Media and Women’s Legal Awareness in Telangana

Dr. Kaluvoya Anitha*

Abstract

Lack of basic legal knowledge among women is one of the major reasons for women facing many social evils in society. If awareness is created among women about their legal rights and reservation provided by the constitution of India they will be empowered to question the injustice meted out to them. The reality is something else, though the status of India women has no doubt improved a lot in terms of freedom, equality and education. Still, there is a genuine lack of legal awareness among both urban and rural women. And mass media is one of the major reasons for this gap. Media which has to inform, educate and entertain people mostly focuses on entertainment these days. Due to this market driven mass media, today people are watching contents that will commercially benefit the media owners. Though a few media organizations cover legal issues, it is not satisfactory. This research study examined the legal awareness level of both educated and uneducated women in the state of Telangana and the role of mass media. Based on in-depth interviews, and content analysis of Telugu newspapers and television channels, this research paper attempts to analyse the coverage given to legal awareness and also to identify the role of mass media in bringing up the awareness levels among women on laws meant for them.

Introduction

Over thousands of years of Indian history, men treated women as subordinate not only in political and economic arenas, but also within the family. From the womb of the mother till old age, most women have faced various forms of discrimination in the society. The male dominated society teaches every individual that men are naturally superior to women. Accordingly, women were generally denied formal education and basic rights. This study tries to examine as to how many women (educated and uneducated) in the state of Telangana are aware of the legal rights that are enshrined in the Indian constitution. What is the role that parents, society and particularly the media are playing in bringing such awareness among women?

Legal Awareness

Legal awareness is a basic requirement of human life. It is empowerment of individuals regarding issues of the law. It is necessary for every individual to be aware of certain laws which will help to promote consciousness of legal culture, participation in the formation of laws and the rule of law.

Legal Consciousness

Legal consciousness is defined by Ewick and Silbey as the process by which people make sense of their experiences by relying on legal categories and concepts. People do this even when they are not familiar with the details and minutia of law or the legal system. Legal consciousness is a sociological term that refers to awareness of law and legal institutions, together with attitudes towards them, amongst members of the public. It helps us to understand the significance people attach to the law in relation to their everyday affairs. Legal consciousness can be seen as connected to popular culture which portrays law, lawyers and judges in the entertainment media (Podlas 2006) and the idea of “nomos”, or the sphere of life that involves norms and expectations of behavior, including morals and laws (Cover 1983).

Studies of legal consciousness show how law helps to frame people perceptions of their lives and to constitute the relations they have with others. Such interaction with the law can take many forms, including avoiding or accepting it: “people make claims on the law, but not necessarily rights claims;…the law leads people to accept and acquiesce to existing social and economic arrangements without making them ‘lump’ their grievances; and …people may reject the formal apparatus of law even as they create viable substitutes for its power and authority”. (Marshall and Barclay 2003).

Legal Education

A range of activities that bring awareness among common men on law and justice is considered as legal education of the public. This term also refers to the practice and study concerned with those activities, and to a social and professional movement that advocates greater societal commitment to educating people about the law. Anna-Marie Marshall explains that “in order to realize their rights, people need to take the initiative to articulate them. This initiative, in turn, depends on the availability and the relevance of legal schema to people confronting problems.” (Marshall, Anna-Marie (2005). This is because laws exist as part of a larger organizational ecosystem in which the interests of the organization as well as those of the actors become inextricably linked to the ways in which they are enacted.

Distinct from the education of students in law school seeking a degree in law (which is often simply called “legal education”) and the continuing professional education of lawyers and judges (which is sometimes called “continuing legal education”), public legal education is principally aimed at people who are not lawyers, judges, or degree-seeking law students.

Women Lack Legal Awareness

The lack of legal education among women is one of the major reasons for women facing many social evils in society till today. If they are made fully aware about their rights and reservation provided by the constitution they will be empowered to question the injustice meted out to them. That can solve many legal problems faced by most of the women in rural and urban areas of our country. The level of ignorance among women about legal issues is one of the main reasons for the prevalence of social evils like the khap panchayats which carry out honour killings in some parts of the country. (New Indian Express 2014/03/03)

Compared to the past the status of women India has no doubt improved a lot in terms of freedom, equality and education but there is still a genuine lack of legal education among both urban and rural women. Sensitizing women about their legitimate rights is the need of the hour. There are very few women who are aware of the fact that they are legally entitled to some benefits from their families before and after their marriages. Only, a small minority of women is aware of succession laws and other important rights provided by the constitution.

