Most of us are deeply invested in effecting social change within our spheres of influence. In this article, I implore all changemakers to deeply engage with the legal and policy angles of social issues too, overcoming the somewhat alienating language and an other-ish aura that surrounds legalese, lawyers and judges.
Why we must all care about the law: A call to action.
Aastha Dua is a development professional and human rights lawyer. She is a keen observer of human and organizational behaviour, and likes to think and write about all that happens at the intersection of law and policy, vested interests and sustainable social change.
I know that all of you are fiercely standing up for yourselves and others on a daily basis. I know that you are all fighting for rights in your homes, offices, universities, and everywhere else; and I know that all of you are constantly looking to bolster your understanding, thoughts and reasoned arguments. Through this article, I wish to convince you that adding a legal angle to these daily conversations will make your case that much stronger, will give you more authority when you speak about issues that matter most to you, and will help you develop an even better, more holistic understanding of these issues that pervade our societies. This article is intended to be a call to action to all of you who are not lawyers or otherwise connected to the law, but engage in these crucial debates with your friends, family and colleagues, to take an active interest and maybe even a deep dive in understanding the legal system of this country. It is my opinion that adding that legal nuance to your understanding will help you have a more balanced and more informed view of our country, why we do the things we do, why we have the policies we have, and what it will take to change the state of affairs.
Now that I have hopefully piqued your interest, let me start from the very beginning. Social ills that have struck at the very roots of Indian democracy are systemic issues, and not one-offs that can be resolved overnight with a speech, an amendment or a judgement by a court. We, as change agents, need to understand that each issue is convoluted and inter-connected. We need to pay attention to the interplay between social, economic, legal, cultural and political aspects of the issue in question. Without this appreciation, long-term and sustainable change is unlikely.
You may have found yourself watching the news and wondering – what is the role of the Parliament versus that of the Supreme Court, where does the Prime Minister come into the picture, what was that thing about the triple talaq last year, what is the punishment for rape, and can Hindu women inherit property? You have all been thinking these things, you have all been affected deeply by these things and you have all discussed them some time or another with people around you.
All of these questions are rightly answered by appreciating the legal history, as much as the social history, of the country. Some of these concepts are so relevant to our daily lives in a democracy that it becomes an imperative to know them and to understand them and sometimes to even question them.
I invite you all to take one step in this direction and commit to familiarizing and educating yourself with the laws that impact you first, then those that interest you and then the rest of them. There are close to 20 Indian laws that directly talk about you and your interests, as a woman. Then there’s the Indian Constitution that gives you your “fundamental rights”. Our entire democratic set-up is based on something called “rule of law” which in very simple terms means that no one is above the law and that the law itself must be fair and just. These are some keywords that you can use to start your journey and I will leave you to google them out at your leisure. If you feel you are ready for a deeper dive, check out the websites of the National Commission for Women, the Ministry of Women & Child Development, the Ministry of Law & Justice, the Law Commission of India and the Niti Aayog.
I know that most of us have been taught to stay away from the law, to “not get involved” in “these things”, but without knowing where the law stands currently and how it came to be this way, there is hardly any hope of changing it, or even acknowledging a good job done when it is. All of us want to live in a country where everyone is treated fairly, is given opportunities to lead their best lives, and each of us has a concern (or two) that’s closer to our hearts than others. To be able to cause that real change though, equipping ourselves with the understanding of how the law functions, and what it takes to inform policy and change it (a lot), will be that accelerator that many of us might be missing.
My hope is that after reading this article, more and more people from all walks of life, and not just lawyers or politicians or other legal professionals, will take a long hard look at the laws and the policies that govern this land, and trust in their abilities to understand how they impact them. This is more important than ever for gender minorities, LGBTQIA+ folk, religious minorities and other underserved communities. Read up on what the law says, follow the activities of the Supreme Court and other courts, and you will be able to back up your arguments even more credibly and robustly. You don’t have to be afraid of the law – its purpose is to serve you.
And if all of this seems too complicated or time-consuming, take a baby step and attend ProactiveForHer’s webinar on the law against sexual harassment and the Indian #metoo movement on Saturday, 13th June, by registering here.
We will continue to publish more articles and make the laws that impact women more accessible to all of you. Drop us a line if you want to know more about a specific legal issue and we will write on it.
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