Understanding law through HRSS model
Recently, I participated in 12th Human Rights Summer School (HRSS) organized by Empowerment through Law of the Common People (ELCOP). It was a good opportunity to enlighten myself through the endeavour provided by the HRSS. The HRSS, a two weeks residential human rights and advocacy course, acts as a platform where different legal minds come together and reach in consensus that law must be understood in pro-poor sense. In our legal system, law does not focus on our social and economic context and for that the true essence of law that is social engineering remains in vain. Only the prudence of human rights can create sensitivity towards common people and HRSS emphasized this aspect of creating sensitivity since its journey 2000.
One of the important endeavours governed by HRSS is to demarcate between theory of law and reality through community visit. Amongst many tenets of teaching methodology of HRSS, I would pick up 'community visit' which introduced a new chapter of understanding law going beyond the periphery of black letter contained in text book. As participants of HRSS, we went to the community people in the three villages of Koitta Mankiganj.
It is true that functioning of law depends entirely on how people think about law? Law is for the people and for that people would have minimum respect towards law which is vital in terms ensuring the true essence of justice. In terms of ensuring justice for common people it is vital to create an atmosphere where people have access to justice without facing any difficulties and impediments. Access to justice is essentially based on the universal concept of equality which requires necessary legal framework and institutional arrangement through which every person have access to legal system on equal footing. Now, reverting to the practical scenario experienced from the community visit at 12th HRSS, we discovered that most people in the villages are ignorant about law, human rights and legal rights. The most unfortunate point is that people are not only aware of their rights but showed tremendous reluctance to know about their entitled rights. Some people said that they are not the right person to know about their rights and it is the local representatives who are supposed to know about their rights. This is horrific, because it is the local representatives, not the justice system, as per their understanding, determine their fate. Over the long years they are cultured or nurtured in such way that the common people need not understand about their rights and quite interestingly it seems that they are quite happy with their perceived happiness.
Now the question is: by keeping those people ignorant about their rights can the power be exercised for the benefit of the people? The constitution which is embodiment of the will of the 'people' expressly enshrines that all power belongs to the people. So we are confronted with another question: does the term 'people' mean only those who make law to exploit other people? The answer, it seems is in the positive from the societal realities of power structure which provides instrumentalities in the hands of the haves. From our filed visit it became transpired that access to legal remedy against exploitation is a far cry for the socially disadvantaged segments of the society as they cannot afford to pay lawyers, to vindicate their rights, which itself constitutes a violation of human rights.
Our realization is that law must address the social and economic context of society otherwise law itself would create injustice rather than providing justice. Establishment of social justice would not be possible without institutional arrangement through which justice can be delivered in effective manner. The question of providing legal aid comes here. The people are not familiar with the legal aid service provided by the government in our visited locality. Lack of institutional arrangement for providing legal aid was one of the identified reasons behind this. People do not feel comfort to get that free service for which they are legally entitled. Rather they feel comfort being deprived of their rights. This scenario shows tremendous rejection of the instrumentalities of justice delivery system by the community people. Legal aid should not be a charity and a mere lump sum rather it should be a right to such an environment which empowers a people to take the recourse of law effectively. Vaccination of human rights education through legal literacy movement, equitable distribution of resources, making the village courts functioning are some of the possible ways of addressing the situation. Addressing the social and economic texture in terms of law making and proper functioning of instrumentalities for providing justice concurrently can ensure the proper exercise of power which in real sense belongs to people.
The community visit at HRSS has unfolded the eyes of young law learners to understand the social function of law. It is argued that the legal curricula of the law schools should contain the opportunities of interacting with the community people. It is hard to think about studying law merely being engraved by four walls. To make a people friendly generations of legal community legal study must be taken out of the class rooms. At 12th HRSS the participants have made a commitment that their lawyering would be lawyering with the poor and lawyering for justice.
Md. Golam Sarwar is a Student of Law, Dhaka University and a participant of 12th HRSS.