, Bengaluru visited the school to sensitize about IDIA.  It was there when Lalcha was introduced to the Common Law Admission Test; the exam is an entrance to get into the top National Law Schools in India. “We were told if we are interested IDIA would fund our training programs, provides us materials and also appoint a law student mentor to guide us in our study and not only that they would take care of your tuitions fees throughout the completion of our course,” Lalcha explained.

The exam being written by about 50,000 students in a year on an average where the first 80 ranks get into NLS is a very competitive one.

When opportunities came knocking at his door, Lalcha didn’t ignore it rather, he chose to give the exams and to break the barriers. “To decide to write the exam was a difficult choice to make,” he said. Being the first generation from his family to attend school and college and without any sort of awareness about law as a career especially without anyone to guide, the possibilities to choose law as a career was vague.

“I was completely unaware of how choosing law as a career would shape my life. But after looking into my own life experienced and my aspiration and dreams I realized that I would like to do social work and work with people to bring change in our society, and then realized that the best way to do so was to study law because I believed that law had a power and can equip one with skills to bring in great changes in society,” Lalcha asserted.

“The level of English was high and for scholars like us who had come from rural sides or school at a government school or NGO’s run school, it was very difficult to break in. But for me, I was wholly supported by my school Parikrma and IDIA with all the needs necessary to attempt the exam without spending a penny,” he said while expressing gratitude to his mentors and organisations for supporting him along the way.

ABOUT IDIA

In an interaction with this scribe, IDIA founder, Prof Shamnad Basheer spoke at length about the driving force behind IDIA. Quoting Victor Hugo, Prof Basheer said “No force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come!” I guess this rings true for IDIA as well. A constellation of factors contributed to the concept called IDIA.”

Throwing more light on this, Prof Basheer said that the increasing elitism and homogeneity at the leading national law schools was something he witnessed first-hand when he returned to India from the US in 2008. Law schools were dominated by the rich and the mighty and rural lad and tribal folks had no place. “I was shocked! And thus was born IDIA!”

The second trigger was an advocacy campaign where Prof Basheer was co-opted into a team of disability activists. Because of copyright law restrictions, the visually impaired could not access a number of books. “We therefore campaigned for an exception to the copyright law wherein printed books could be freely converted to accessible formats (such as Braille etc) for the visually impaired.”

“This incident really opened my eyes to the fact that, rather than simply relying on the privileged to take up cudgels for the underprivileged, a far more effective way of empowering them is by directly placing the tools of the law in their hands. This is a far more meaningful way of empowering people,” he commented.

We were very clear that we didn’t want to create mere run of the mill lawyers, but leaders that would transform society in significant ways. To this end, we have a very intensive training programme that we’ve just unleashed called CHAMPS, where we seek to create lawyers that are Creative, Holistic, Altruistic and Maverick Problem Solvers. (link to CHAMPS here and link to IDIA here).

LALCHA FROM PROF BASHEER’S PERSPECTIVE

Lalcha is an exceptional scholar. He’s our poster boy for the proposition that diversity enhances the educational experience of even the privileged students, for they would have never ever has come across this alternative world view that Lalcha espouses.

I still remember how under-confident and meek Lalcha was when we first met him. Spoke with his eyes to the ground and in a very soft voice. Now he is assertive and confident and 3 years in law school has clearly changed him. We made it very clear to our scholars that there will be tremendous pressure to fit into a mainstream script at law school. But that they should resist this at much as possible and permit their individuality to shine through and take the less trodden path.

 LALCHA’S ASPIRATIONS

At the professional level, I wish to be a successful lawyer in Manipur someday and hopefully also contest the election because I know that changes in communities and society in the Manipur can be only done effectively by people who hold power and who really care and understand issues about social justice. Even after more than a decade of staying outside my hometown and having been able to visit only twice due to financial problems, I know that I’m a product of our community and I owed it to my community to give it back. And as we are taught at our children home, I believe that as long as we take care of our families and communities the world will take care of itself.

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Thangminlal Haokip

LEAD THE WAY  

I can only give few thoughts to people who wish to take up law as a career. Everybody today knows that there is a legal aspect in any sort business or services. India has seen a new revival of the profession post neo-liberalism and the profession is only growing since the field is expanding. Hence a career in law is one of the most progressive one today.

And for anyone who seeks to study law I strongly suggest such students to write CLAT and find themselves in one of the National Law Schools, the closest being in Assam. They are more professional, vibrant, better equip, and provide you with better prospects with works and future education and most importantly expose you to vibrant campus with different people, from different backgrounds and experiences which are a great learning in itself.

BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE

Lalcha believes that the younger generation will bring in new ideas and perspectives to deal with issues that most of the states in the North-East region are suffering from such as unemployment, corruption, education and militancy. “At least I know for sure that I will be a part of such change and therefore I’m greatly hopeful about the future in the region.”

By Ibankyntiew Mawrie — The writer can be reached at mawrie.iban@gmail.com or iban@thenortheasttoday.com




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