THE BANYAN TREE: VOLUME II - BRINGING CHANGE - LAWS AND LEGAL AID FOR SOCIAL ACTION

( By Editor : Carol Huss )

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Introduction

Equal Justice

"Equal justice and free legal aid : The State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes, or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities."


- Article 39-A
Constitution of India


The Mask Of Law And Order


The Mask of Law and Order


When a poor man
take a few coconuts
from his neighbour’s land
to feed his children who are in need,
that is robbery,
according to the law.
He can be convicted,
perhaps even jailed.




When a rich man
lives in wanton luxury,
spends infinitely more than he needs
on food, clothes, amusements,
while others are starving, naked, wretched,
that is legitimate.
There is no law to convict him.


The laws are made by the rich,
who make them not to convict themselves,
but to oppress the poor.
If the poor made the laws,
It would be a different story.
The rich may then be seen
in their true colours




When a rich man
owns hundreds or thousands of acres,
while there are others
who do not own an inch,
that is not robbery.
That is because we must
at all costs, safeguard
the sacredness
of private property,
which means just reward
for the labour of ancestors so that descendants
may not labour.


When an employer
pays himself infinitely more
than the worker - than his own servant,
that is not robbery,
that is merely just reward
for education and culture,
that is the way
to encourage initiative and enterprise.




When a poor man
in desperation,
gets drunk,
picks a quarrel,
draws a knife,
kills,
That, obviously, is murder-violence
punishable by death.


When Company directors
sack workers with impunity
and so condemn whole families
to penury and want,
that is not violence,
because no knife has been used.
No knife need be used,
a peremptory word suffices.
Labour tribunals need not be feared overmuch,
loopholes can be found, laws, delays,
political influence . . .




Basically, the system stinks,
the system of law and order,
the system dominates individuals,
the ultimate sanctions rest on
violence.
No less violence,
because it is often hidden, indirect,
subtle violence,
not recognized as violence.


Yet, in our society-
there is legalised robbery and violence
in normal times-
respectable men of power,
In Sangha, shurch and state,
robbing in broad daylight,
violent,
spilling the blood of people
continuously
in complete freedom,
with impunity,
proud and unrepentant,
self-righteous, complacent . . .




So, established law and order
it is not as simple as all that.
There is established injustice,
established disorder, massive
institutionalised disorder,
naked oppression,
masquerading under the guise of
law and order,
continuously, all the time.


(This extract is taken form ‘Violent Lanka : The Day for Slaughter, An Interpretation of the Revolt of April 1981’)


Summary

Miscarriage of justice has become a norm rather than an exception in India today. The legal system has been reduced to a mere pawn in the hands of the powerful, viz. those with political of financial clout. In these circumstances, legal aid to the poor is like a tiny sailship trying desperately to survive in an ocean raging with corruption and injustice.

This chapter attemps to put froth some crucial aspects of the law, in the hope that it may inspire the general reader to work for social change- and change for a more just India.

The chapter begins by recapitulating some of the constitutional provisions, and then goes on to highlight some crucial laws, under the headings of ‘Laws relating to Oppressed Sections’, ‘Laws relating to women’and ‘Laws relating to Health and Wellbeing.’

It concludes with a summary of the legal aid work being done, commenting on it. Appendix I gives an inspiring account of the efforts of a social activist committed to the cause of social justice.

Introduction


If one wants to judge the progress of any society, one must study its laws. Laws represent the needs, aspirations, norms, values, priority and maturity of the people. Ideally they should reflect the ‘collective’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘enlightened’ will of the people.

Since no society is static, and social processes are constantly changing, a good legal system is one which ensures that laws adapt to the changing situations and ensure social good. Any legal system that aims to ensure good, cannot overlook two things: (I) the basic dignity of the human being; and (ii) the inherent need of every individual to grow into the fullness of life.

For any legal system to be effective and ‘on its toes’ as it were, it requires intelligent feedback and criticism. Unfortunately in India, poverty, illiteracy, lack of awareness regarding legal rights, and the paraphernalia of the legal system have combined to isolate the system from the people. The India legal system and its intricacies are a mystery to most Indians - even the so-called urban educated Indian! To the lay person, Law is confined to court rooms and lawyers’ offices. Few of us realize that whether we like it or not, Law affects our lives, or more important, that we can and should turn to the to enforce our rights and the rights of the poor masses. What is happening now is that the system is being used mainly by the rich and the powerful, in order to become more rich and powerful, while the masses are being denied justice.

Lack of awareness of one’s legal rights is only part of the whole problem. The other more important part is the reluctance on the part of the people in the legal system to demystify law and make it an instrument of social justice and wellbeing for the masses.

There is a saying that when a lawyer enters your door, your fortunes fly out through the window. Litigation is a luxury which only the well placed can afford. G ge Bernard Shaw once said about doctors that there was nothing more dangerous than a poor doctor. This applies, in a sense to lawyers as well, because most lawyers work in the traditional system of litigation, which works within the status quo, and even seeks to perpetuate it. Just as doctors have a vested interest in ill health, lawyers have a vested interest in litigation.

The hope of the Indian masses does not lie in the legal system alone - that is obvious - but in their conscious awakening and fight for social and economic justice. Knowledge of their legal rights however, can be an important motivating force in this. Of late, many agencies and individuals are emerging in different parts of the counrty to take up the cause of social change... and change for a more just India, where justice will not merely be talked about in intellectual discussions on the intricacies of law, or writtcn about in books, which the masses can’t read, or exchanged for good old money, but actually lived and experienced by the majority of the people.

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