By Tarunika Rajesh, Law College Dehradun, Uttaranchal University.

The Need to Transform India at the Ground Level via Legal Awareness and Education

Legal awareness and knowledge are an indispensable part of a citizen’s education program which will enlighten and empower him to scale new heights of progression and free himself from the excesses of the executive or any existing authority. It is the central key to unlocking the door of positive change that we have cried out for so long in the years gone by and desire so much. This article stresses on the importance of Legal Literacy and how it can affect the pattern of overall development this New Year.

January 2015, marks the beginning of a New Year, opening up a whole new horizon of possibilities and positivity and a resounding and rejuvenated promise of ‘good old days’, which was the earmarked sound heard across the length and breadth of India. However, in the wake of such grandiose assurances and brimming positivity in the Indian political arena that dominated the media all through 2014, a little introspection regarding what went by and where we are today will not only help us in understanding our present standing better but also aid in keeping a tab of ‘rights and the wrongs’ which need to be used as stepping stones for 2015 as the political force will continue to alter, but the masses remain constant and the future of a democracy truly lies with them.

India has the distinction of being the world’s largest functioning democracy. Ever since her independence, India has been growing and developing through a democratic system of governance which involves self-rule by the people, clearly implying that the citizens are the constituents of not only the country but the foundation of democracy on which the entire structure of our legal framework lies.

“Legal Literacy is the core basis of the survival of our Constitutional Democracy. Our entire judicial set-up functions on the presumption that all people are aware of their rights and are able to approach the concerned institution.”

-Ex-Chief Justice of India, P. Sathasivam.

The supreme law of our nation is the Constitutional Law which is paramount and held as the highest and the ultimate authority that governs all the inhabitants living in the Indian democratic state. The main purpose of the laws so framed and presented in the Constitution is to safeguard, protect and preserve the life of all citizens and to prevent the rights that such individuals possess, from being infringed upon, or harmed and hampered with in the course of their lifetime. The basic ground or the foundation on which laws, rules and regulations were laid down was the agenda of protecting the rights of all and to ensure the wellbeing, happiness growth, expansion and development of the society and the people at large and simultaneously ensure that each person is able to successfully and peacefully live under the ambit of the law. To precisely put it, laws exist to serve the people and to achieve the ultimate end (which is welfare of one and all and to attain the highest level of progress attainable for the nation)

But the current state of affairs is grimly different from the aspirations and vision that the Indian judiciary and our forefathers had; because the advancement of India’s legal framework; has midway stalled due to the presence of impediments such as ignorance and lack of awareness about the existing laws and the available remedies in the legal system ; which in turn bottlenecks the progress of our country. Lack of knowledge about the basic legal and civil liberties , human rights , constitutional directives and other guidelines and principles that protect the dignity, liberty and freedom of people manifests itself in the society in the form of problems such as child labour, human trafficking etc. that threatens the safety of all.

Legal literacy is empowerment of individuals concerning issues that involve the law which helps in the promotion of legal consciousness, participation in the formation of laws& policies and rule of law[1].

Simply put, legal literacy means:

“the elementary knowledge of law and information about the legal processes and not explicitly the in-depth advocacy.”[2]

It is essential to make sure that the government and the judiciary focus on making basic legal education available for all persons in India. It is crucial to understand that the  foundation of our Constitution faces risk of erosion if legal awareness is limited to select few people who consciously or knowingly adopt the study of law. With a population of over 1.21 billion[3], it is sad to note that a staggering 45% are illiterate, clearly implying -, let alone basic compulsory education for all; the Government has failed to rectify the dismal situation of lack of education and awareness that India is reeling under which puts a question mark on the legal education and awareness set-up. Legal literacy and awareness are proven effective arms that can be used to bring about the radical change that the society wants which can happen if such legal education is transmitted at the grass root level.

In Air India Statutory Cooperation v. United Labour Union [4] , the concept of social justice has been explained as follows: “ …..The aim of social justice is to attain substantial degree of economic, social and political equality which is the legitimate expectation and constitutional goal. In a developing society like ours, where there is a vast gap of inequality in status and of opportunity, law is a catalyst to the poor etc. The Constitution thus mandates the state to accord justice to all members of the society in all facets of human activity. Rule of law is therefore is a potent instrument of social justice to bring about equality.’’

Most importantly, the fundamental propose of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code is “ignorantia legis neminem excusat “ or “ignorantia juris non excusat’’ meaning ignorance of the law is no excuse, thus making legal literacy and awareness compulsory for all citizens.

With the ever expanding population , social changes and booming economy , comes the downside of persistent problems that are still prevalent in India that is proving to be a major obstacle in the path of India’s progress and development .Issues such as corruption, increasing crime rate amongst the people belonging to the lower –strata of the society , poverty, mounting unemployment and more, are directly or indirectly linked to lack of education which creates prisoners or victims who rot in either the prisons or in some dingy corner of a city’s underbelly; witnessing their life being either taken away from them or decomposing every day ; as a result ; creating a negative, grim, canvass whereby the people are affected and the law and democracy completely fail to serve their true purpose.  Hence, in order to eliminate the problems present, the government and judiciary must fortify the structure of society-, The people, by ensuring the propagation, dissemination and overall spread of education and awareness followed by basic legal education which should by diffused via right policies, information, organisation legal camps in villages, schools etc that in turn; will serve the dual purpose of legal and country progression and extension of democratic consciousness  . Until one gains basic understanding of how to safeguard his life and property via legal methods and guaranteed rights, the dream of a developed and progressive society shall remain an ideal-to-be-achieved and not turn into reality. Such legal literacy must entail easy and comprehensible legal awareness about oneself (in the capacity of a citizen) and the Constitution- The paramount law of the land and must be made readily available to all citizens, both young and old ; poor and rich alike that will shield them from injustice and the negative repercussions of economic, political and social issues and also assist them in asserting themselves better in the political events and voice their opinions effectively to bring about the change they want to see in their environ.

Legal Literacy for this reason is an instrument of change that will help in bringing about radical differences in the lives of those who use this instrument to best of their ability. Sociological studies of 1st world nations point out the fact that better awareness of the legal know-how helps citizens to implement and exercise their rights, decipher their duties better and comprehend policies laid down by the Supreme law and executive of the nation and creates confidence amongst all; creating a milieu of positive change which can take place via the following mediums:-

  1. Better Implementation of policies and constitutional mandates that guarantee right to education /legal awareness directly or indirectly.
  2. Implementation of social mechanisms such as Legal camps, workshops etc, to publicize knowledge about the legal framework and constitution.
  3. Assistance provided by legal jurists, academicians, professors, advocates and other such professionals who can aid in the better understanding of laws and its working.
  4. Making basic –level legal education mandatory for all youngsters/ school going children.
  5. The government must issue such policies that are directed towards making such workshops, camps, classes available to villages, small towns, districts etc or where the ratio of illiteracy is significantly higher.
  6. Ensuring legal assistance to the uneducated/ poor in all government and legal offices etc.

Thus, it is pertinent to understand that basic education entailing mandatory legal awareness and knowledge is the first step towards making India rise as a superpower nation in reality; which will not only metamorphose the lives of the unruly but bring a drastic change in the way society functions in all avenues. Not only will it help in tackling with social, economic and political problems but also help in the prevention of exploitation of the person by the powerful and help in better integration of the essence of the various laws and legal procedures created by our forefathers and the legislature.

[1] Origin : Wikipedia

[2] Lawyer’s Club India , Article, 19th June 2011

[3] 15th Census of India.

[4] AIR1997 SC 645