The proceedings of the legal literacy programme in Rockford Public School commenced in a small classroom packed with students from the 8th, 9th and 10th standards and with 14 students from law school. I was nervous, as it was an unfamiliar experience being in a room packed with people full of expectations and as my prior preparation for this programme seemed insufficient to meet these.
The programme had a lucid structure consisting of skits followed by small discussions on the themes developed in each of these. Each skit was well thought out and gave great examples of everyday experiences that are often violative of fundamental rights and of protections that are guaranteed to us by the state.
For instance, the very first skit dealt with an oration given by a politician outside his home state, that glorified his homeland and criticized the state he was in then. The skit showed the public responding with aggression (even beating him up a little bit) and telling the politician to return home. Through this short skit, numerous subtle themes were brought to the fore, including the freedom of movement, freedom and speech and also the concept of reasonable restrictions. These were later discussed.
The rest of the programme worked in much the same way. The next few skits displayed a woman being turned down a job in favour of a man for no apparent reason, a student being delayed delivery of her mark sheet, a maid being unreasonably arrested for theft and a group of people falling ill due to consumption of food of poor quality and then being forced to pay hefty medical costs.
These skits too brought out very fundamental themes, including the concept of right to equality, right to information, right against exploitation and the idea of consumer protection. Over and above such thematic discussions, there were also brushes with the practicality of law and how these concepts were to be implemented by regular citizens. There were detailed briefings on First Information Reports, the prerequisites for arrest, particularly the arrest of a woman and also how the Right to Information act and Consumer protection act could be used by citizens like us.
Very honestly, I was stunned by the entire experience that lasted, all in all, for only around an hour. For one my personal legal knowledge was greatly enhanced as I was unaware of a number of things that were dealt with. Also a lot of my delusions about the legal awareness of students were altered. When we left college I thought that I would witness a certain level of ignorance at Rockford School, but slowly, I realized that many of the students we interacted with were very enthusiastic and very aware of the legal system governing them. Also, importantly, I saw the evolution of a comfort level in the programme between the two student groups that transformed a largely silent session, with people probing for response, to an energetic forum of discussion and free participation.
Although in retrospect I definitely see the programme as a success, one thing I wish had prevailed for longer is this comfort level. One way of dealing with this could involve giving the students of Rockford a more participative role in the session initially by perhaps including them in some skits. This trip has certainly boosted my enthusiasm as a member of the legal service clinic and I’m in the hope that more such chances come my way.