Legal Literacy: Cornerstone For A True Democracy

Project Report, 2013

51 Pages, Grade: 5.14/8














“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 are their rights and entitlements 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”.


The legislature of the state and the Parliament, while enacting the legislation, consider the objectives of it. Some laws lay down the substantive rights of the masses and some touch upon the procedural aspect of certain laws. But it is due to lack of awareness of beneficiaries that most of the legislations are ineffective at the stage of their execution.

To quell this problem, the step of generating among the masses, awareness of their rights has been recognized as the appropriate initiative. The source of power among the masses has been attributed to such awareness. India is a land of various laws on a variety of subjects. Most of these pertain to the benefits of the people. But due to the lack of their awareness for such provisions hardly yield any benefit to them.

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.

It is due to this situation, that Legal literacy has been recognized as a tool of qualitative change at the basic level as it provides them with the adequate knowledge of their rights. Legal literacy connotes the knowledge of the primary level in law. After the citizens (particularly marginalized or underprivileged groups) become aware of the rights provided to them by law, they can use such awareness as a tool to fight injustices. Such awareness can transform their lives. Legal literacy is the first step to that end1. Further, the better awareness of laws is a contributing factor to help people work more effectively in diverse spheres. To give effect to such initiative, in 2005, National Legal Literacy Mission (NLLM) was adopted by the Central government.


Our Constitution-makers, while framing it, recognized that the essence of the Democratic form of government lies in the empowerment of its masses by providing it adequate rights. But despite the express provisions in our Constitution pertaining to that effect, we have not been able to achieve that end.

In majority of cases, it has been found that a chunk of population is unaware of its rights and obligations towards the nation as well as the society. Somewhere lays the loophole in the governance, which has consequently led to such situation, in which people are still unaware of their rights and obligations. Without legal literacy of the masses, it is hard to even think about securing the basic objectives of and !, as imbibed in the spirit of our Constitution.

To tackle the situation of legal unawareness, in 2005, the National Legal Literacy Mission was adopted by the Central Government. But there are some hurdles in the implementation of the Mission. The project seeks to elaborately study the Mission along with the loopholes thereof. The hypothesis involved is that despite such pragmatic step by the Government, the intended purpose of it has not been achieved. So, the elaborate study of Mission, in light of its purpose, I seek to make an evaluative analysis of the Mission.


Being the part of the largest democracy, knowledge of law serves the people with the tool of power and self realization. Unless the people are aware of rights, they cannot live in consonance with the true dictates of democracy and rule of law. Legal literacy is commonly understood as knowing the primary level in law. Need of the legal literacy is accentuated due to following reasons:

1. Fighting Injustice and Women Empowerment. It is through awareness of the laws and the objectives served by them that citizens, particularly marginalized or underprivileged groups, can obtain the benefits that law seeks to offer them. Taking into consideration the present scenario, the issues like empowerment of women and making them aware of their rights which they can use to fight injustices, becomes a distant dream in the absence of legal literacy. Hon’ble Mr. Justice Kabir has aptly remarked that lack of awareness and education are the main causes for injustices beingmeted out to the marginalized populations especially women2. Similar observation has been made by Hon’ble Mr. Justice Pradeep Kumar, the Judge of the High Court of Jharkahand. He emphasized upon the women’s need to be aware about the laws that safeguarding their interests, so that they can approach the right authorities with their grievances in order to ensure quick justice3.

In the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) was adopted, with the object of achieving equality for women in various walks of life4. As a result, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted, which emphasized the need for access to free or low-cost legal services, including legal literacy, especially focusing on women living in poverty5. It also noticed that women’s poverty had its connection to the absence of economic opportunities and autonomy, lack of access to economic resources, including credit, land ownership and inheritance, lack of access to education and support services and their minimal participation in the decision-making process6. Also Legal literacy programmes have been attributed for helping women to understand the link between their rights and other aspects of their lives and in demonstrating that cost-effective initiatives can be undertaken to help women obtain those rights7.

2. Understanding the Scope of Rights and Challenging their Violations. Legal literacy is essential as it is the knowledge of law that can be used as a tool by vulnerable groups to understand and evaluate the law, to get acquainted with the scope of their rights under the law, and get their rights enforced by taking action and bringing the legal machinery into force. Knowing their rights, the people can challenge violations thereof. Article 39A of the Constitution of India directs the State to provide free legal aid with the aid of suitable legislation or schemes. It is the awareness of rights and duties that makes the delivery of justice and balancing of various interests an easy task.

3. Transparency and Accountability in the Governance. Growing legal literacy opens the gate for a transparent and accountable Government truly based on the ‘Rule of Law’. It is the awareness about rights, governance and state obligations that has contributed to the changed attitude of the masses resulting in demand for justice and accountability from the government. In this regard, the contributions made by a renowned NGO, Multiple Action Research Group (MARG), is acclaimed. Undertaking the projects like ( and project of ", it has played its due role in achieving the goal of legal literacy8.

