Community radio for legal awareness

“I never expected that a phone call can help solve my problem,” said a 45-year-old man with a physical disability from district Mewat, Haryana, when he learned for the first time that he was eligible for free legal services. His property dispute has been long pending before the court, but he is now assured of its appropriate disposal. His eligibility for free legal aid was being explained by the Chief Judicial Magistrate over a live phone-in to the studio of community radio Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8.

Listeners in Mewat can reach out to the officials by calling at 09813164542. Kanoon ki Baat (Talk on Law), a pilot program series with select community radio stations in Haryana under the aegis of NALSA, helped build the connection at the last mile. The series aimed to spread the word that free legal services are available to low-income citizens, as well as women, children, those with physical disabilities, and members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) reports that about 70 percent of those living in rural areas, and most are illiterate and not aware of their legal rights. A substantial number of literate people living in the cities and villages are also unaware of their legal rights and entitlements. Without legal awareness, people are vulnerable to deception, exploitation, and deprivation of their rights and benefits. Experts know that legal awareness will help people protect themselves and help them exercise their rights.

A legal awareness campaign at national and state levels covers a large gamut of activities. The latest crucial entrant in this effort is community radio. A pilot has served as a boon to realizing the mandate of NALSA constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of the society and to organize Lok Adalats (peoples’ court) for amicable settlement of disputes. Chief Judicial Magistrate cum Secretary District Legal Services Authority, Mewat, Mr. Sunil Shoeran, who took part in the live discussions along with two judges said, ”The use of radio to spread legal awareness has been a fundamental step in the direction. It has given us an opportunity to reach out to many people through studio discussions, and talk about basic issues that affect people’s daily lives.”

Pooja O. Murada, the Sehgal Foundation communications director who guides community radio, Alfaz-e-Mewat, remarked, “Kanoon ki Baat radio program offers relief to those who have to travel many miles, many times, to get information from legal authorities, often losing their daily wages in the process. The program alerts people to important information about access to lawyers and free legal services.”

Following the success of the pilot, NALSA has asked the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to connect with nodal officers for legal services authorities in the states to spread legal awareness through radio and television.

It will be exciting to see how this information revolution through community radio spreads and helps people exercise their legal rights judiciously.