Music and Legal Aid: An Unexplored Tryst?

It is but natural for a law student to view the interface of music and law strictly from the perspective of copyright law – drafting license agreements and preventing infringement. There are however, other facets of this interface that go beyond the traditional intellectual property-based understanding. Comforting, music is an activist’s tool that reaches out to the masses, and elicits support from them like none other. Nityanand Jayaraman’s conceptualisation of Poromboke Padal, which was given life by T.M. Krishna, Kaber and the Vettiver Collective to save the Ennore Creek and Poromboke Lands, Sofia Ashraf’s rap protesting Unilever’s mercury thermometer manufacturing plant in Kodaikanal, and contemporary lyrics of Imphal Talkies that speak out against the insurgency in Manipal, atrocities against minorities and the Indian Army’s repression under the AFSPA, among others are noticeable instances where music voiced the protest of many against thriving inequalities in India. The omnipresent works of their predecessors such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Janet Jackson among others, in fighting inequalities requires no separate mention!

With the Supreme Court reserving its judgment in the recent challenge to S 377, IPC, one of the foreseeable challenges is ensuring complete awareness of the judgment and its implications. A few law students, Kaushik Gupta, a criminal lawyer practising in the Calcutta HC and Pawan Dhall, a LGBTQI activist and trustee of the Varta Trust, have in the past few years come together to work on queer rights. Among other concerns, we were wondering how to resolve the persisting problem of reaching out, and ensuring rights awareness effectively to all, particularly the stakeholders. An unfortunate case in point is the failure of Supreme Court’s directives in NALSA v. Union of India, that gave legal recognition to transgender persons, to reach out to the most important stakeholders – members of the transgender community themselves. Woefully, Pawan notes that there are transgender persons residing in interior West Bengal, who continue to remain unaware of the very existence of the NALSA judgment, let alone the directives it contains. “Not a single member from the community residing even in the city can list out the nine directives that NALSA lays down for them,” says Kaushik. This inaccessibility of the law laid down by the Supreme authority sadly reflects the true status of the law we pledged unto ourselves.

At the Legal Aid Society of the WB National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata we conduct legal aid camps that perform skits/ nukkad nataks in Hindi and Bengali to promote legal literacy, awareness of socio-welfare legislations and legal rights in rural, semi-urban and urban areas such as Chakdha (located in the Indo-Bangladesh Border), Bolpur, Shantiniketan and Rajarhat, Kolkata. We also adopted the Gram Panchayat of Bagda in the North 24 Parganas, where we also made the LAS Clinic accessible to citizens, apart from conducting legal literacy skits and workshops. The responses that these camps have yielded are without doubt phenomenal. Yet, the wavering attention and restlessness of the crowds reflects a certain hurdle in reaching out to them in the best way possible. While we should continue to perform skits and conduct training sessions, we must also explore other tools to spread legal awareness. A good start could be with the various socio-economic rights that NALSA grants to transgender persons, the implications of the Court’s ruling in Justice Puttaswamy v. Union of India, and the recent Delhi High Court ruling that clarifies physical relations with the husband is not a sine qua non of marriage.

Music till today has lent its voice in the countless fights to alter status quo and work towards a more egalitarian society. Performances by Kabir Kala Manch against social inequalities, and promoting communal harmony that landed them in steep trouble for alleged links with Naxals, rap music by MC Kash against the instability and violence in Kashmir, and Indian Ocean’s Maa Rewa that protested the Sardar Sarovar Dam project, are few of the many pieces of protest music in India. But what if we borrow its voice to bridge the gap between the law and its people, using it to spread awareness of legal rights the Supreme Court recognizes, awareness of practices that have been struck down as being discriminatory and awareness of what promises the government is expected to deliver under a Court mandate. This hitherto unexplored facet of the law-music interface is filled with promise and potential to deliver what other forms of communication have not been able to achieve till date. Its ability to cut across to all sections of society, discounting all sorts of barriers ranging from literacy to caste distinguishes it from other tools of communication. Is creativity or an inability to write music then a barrier? I think not. Creativity flows in all forms, be it from a law student, or collaboration with a lyricist to break down the law down to its skeleton, in simple understandable language in the concerned vernacular, that can then be given voice, just like T.M. Krishna did to the Poromboke Padal. (I must confess that the repeated reference to Poromboke Padal stems from my childhood love for Krishna’s rendition of Carnatic pieces.)

It is time for the law to move out of its comfort and increase its frequency of interaction with other disciplines to address the issue of inaccessibility. The positivist, or rather isolatory approach to the law has clearly reflected its shortcomings. The inherent moral obligation must necessarily loosen law’s rigidity and make it more malleable to interdisciplinary functioning. Social justice and legal aid are undeniably interlinked – legal awareness, and knowledge of rights expedites achieving social justice. Sofia Ashraf, T.M. Krishna, Indian Ocean and Imphal Tales, among countless others have set the stage for change. To truly see their efforts also come to fruition, we must also do our bit in ensuring accessibility. Awaiting yet another landmark judgment, what better time than now to bring this idea into action?


Maathangi Hariharan is a final year student at the WB National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 comment
  • The author’s article points to the changing dimensions of law research and general legal field which demands a perspective change. Law to be in sync with society’s needs to be seen not only from a pure jurisprudential perspective but more from application based perspective which can be only done by its comparative analysis and collaboration with other fields namely sociology, political science and also music.
    Secondly, the article also points to the important use of music/art in pointing out towards the disparities of the Indian society. The same is true when seen from national perspective as well. The role of Indian arts and national songs on Indian freedom fighters was immense during our struggle for independence. Whether it was the mundas of tribal India or the vande matram of more urban Bankim Chandra chatterjee, all inspired our forefathers to shape up the kind of polity which we have today.
    Thirdly, In modern times when depression and stress are the norm of hour, and billions of dollars and patents are done on medicines are done by the western countries, India’s music and art forms can be an effective answer to it. Kathak can help release anger; while the elaborate hand and eye movements in Bharatnatyam can help express a range of emotions.Take for example in Bharatnatyam, and Kathak, the various bhavas, expressions of Gods of Śṛungāram (शृङ्गारं): Romance,Hāsyam (हास्यं): Laughter, Raudram (रौद्रं): Fury. Veeram (वीरं): Heroism, are so rich and detailed that it helps people to overcome depression and stress. Studies by Huffpost have revelaed how bharatnatyam has helped people who were on the receiving side our legal system i.e. victims of Sexual violence to overcome stress and face society.
    Lastly, the article is on point how music connects with society, what are its implications on the polity of the area concerned, how law functions in a society etc and these can be only answered when law and its research is done on a grand inter-disciplinarian scale. Great informative read !!!