4. Empowering the Poor. The legal system of a nation has a big share in empowerment of the poor people, as it confers upon them rights, powers, privileges, and immunities along with a strong judicial system that can give effect to these legal entitlements. The object empowerment cannot see the light unless, the target group (here the poor) are made aware of their entitlements in a legal system. Taking the note of the step to that end in international arena, in 2005, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) hosted the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor. The Commission realised that, lack of understanding of legal rights and obligations serves as a barrier to access to justice for the poor9


Defining Legal Literacy. To understand the meaning of Legal Literacy, it is essential to go through the definition of the term literacy. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Literacy can be defined as

both ability to read and write in any language10. In the terms of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) "Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society 11. Legal literacy has been defined by Laird Hunter, in Reading the Legal World, in following words:

"People using the legal system must be able to guide themselves through a process that they understand [...] and, at appropriate places along the way,

- recognize they have a legal right or responsibility, in order to exercise or assume it;
- recognize when a problem or conflict is a legal conflict and when a legal solution is available;
- know how to take the necessary action to avoid problems and where this is not possible, how to help themselves appropriately;
- know how and where to find information on the law, and be able to find information that is accessible to them,
- know when and how to obtain suitable legal assistance;
- have confidence that the legal system will provide a remedy, and
- Understand the process clearly enough to perceive that justice has been done... Translating the information and meanings of the legal system to learners and people with limited literacy skills requires that lawyers and others clearly understand the dual nature of legal literacy: the ability to read andfamiliarity with the legal context"12.

The quest for legal literacy forms the part and parcel of the Legal Aid to the masses. Even before the launch of the NLLM, the quest for the legal literacy was recognized in India. The journey of legal literacy, from its inception has taken the shape of legal rights. It was evident that the meaning of law will stand neglected, if only the privileged sections of the society have access to it. It was further observed that the law is meaningless unless people have equal access to it for their protection.

Legal Aid Movement in Other Parts of the World. The earliest Legal Aid movement is considered to have been in France in the year 1851 when some enactment was introduced for providing legal assistance to the indigent13. The same pursuit for legal aid in England that gave birth to laws like the Poor Prisoner's Defence Act of 1903 emphasizing an effective form of legal aid to poor prisoners14. But it was after Rushcliffe Committee, making a number of recommendations in its Rushcliffe Report 194515, which led to the introduction of the first legal aid scheme in the Legal Aid and Legal Advice Act 194916.

Legal Aid Movements in India. The legal aid movement in India took its shape in around the year 1952, when the Government of India brought its attention towards legal aid for the poor in various conferences of Law Ministers and Law Commissions. Later in the year 1960, Government laid down some guidelines for legal aid schemes. The legal aid schemes were floated through Legal Aid Boards, Societies and Law Departments in different states17.

Constitution of Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes. In 1980, Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes was constituted at the national level to oversee and supervise legal aid programmes throughout the country under the Chairmanship of the former judge of the Supreme Court, Hon. Mr. Justice P.N. Bhagwati18. Later a new chapter of Lok Adalats was added to the justice dispensation system, which succeeded in providing a supplementary forum to the litigants for conciliatory settlement of their disputes.

Enactment of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987. The year 1987 marks a golden chapter in the history of legal aid in India, as it was in this year that $ $ was enacted, with the end of giving a statutory base to legal aid programmes throughout the country on a uniform pattern19. After introduction of certain amendments by the Amendment Act of 1994, the $ $ was enforced on 9th November, 1995.

Establishment of Legal Service Authorities. On 5th December, 1995, the apex body for legal aid services, the National Legal Services Authority was constituted, with the former Supreme Court judge Hon. Dr. Justice A.S. Anand as the Executive Chairman of it20. It lays down policies and principles for making legal services available under the provisions of the Legal Services Authorities Act and to frame most effective and economical schemes for legal services21. It also disburses funds and grants to State Legal Services Authorities and NGOs for implementing legal aid schemes and programmes.


The National Legal Literacy Mission, with its motto +&: ”, was launched by the honorable Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh launched. This five-year Mission had its foundation in the goal of legal empowerment of all sections of the society. Its object was to simplify the language of the law to make people able to understand laws and judgments. Special focus was laid on the downtrodden, minorities and women.

As evident from the speech of the Prime Minister, a democracy is meaningless, unless the people know their basic human rights like education, employment and the right to live a life of dignity and self respect22. Such awareness is possible only through the mechanism of legal literacy. To remove the obstacles, such as complex legal language of the statutes, in understanding their rights, the Mission has been prepared as a weapon.

