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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 26, June 13, 2009

Legal Literacy for Ensuring Justice and Equality

Saturday 13 June 2009, by Monica

[(BOOK REVIEW)]

Towards Legal Literacy: An Introduction to Law in India edited by Kamala Sankaran and Ujjwal Kumar Singh; Oxford University Press, New Delhi; 2008; pp. 211.

A student of political science or law would know that the society is regulated by certain laws and one should have the knowledge of such laws. However, people in general are hardly aware of laws and this has often led to disconcerting events and happenings. This book has been written to make not only students but citizens in general aware of various laws since they are the potential victims of crimes and atrocities. The book’s main focus is to generate legal literacy in a society which is founded on the principles of equality and justice to all, but witnesses gross discrimination of various forms almost every minute. The message of the book is that legal literacy can serve as a powerful tool in not only preventing unfairness and inequality but also in ameliorating the conditions of victims and punishing the perpetrators of injustice.

‘Towards Legal Literacy: An Introduction to Law in India’, edited by Kamala Sankaran and Ujjwal Kumar Singh, is the first of its kind, attempting to introduce a legal literacy course in the Indian context. In ‘Why Legal Literacy? A Wake-up Call’ Upendra Baxi highlights two underlying reasons as to why legal literacy is important. First, it is a continual war against forms of power and domination that thrive because of legal illiteracy. Second, it fosters the capacity of subjection to ‘good’ governance and the power to question and combat ‘bad’ governance. Legal literacy therefore is not merely imparting formal instruction on ‘law’ but also relates to the development of collective/dialogical social thinking about justice. (p. 7)

The book is particularly apt at a time when literacy rates have gone up but people individually or collectively are subjected to offences, atrocities, humiliation, fraud, exploitative or inhuman conditions and abuse of various kinds, besides being socially and economically discriminated. It addresses the concerns of the vulnerable and marginalised sections of the Indian society, including offences against women, preventing atrocities against the SCs/STs, and labour, both blue and white collar. At the same time, it goes beyond this specific identity to look at more professional groupings like labour, consumers etc. The message is that an adequate knowledge of laws and understanding is necessary for protecting the oppressed.

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The book, written in the context of a highly discriminative society, shows that laws can play an important role by not only protecting individual rights but also community rights. In a very useful chapter on PIL, Parmanand Singh argues that PIL not only protects those sections which are vulnerable to social and political repression but also helps develop collective responsibility to protect against ‘global risks’ which include environmental degradation, terrorism and cyber crime. Given that there is great reliance on computers in all walks of life and yet people are hardly aware of cyber crime which poses numerous challenges to business, intellectual property, civil rights and also leading to crime these days. Raman Mittal’s chapter provides us an important starting point.

All in all the book should prove to be important as it not only provides us with the knowledge of laws but also tells us how to implement such laws if our rights and liberty are in danger. The book underlines the importance of legal literacy which is valuable for all in such a highly discriminated and hierarchical society. The main purpose is to make individual and common people aware of laws and also to develop collective responsibility and urge people to think and act upon laws. Laws exist and demand responsible and active citizenship. The book’s objective could be achieved if vigilant citizens can contribute in achieving the goals of justice and equality.

The reviewer is doing her Ph.D at the Department of Political Science, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

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