Saturday, December 29, 2007

Perceptions of LSC

Coming back from the cave exploration trip,(I trust g-man will write a long and nice entry about it) I was having a introspection filled chat with the ThaLaivi about what we see LSC as and why we keep working(Thalaivi for three and a half and me for two and a half years) for LSC.

ThaLaivi was in interact in school and for her, in her first year, LSC was a natural progression from the service oriented nature of her school days. Then slowly, by her second year she realized that it was more of a learning process than a helping process. Apart from learning the law itself, in the course of LSC activities, one also learns a hundred other useful skills. Of course, I have oversimplified what she said and hope she will post regarding the same over here.

When I came into law school, I was told by my cousin that LSC was a great avenue to gain practical knowledge and have a first hand experience of the law. The "learning experience" interpretation of LSC ran in my head till the end of second year. Not that I now no longer believe LSC as a learning opportunity. LSC still remains my greatest source for knowledge regarding law, life and the ways in which one can use law in life and life in law.

Springing from the same idea, that of LSC as a learning experience, at some point I have started questioning my own legitimacy in advising people in such important matters. Though I console myself saying we always give a disclaimer when we are not sure, and how we say we are just students and we'll consult an expert(one of our teachers or alumni) or how we advise them on the law only.

Gradually as I observed how people take my words so seriously and consult me even for non-legal matters, for a short while I was a bit apprehensive about saying things, and that it might adversely affect them if they acted according to my advice not knowing it comes from a half informed source.

Very often I found myself telling people to do things that were obvious next steps in law but seemed absurd and impracticable under the circumstances and looking through the spectacles of their culture and background.

There were two questions that came up
  1. Is what I tell people correct and accurate under law?
  2. Is what I tell people right and useful?
The answer to the first question was kind of easy, I was saying more or less correct things and when I had a doubt I got back to them after consulting the aforementioned experts. There were a couple of occasions where I had made mistakes but there was no damage done to anybody because of that.

The second question is a bit more tough. There are many occasions where I have felt that I am imposing my beliefs on them. Though I have always couched my opinions, even on random matters, in technically correct language i have still done it knowing that what I tell them is taken very seriously. When I first started thinking like this, I also used to think whether it was right to impose these beliefs upon them. As time went by, I just got back to the usual advising without any hang ups about pushing them into a formalistic dispute resolution system which is at many levels alien to them and also in a way challenges the dispute resolution systems they have already been through. Very often these local dispute resolution institutions be it a maulvi, powerful "Silk and mangoes merchant" or a group of elders are great influence on the lives of the people even when they do not go them with a dispute. I have stopped worrying about whether LSC is going to disturb a delicate balance existing within a system. This despite disguised threats from the powerful "Silk and mangoes trader".

Though this is a little in the air as compared to the other posts on this blog, it is not completely irrelevant and without bearing on LSC. in another upcoming post, An LSC member will write about how this question of different understandings of the role played by LSC became important when deciding what LSC activities should be taken up on a priority basis.

-Vikram Hegde

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My first tryst with the Legal Services Clinic...

In the first week of law school I heard about the Legal Services Clinic. An introduction was given to me in our legal methods class by the ‘convener’ and some other members. Soon after an ‘LLP’ was announced. After the initial confusion over what an LLP was, which I later realised was the short form for a ‘Legal Literacy Program’ I decided to go along and see what it was like. We were told that we would teach class 10 students ‘the law’. This seemed to be a very scary idea for me. First of all just into law school I firmly believed that I did not know any ‘law’ and secondly teaching class 10 students for me was a very formidable idea as I did not really consider myself out of school at that time..but I still went along.

Once we started off I realised that we do little skits for the students and teach them the law through that to make it more interesting for them. And to my relief in the first trip first years we were not expected to have any magical knowledge of the law but were just required to participate in the skits. So began my first llp with me acting as a hoity toity housewife who had lost her precious diamond necklace and was blaming the poor housemaid for it. And as the legal literacy program progressed I myself learnt a lot. Coming to law school, it was the first time someone told me how to file an FIR! It is then I realised how important these legal literacy programs were as even some of us first years did not know basic things like filing FIRs. Also participating in the LLPs I realised what a difference these could make and how interested these children were in these LLPs.

-Adhiti Gupta