In the words of the former Chief Justice of India RC Lahoti, women, children, tribal and minority communities, victims of militancy, crime, disaster, drought-hit farmers, and sex workers needed urgent attention23. Legal literacy, being the first step towards knowledge of the law, the Mission aims at legal education of all sections of society.

Objective of the Mission. NLLM was initiated with the aim of providing legal education to the underprivileged persons, including disabled people. The subject matter of the mission was to educate the people about law, legal terminology and legal rights. Looking deep into the structure of the NLLM, it had following goals:

1. To achieve 100% legal literacy.
2. To target the most disadvantaged, distraught, disintegrated, vulnerable and victimized populace first and progress further in the grass-root level.
3. To prepare State Specific Plan of Actions for implementation of objective of the Mission.
4. To undertake survey, research, documentation drive, social investigation reporting and social audit as a learning exercise of people’s problems, grievances and to understand the nature of redressal required.
5. To sensitize the Judicial Officers to people’s cause particularly to that of women and children, and minorities, tribal and such other most vulnerable groups as well as persons in custody in addition to implementation of the Acts pertaining to mentally and physically challenged, the destitute and beggars, the orphans and neglected citizens, the abandoned elderly citizens, discrimination in case of any caste, communal violence, disaster and disease outbreak.

Target Groups. Taking into account the provision of the section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, which prescribes the criteria for giving legal services to the eligible persons, following persons are covered under the target group of the Legal Aid services:

1. a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe;

2. a victim of trafficking in human beings or begar as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution;

3. a woman or a child;

4. a mentally ill or otherwise disabled person;

5. a person under circumstances of undeserved want such as being a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake or industrial disaster; or

6. an industrial workman; or

7. a person in custody, including custody-
a. in a protective home within the meaning of clause (g) of section 2 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956; or
b. in a juvenile home within the meaning of clause (j) of section 2 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 or
c. in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home within the meaning of clause (g) of section 2 of the Mental Health Act, 1987; or

8. a person who receives an annual income of less than rupees nine thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the State Govt.,if the case is before a court other than the Supreme Court, and less than rupees twelve thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the Central Govt.,if the case is before the Supreme Court.


1 Jananeethi, (last visited 12th July 2011).

2 As stated by the Hon’ble judge in the inaugural session of the “State Level Congregation of Women with the Higher Judiciary for interaction and solution finding”, as mentioned in the Interim Report Interim Report of the Legal Literacy Camps & “State Level Congregation of women with the Higher Judiciary for interaction and solution finding” prepared by Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), available at n%2520Empowerment.doc+legal+literacy+and+fighting+injustice&hl=en&gl=in&pid=bl&srcid=AD GEESinOuOs5MnUfzqyMCDtfLYzA_newKJsVHg10VX84uMOUd9P7zQBe1GXd7x99TyoN3H2Fe VfFe9GgW9LoTlFOSWwaBuwsnDDyR9wfoCHM404cBlIuTQRo8NuaN1zdTiPGz3F- _P5&sig=AHIEtbT3wDD_F_3MTBuzoJDZz0-SHNWWaw (last visited 14th July 2011).

3 As stated by the Hon’ble judge in the Session on Laws protecting rights of women with special focus on Witch hunting (prevailing evil against women in Jharkhand). Id.

4 International Federation for University Women, Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, (last visited 20th July 2011).

5 Paras 58 and 61 of the Declaration.

6 Para 51 of the Declaration.

7 Para 227 of the Declaration.

8 MARG - Justice Through Legal Empowerment, Section on Governance, (last visited 20th July 2011).

9 Progress Report of the Working Group 1: Access to Justice and Rule of Law of the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, also available at (last visited 20th July 2011).

10 Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, 9 6 7 (last visited 20th July 2011).

11 OECD 50,,3343,en_2649_39263294_2670850_1_1_1_1,00.html (last visited 20th July 2011).

12 Literacy and the Courts- Protecting the Right to Understand, 7 available at (last visited 21st July 2011).

13 National Legal Service Authority, : ( (last visited 23rd July 2011).

14 Howard Levenson, Legal Aid for Mitigation, The Modern Law Review, Vol. 40, No. 5 (Sep., 1977), pp. 523-532.

15 Alex Elson, 6 ; ;, The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 13, No. 2. (Feb., 1946), pp. 131- 144., available at (last visited 23rd July 2011).

16 Law Centres Federation, $ < , (last visited 23rd July 2011).

17 National Legal Service Authority, : ( (last visited 23rd July 2011).

18 Id.

19 Id.

20 Id.

21 Section 4 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.

22 FINANCIAL EXPRESS: mission-launched/128689/ (last visited 11th July 2011).

23 Id.

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Legal Literacy: Cornerstone For A True Democracy
B.A. LL.B. (Hon.)
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Anoop Kumar (Author), 2013, Legal Literacy: Cornerstone For A True Democracy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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