26 Jan 2008

Elementary Legal Education- Time to Make a Move?

Well, I believe that this idea must have been mooted in India before my writing this post. Nevertheless, I want to swing the intellectual limelight anew on this issue and wish that it receives attention on the boards of Knowledge Commission and other higher functionaries very soon, for the simple reason that riding on Abdul Kalam’s ‘Wings of Fire’, we are going to be a economically developed nation in the near future. Look at developed nations around the world and you will find that a population informed of its legal rights and duties is indispensable for such a transition; be it the Englishman with a belief in Rule of Law (as Dicey, a great English scholar, has put it) or the 'litigation-oriented' American (as everyone puts it).

One personal reason for making this call for elementary legal education is a realization on my part of the importance of knowledge of ‘law’ in a citizen’s life and of the futility of all course contents that we make students (like me) to mug up till the 12th standard. I am not denying the practical utility of the latter in our nation’s life but it has to be realized that all our endeavors are aimed at ‘happiness’ (of one and of all) and this whole system of governance has been devised as a means to that end. We as citizens go through the rigours of elections to devise laws to maximize our happiness and thus, we cannot afford to live in the blissful state of ignorance of law. I will try to explain my contention as lucidly as possible in the following paragraphs.

Beneath the complex system of laws that govern the citizenry, there lies a mass of different desirable social objectives to be attained through a series of structured legal norms. In every society, more so pronounced in a democratic civilized society, these norms keep the cohesive fabric of society intact by either proscribing pernicious conduct or regulating and facilitating everyday transactions between any citizen and the society. Laws affect every aspect of life by defining the precincts of ‘rights’, ‘freedoms’ and ‘liberties’ and prescribing a code of directives on fundamental aspects like birth, marriage, maintenance, proprietary transactions like will, gift, sale, mortgage. It prescribes the content of contractual documents and lays condition for legal enforcement of such transactions. Violation of legal provisions entails liabilities in form of penalties or by rendering transactions ineffective. However, the legal system does not recognize the ignorance of legal provisions as a defence to any defaulter. In such a scenario, a legally informed citizenry is essential if laws are to have any meaning just like a game where the players should be aware of the essential rules.

The Indian democratic structure is premised on the concept of ‘Rule of Law; a fact which the Supreme Court reiterates every time it acts as the ‘sentinel on qui vive’ (guardian) for the Fundamental Rights of the citizenry against governmental transgressions. However, the important question is how many of the 1.2 billion people know what Rule of Law is? Even if we leave apart this question as one concerning a hyper-technical legal term, how many educated people really know about the content of some of the basic laws? Sadly, a country which claims to be governed by rule of law and not of men , scarcely recognizes that the whole democracy, about which there is so much hullabaloo, is only a institutionalized means of law making and law implementation. It is essential to seek what the real nature of law is. Those who perceive law as a mere subject in which only advocates and jurists should indulge in, most conveniently forget that law is just another form of a social norm having the authority of State behind it and made through the democratic process we have in place today. How can a society ensure order amongst its members if the majority is unaware of the rules of conduct? How can a country which claims to be the most populous democracy in the world take pride in its development if majority of its citizens are legally ignorant? Can the Indian State still boast of a golden fabric of ‘Rule of Law’ when its student community is blissfully ignorant of the system in which they are going to earn and live?

The Civics textbooks at school level offer only a dribble of knowledge about the law making process and some fundamental rights, which does not help as no one can really ‘learn’ anything significant in the cram-and-vomit culture prevalent today; of which I have been a part very recently. To crown it, a majority of students are driven into the rat race of engineering through premier institutes like IITs and NITs or medical education through CPMT. Nobody takes the dull Civics textbook seriously and the only important subjects are Science and Mathematics. Our system may be producing many good engineers and doctors but where is that single legally educated responsible citizen coming out from schools? Far from being an unsubstantiated claim it is a sad realization, even on my part, that this sort of education stunts growth of thinking and learning capabilities. It rips apart our constitutional dream of engendering a scientific temper and a spirit of inquiry. But since the majority is not aware of what Article 51A is all about, no one is bothered.

Amidst a culture where education has been commercialized, where it saps the intellectual freedom out of an individual through a rote routine and where a frenetic rat race for engineering and medical education through premier institutions has driven the students in a whorl of coaching and tuition centres, something little in us seems lost. It should not be forgotten that the life and liberty of every individual is linked to ‘law’. But how effectively can a person protect the former if he has no knowledge of the latter. Take for example a simple case where a college student involved in a small brawl is arrested by the Police, handcuffed and paraded through the campus to set example for others. The boy’s dignity has been besmirched by handcuffing which is not permissible except in extreme cases. The boy, if legally ignorant of the basic right, will do nothing while the same boy, if aware of the right, could have sought damages from the authorities for an undue incursion on his right to live with dignity. More than the content, what is required to be taught is ‘respect for laws’. People violate traffic rules, not solely because they are not aware of them, but more because the knowledge evokes no sense of responsibility in them. Though many may differ on this point, yet it is quiet right to propose that respect can be engendered if the minds are conditioned in a proper way during the childhood. The issue is not a trivial one but it goes to the roots of what is going wrong and offers us an opportunity to enkindle a national debate about elementary legal education.

I know the post has been a long one but I firmly believe that I have driven home a point.

1 comment:

Hakuna Matata said...

Thats so true!! I've met quite a number of people who refrained fro going to the Consumer Court coz they didnt want to spend on 'lawyers'