Some the basic laws related to women are mentioned below:

Women and the Constitution

To create better awareness among women stress should be laid on Fundamental Rights, Constitutional Remedies (Writs), Electoral Law, Voting Rights for Women, participation in Panchayats, etc.

Women and Family Laws

Most of the women in India must be aware of the laws relating to family because India has a very powerful family system. It includes laws related to Marriage, Separation, Divorce, Maintenance, Adoption, Family, Right to Property and Succession, Guardianship, Unmarried Mother and the legitimacy of her children.

Women in Custody

Women must be aware of custodial laws as these can help them overcome problems when they unexpectedly fall into a situation like arrest. They must know the grounds of arrest, kinds of offences (bailable and non-bailable), arrest warrant, powers of police, rights of arrested persons including the right to bail, the immediate procedure to be adopted in case of violation of rights available etc.

Criminal Law and Women

Increasing crime rate among women makes it imperative to know certain criminal laws related to women like dowry offences, rape, molestation, child rape and child abuse etc.

Rights at Work Place

Most women today are working. Keeping this in mind certain laws have been designed for working women, like Equal Remuneration/Minimum Wages Act /Rights Under Factories Act, Maternity Benefit Act, Mines and Plantation Act, Rules of Work in specific areas, sexual harassment at place of work.

Reproductive Health Rights of women are: Foeticide, Infanticide, Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act 1994, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. (NCW-Legal awareness Programme)

These laws are used by some women as sword but instead they must be used as a shield to protect themselves.

Media and Legal Awareness

Media is a powerful weapon of communication. Media refers to many links such as mass media, broadcast media, print media and the web media. Television and radio are considered as the broadcast media while newspapers, magazines and journals are part of the print media and the internet news is identified as the web media or the new media. The media is not only an important source of news and opinions but also entertainment. Most young people usually turn on the television for movies, educational programs other entertainment programs. The popularity and preference for entertainment is more when compared with education on mass media.

The mass media profession has more or less become like any other profession these days. Due to intense competition within the print and electronic media ethical journalism has suffered a lot. TRP fights among the TV channels are leading to sensationalisation of women issues in order to attract audiences but not to create awareness among them and contribute to the development of the nation.

If women is raped, murdered or sexually assaulted all the media organisations will use that news for one week to push up circulation and TRPs but they don’t focus on such issues by continuously running a column or a TV programmes to create awareness about these issues among women. All the Telugu channels we definitely have one cookery show but not many of them will have even a single programme on legal advice or women’s awareness. Telugu newspapers cover legal issues like property fights between family members and other legal matters but issues related to women’s rights and laws find mostly limited coverage. With this background, this study has been designed to explore the level of awareness among Telangana women on legal aspects and the role of the Telugu media in this endeavour.

Review of Literature

Very limited literature is available on legal awareness among women. Very few studies have been conducted globally or nationally to study the level of knowledge among women on legal issues. The review of literature presented below indicates that very few studies have been conducted to know the legal awareness level among women. There is thus scope for studying the above mentioned topic. So in this study the researcher has undertaken a review of the available literature on women’s legal awareness levels and the role of media. The researcher has not found enough relevant literature on this topic on the World Wide Web (WWW). The literature reviewed has been organised as follows:

Studies by Lida Jarahi, Majid Reza Erfanian, Rahil Mahmoudi(2014) on “Knowledge about abortion law among young women in Iran”. This study investigated how much the young women knew about the abortion law, its complications and their consent to intentional abortion. Nearly 50% of the participants were unaware of the criminal law and abortion legislation, and more than 66% of participants were not aware of unsafe abortion consequences. Of them 16% believed that abortion must not be allowed at all, and 47% urged that legal facilities for safe abortion should be provided. High education and importance of using contraceptive were the most important variables in correlation with more information about abortion law and consequences. Providing information to women about abortion laws and the complications should be emphasized more to prevent unsafe abortion, especially among women with lower age and education.

Eric Vallillee: Deconstructing Infanticide (April 1, 2015), University of Western Ontario Journal of Legal Studies.

