It is easy to lose track of your carefree, easy-going self in the humdrum of law school. So had I forgotten what it was like to be blithe, until I decided to take up a volunteering stint.
Volunteering is a noble way to instil a sense of social responsibility in young students and benefit communities at the same time. Right from the inception of our undergraduate courses, the rigorous thrust towards embarking on a career-based path is something we experience day in and day out.
For law students, the situation might be even bleaker. Therefore, when I decided to volunteer at a middle school in the remote village of Darchiks, I had little hope that the BCI would count it as a valid internship.
Darchiks is situated at a distance of seventy-odd kilometres from the town of Kargil, in the region that has become popular lately as Aryan Valley in Ladakh. Nestled amid the rocky Himalayas, fed by the waters of the Indus, the village is rich in apples, apricots, pears, walnuts, almonds, grapes and whatnot.
What, however, sets Darchiks apart from the rest of Ladakh are its inhabitants. The Brokpa people—a Dardic tribe—trace their lineage all the way to a few itinerant soldiers of Alexander’s mutinying army. Their claim to an Aryan ancestry is preserved in their opulent oral tradition of folk songs and tales.
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Keeping all that aside, what might be relevant here is my endeavour to spread a bit of legal awareness there. The authority of the Lambardar, some semblance of a village headman like figure, is absolutely indisputable and ultimate there.
He, assisted by a couple of other members, forms an informal forum of adjudication where petty criminal and civil matters are considered—the former kind of cases though are seldom heard of. The focus would be on reconciliation and harmony over all-or-nothing justice.
One of my primary attempts was to get the villagers to register births and deaths. In a culture where a person’s birthday is celebrated only once in every twelve years, keeping an accurate tab on age might be a tricky exercise.
However, even the children there nowadays refuse to go without celebrating their birthdays every year. With more and more people marrying outside the tribe, it is becoming increasingly important for them to register their marriages.
But at the fundamental level, what I found was needed even more was to educate them on which courts they can approach and what are the possible avenues of appeal in the event of a serious dispute. Otherwise, their traditional forum of dispute resolution is faring wonderfully in terms of cohesively and harmoniously binding the Brokpa society in Darchiks.
Volunteering is all about stepping out of one’s comfort zone. It is about burning your fingers while attempting to cook for the first time.
There is a different taste, almost incredibly more refreshing and clearer, in the water that you fetch yourself from the mountain stream. At the same time, it would be shameful to not be wary of the acute water crisis that the region is facing.
Surviving on no more than three hours of electricity a day just shuts your electronics. If not that, the shabby network certainly will. Perhaps it is about returning to nature: not just the majestic mountains and lucid rivers and lush-green meadows, but also in terms of the human, down-to-earth personalities that we all are, or, for that matter, at least should strive to be.
Before progressing to the senior years at law school, volunteering is the perfect opportunity, and probably the last as well, to shed our black suits, rest our intimidating treatises and for once be the nonchalant yet productive young individuals that we all are at our hearts.