"You're not really condemning the whole system, you're pinpointing where the problem is."
In development work, there are some spaces that need big ideas and radical new thinking, and there are others that require a different form of engagement - a slower, more steady, enabling presence. In these spaces, it’s about fixing something by actually just getting it to work - but that’s no small task.
Access to Justice is one of the harder spaces to fund and work in. From a development sector perspective, it seems ‘unfundable’, because it is hard to activate solutions for. The justice system might seem removed from our everyday lives, so what is our role in trying to make it better? In this episode, we take a look at two issues that mark its functioning: an apathetic system of legal aid and societal prejudice.
We have system of legal aid meant to help support the poorest and most disadvantaged in our country, but it is broken. And one of the consequences of this is a large number of undertrials but very few of them seem to be availing of legal aid to work their cases. It represents the scale of routine negligence and apathy. For every one case that is addressed properly through the legal aid system, there are probably a hundred, or even a thousand more that do not seem to get the assistance they need. In contrast, the worst cases of legal access being denied are the ones that we hear about often in the news because of the depravity of the crime, although they are a still a fraction of the crimes that should be reported. And many similar crimes may not even reach the legal system - because of societal prejudice.
The organisations we spoke to oil the gears to make the machine work better, and their work ranges from training lawyers to improve the quality of the service they provide, to working to make policy more responsive, to ensuring that there is monitoring and accountability built into the overall system.
And so, working with the justice system is about working with many structured pieces. It’s about improving legal awareness (the kind of education that makes us participate better) and educating every citizen about their fundamental rights. At ‘In the Field’, we think a lot about our privilege, and what it really means. How well, for example, do we know about our local government arms and agencies, and that we probably know even less about the police and the courts. In school, we learn about fundamental rights, and directive principles of state policy, in 10th standard civics we learn about writs and then memorize a bunch of latin words. But how well do we know what they mean and how they translate down to the daily workings of our institutions? This is something we within our power to change.
Here are two interesting reports that you may like to read: Tipping the Scales by Dasra and A Study of Pretrial detention in India by Amnesty International.
Photos: Cover photo by Radhika Viswanathan.
Sounds: Apple Music/Acoustic Noodling 3 and 6.
Theme Music by Hollis Coats. Recorded at Third Eye Recording Studio, Bangalore.