‘The Law’ is not a mystical animal, rather it is a living reality that every human being has to engage with. It only makes sense if the law is simple enough for a lay-person to understand, comprehend, and engage with ease. But the lack of legal awareness, the legalese in which most laws are couched, the difficulty in accessing laws because of language barriers, are some of the factors that lead to the mystification of the legal system, thereby creating a barrier to access to justice.
Every legal system operates on the assumption that the people living in that country know ‘the law’. Yet the fallacy of this assumption and its implications are rarely debated. There are awareness programs carried out by governments, NGOs and other stakeholders but the scale at which they are carried out remains abysmally low. Therefore we have a situation where there are many laws but very little legal awareness. Even though the number of internet users has risen tremendously over the last few decades, simple and accessible information on relevant laws in all languages is still a distant dream. For laws to contribute to meaningful social change, it is necessary to bring the majesty of law from the high galleries of the courts into the households of those most affected by it.
The Indian government passed the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. This Act mandates the creation of legal awareness. It establishes legal authorities at three different levels – national, state and district. These authorities are mandated to provide ‘legal services’ to those who cannot afford it and to organize Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes. Though they have done some good work, the potential of technology has not been tapped into.
Technology can become a game-changer given its widespread use and power to connect users in multiple ways. The first advantage of technology is that it can help to reach out to a large number of people with relatively little effort. Second, getting questions, concerns, feedback from the people is easier over the internet than setting a physical base which requires people to travel in order to access legal information. Thirdly, developing a collaborative and interactive approach becomes easier. Internet platforms such as Google, YouTube and Whatsapp can reach out to the maximum number of people. Not many people would venture to find out about the National Legal Services Authority unless they are in dire need. But using the internet to create legal awareness takes a pro-active approach, as opposed to a responsive approach of helping a user only when he/she comes looking for a solution or legal aid.
As a step towards tapping into technology, I started a project called ‘Hamara Kanoon’. (Translated from Hindi, it means ‘Our Law’). It is a year-long project to explain some main laws in simple language in Hindi. The idea is to make laws accessible and create legal awareness. I upload a 10-15 minute video once every week. So far, I have uploaded 17 videos on issues that include, among other things, the Domestic Violence Act 2005, Legal Services Authorities Act 1987, rights of consumers, law on sedition, law on bail, laws against human trafficking, on creation and registration of trust, on creation of wills.
Some of the factors I consider when choosing the topics of the videos are the number of people who may be benefitted, whether it is a welfare legislation that provides benefits or special protection to a set of people, whether it addresses a particular social issue, whether it speaks directly to a weaker section of society etc. It is an attempt to provide an overview of the most important legislation in India in simple and accessible language. You can see the videos here: https://www.youtube.com/user/AvaniBansal/videos
There is a need to use technology directly to solve one of the major problems facing access to justice viz. the dearth of legal information that is accessible to common people in a language that they understand. At the moment, Hamara Kanoon videos are in Hindi but hopefully they can be translated to all the popular languages in India. It is my hope that many more stakeholders will replicate this model and come together to brainstorm ideas on tapping technology to enhance access to justice in India.