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Lack of Legal Literacy in India - What Rights Are We Entitled To?

By Aranya Sharma

“Now it is common knowledge that about 70% of the people living in rural areas are illiterate and even more than that percentage of the people are not aware of the right conferred upon them by law. Even literate people do not know what their rights and entitlements are under the law. It is this absence of legal awareness which is responsible for the deception, exploitation and deprivation of rights and benefits from which the poor suffer in this land”.

It is, to a surprise of many, a startling revelation that even literate and educated people are not aware about their rights, privileges and their legal entitlement. How many of us know that without being accompanied by a female cop, a girl/woman can not be enquired after dusk? I bet none of us are even aware about the fact that all women are legally entitled to receive free legal assistance in case of any disputes.

Legal literacy is as fundamentally crucial as financial literacy or literacy in general. As soon as we are born in this country, we automatically acquire the rights and privileges of a citizen of the country. Knowing about the law and our rights isn’t important for the sake of it, but the purpose of it is to prevent us from being exploited by irrational or illegal means.

Is there a benefit in questioning the current scenario of the rural women and other underprivileged sections of the society and their access to legal aids? The fact that even the literate or affluent class of the society is unaware of their rights and responsibilities makes us want to question the status of this issue pan India. Legal literacy is the cornerstone of a democracy, it is a lubricant for making the democracy and the elected representatives work effectively and efficiently. In a research by an independent organisation it was revealed that the actual expenditure on a student in a government school in Delhi was far less that the actual funding sanctioned. This information was extracted through filing RTIs the procedure of which is unknown to the common public.

Lack of legal literacy and awareness stems out of the country’s education system which emphasizes on the traditional rote-learning techniques. Practical knowledge and relevant information is never imparted and is neither a part of the school curriculum. There is a greater need to depute this knowledge and awareness at the school level so that they grow up to be legally informed and aware apart from being literate and financially independent. This foundation of legal awareness has to be laid down.

To ensure justice for all, safeguard popular rights, and promote legal empowerment of the society, need is always felt for making the public aware about their rights and entitlements. With the same token, such awareness can be credited for facilitating the aggrieved person to quickly take resort to channels available for the redressal of grievances, through agencies like the Police, the Executive and the Judiciary. Further the awareness of one’s legal rights paves the way for participation of the masses in the decision making process.

Following is a list of rights we all must be aware about:

  • Article 24(1) states: Women have the right to full and equal protection by the law, and have the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of their gender or marital status.

  • The Article 15(1) states as follows: This Article guarantees Right to Equality, "The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth."

  • The Article 19 states as follows: This gives the citizens (which include both women, men and third gender) the Right to Freedom, which among other things guarantees freedom of speech and expression, freedom of movement, freedom of practising trade and profession etc.

  • Article 32 states as follows: This Article gives the right to us to seek constitutional remedies through the Supreme Court of India for violation of Fundamental Rights mainly.

And the list goes on. As citizens of this nation, we need to be prudent and be aware of our rights and responsibilities.

That will be all for tonight!

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

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