Legal Literacy Camp: An Effective Empowerment Tool
By Debika Goswami
In the month of May when Indian summer is at its peak, over 600 villagers from Didhara and nearby villages flocked at a camp put up by S M Sehgal Foundation. The camp—Legal Literacy Camp—was put up to spread information on programs sponsored by central government. Foundation staff facilitated discussions and recorded the problems of villagers, relating to ineffective delivery of services. The villagers sought information and looked for the ways to get entitlements.
The camp provided information on Right to Education, National Food Security Act, Right to Information, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), Integrated Child Development Services, Mid Day Meal, pension schemes (Old age and widow), and Panchayati Raj Institutions. In addition, it facilitated the process of seeking legal assistance by writing applications and complaints on behalf of villagers to make public services accessible to all. The camp further provided an opportunity for villagers to interact with government officials from various departments, besides elected representatives from nearby villages.
Government officials from agriculture, health, and other departments also participated in the discussions. Sarpanch (village council head) from Didhara and two nearby villages addressed the queries of villagers and verified their pension applications on the spot. Making it an ideal village governance model, the legal literacy camp at Didhara did a commendable job in inching closer to empowering local communities in Mewat district of Haryana.
The camp provided adequate knowledge and information about the rights and entitlements under the various centrally sponsored government programs. The efforts gained prominence under the light that “About 70% of the people in India live in rural areas and most of them are illiterate. A substantial number of people are not aware of their rights conferred by law… It is this absence of legal awareness which is responsible for deception, exploitation, and deprivation of rights and benefits, making people suffer in Haryana. The miserable condition in which the people find themselves can be alleviated to some extent by creating legal awareness among people.” – Haryana Legal Services Authority.
“Lack of awareness on legal and constitutional rights and entitlements, as well as the existing accountability mechanisms is a major bottleneck responsible for the cobweb of poverty in which the rural citizens are wedged. The poor conditions to which they are subjected stem from ineffective delivery of services as well as the existing layers of corruption that affect of rural India. Sehgal Foundation organizes legal literacy camps under its Good Governance Now (Sushashan Abhi) program. Under this, we reach out to citizen groups, who are in dire need of legal awareness to know their rights and entitlements, and to solve local problems,” said Navneet Narwal, Program Leader– Governance and Policy Advocacy, Sehgal Foundation.