Legal Literacy Camps (Panchayat Shivir) in India

Legal literacy camps (Panchayat Shivir), set up in villages across India are designed to improve the participation of marginalised tribal people in debates about access to and use of natural resources. India’s innovative public legal education strategy includes the use of ‘power tools’ to encourage interactive learning and problems solving.

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Power Tools

Trainers in the legal literacy camps use ‘power tools’ – described as ‘policy tools’ to address the gap between the powerful and the marginalised. There are four overlapping groups of tools – tools for understanding, for organising, for engaging and for ensuring. The tools convey the sense of an ongoing cycle of action and reflection.

Participants in the camps have rarely had the opportunity to contribute to policy debates about their environment. Even when such channels exist, communication can fail due to fundamental differences in perception, expression and power between the groups. The power tools are designed to empower and to give marginalised people a voice.

Power tools provide practical help – tips, tactics and approaches that trainers can use and adapt to meet specific needs.

Types of policy tools are as varied as people’s imaginations, but there is no point in designing tools for their own sake – tools are responses to particular tasks that need to be done. Some fairly formal policy tools are well known and easy to recognise, such as stakeholder analysis, but unorthodox or ad hoc tools could be equally useful, such as cooking a feast to entice officials into discussing community grievances, or calling a surprise sit-in on a boiling hot day to draw attention to a protest march.

The interactive sessions aim to familiarise people with legal concepts and current legislation, using such techniques as role-playing, focus group discussions, pictorial representation of legal issues, triangulating incidents with legal implications and informal sessions.

The power tools used in the legal literacy camps include mechanisms for holding authorities to account and cover:

  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Mechanisms for review, feedback and adjustment
  • Knowledge and application of rights, agreements and legislation
  • Use of local systems of justice
  • Recourse to courts, higher levels of government or international conventions

An essential feature of a tool is that it is transferable meaning that it can be taken from one context and utilised elsewhere. They are sets of ideas that can be discovered and developed in one setting and then extracted and adapted to other contexts.

Important principles for a good power tool are listed:

  • Simplicity
  • Easy to learn
  • Easy to communicate
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Not prohibitively expensive in money, skills or equipment
  • Not so time-consuming that participants lose interest
  • Transferability
  • Easy to adapt
  • Legitimate and resonant with new users

The power tools used in India have been used to influence natural resources policy, but they can be used in many settings.

Legal Literacy Camp Power Tools This website introduces a range of power tools – “how-to” ideas that marginalised people and their allies can use. There are 26 power tools based on experience from around the world, discussion of power tools in theory and practice, related research on policy tools in action and a directory of the many other websites that contain policy tool resources.

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The International Institute for Environment and Development together with many partner organisations around the world developed the Power Tools series from experience in working on policies and institutions in natural resource management. The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) have provided support for the work.

Guidance Card – Running a Legal Literacy Camp (191 KB) The card is available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Guidance Tool – Running a Legal Literacy Camp (264 KB) The complete tool is also available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Enviro-Legal Defence Firm.2005.Legal literacy camps:panchayat shivir. Power tools series. Enviro-Legal Defence Firm, Noida, India and International Institute for Environment and Development, London, UK.

Panchayat Shivir is the Hindi term for a Legal Literacy Camp – broadly translated as a village council workshop.

More about Legal Literacy Camps

Published: 18 October 2016

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