According to this study, the offence of infanticide is based in debunked and sexist ideas about women and pregnancy. The study outlines the elements of infanticide and examines the legislative history from medieval England to its adoption in Canada, before discussing contemporary discourses on infanticide with a particular focus on the application of modern medical science. This work argues there are two issues with the current offence: (1) the requirement of a “disturbed mind” in the accused resulting from childbirth or lactation; and (2) the lack of a required causal connection between the “disturbed mind” and the offence. Reforming the offence in this way would reduce the breadth of the offence and improve the ways in which women are dealt with by the criminal justice system.

Chahal Dinesh, Sirswal Desh Raj (2014): “Laws and Rights for Indian Women”

Legal awareness among women for their rights is an important issue these days. A girl child is least welcome although in India women were respected in early ages. Even though there are growing instances of girls excelling in education, tradition, custom, and social practices place greater value on sons than on daughters, who are often viewed as an economic burden. This attitude of the society also stands in the way of the girl child being able to achieve her full potential. A recent report on the girl child makes the following observations: “Girls are the world’s most squandered gift. They are precious human beings with enormous potential, but across the world, they are generally the last to have their basic needs met and first to have their basic rights denied. (NIOL, 2014).

Aim of the Study

The aim of the study is to assess the role of media in bringing up legal awareness among women. It includes evaluation of the content of the local media in relation to the legal aspect.

Objectives of the Study

  • To find out the role played by the mass media and the new media in bringing up the knowledge level among women on legal issues.
  • To know the amount of coverage given to legal issues related to women

Significance of the Study

Women in today’s India, the better half of the society, are becoming the most vulnerable sections as far as their safety and security is concerned. When we turn the pages of a newspaper, we come across many headlines reporting cases of dowry deaths, sexual assault, molestation, sexual harassment, rapes, trafficking, ill treatment of women in houses, violence against women in remote areas etc. What does this indicate? This certainly implies that there has been an increasing trend of such sexual overdrives in the present generation.

Women in India are unsafe and insecure with poor realization of their freedom and liberty. The plight of women who are sufferers of such crimes is unbearable. It is not that the nation doesn’t have any laws related to security and safety of Indian women, but the issue is about the low awareness about these laws and instilling courage among women to make use of such laws when required.

Accordingly, a research study was formulated on “Legal awareness among women and role of media”: A Study in Telangana.

Research Approach

The research questions adopted the qualitative research approach. It consisted of in-depth interviews with women activists, NGOs and lawyers to understand what methods and measures have been adopted by the government over the years to bring awareness among women about legal aspects and what have been the consequences. Content Analysis of the legal columns of two widely circulated Telugu newspapers was done and the legal issues covered in TV programmes of the top-rated channels and also social networking sites dedicated to legal awareness were identified and analysed.

Qualitative Data Collection

  • In-depth Interviews: the researcher conducted In-depth interviews of women activists, NGOs, lawyers and journalists to know their opinions on the topic for the study.
  • Content Analysis:
    • Newspapers: Two top circulated Telugu newspapers which cover legal issues were selected and their legal columns were examined for a period of one month
    • Television Channels: Legal awareness programmes on Telugu channels were identified and analysed for a month
    • Social Media: Social networking sites dedicated to legal awareness were identified and analysed.

Data Collection Tools

The following tools were used for data collection.

Interview Schedules. In-depth interviews with professionals from various fields were conducted by using interview schedules.

Scope and limitations

Researcher used purposive sample for this study which invites the problem of external validity. So the results of this study cannot be generalized across the entire population of Telangana. The study is an attempt to provide a broad way to explain the phenomenon, which was not deep enough. Due to limitation of resources, this study used a limited sample and was subjected only to women.

Data Presentation

The data collected here for the above mentioned research problem included the opinions of experts, including a public prosecutor, one social activist and a senior journalist from whom answers were sought for the set objectives of the study.

Legal Issue in Telugu Media

Naari Bheri: Time,12:30 PM to 01:00 PM, every Sunday on ETV2

This program focuses on the problems faced by women. In addition, experts give solutions and advice to women on the ways to overcome their problems confidently on legal and moral grounds.

Naya Seva: Every Saturday on ETV2 where legal advices by advocates are provided through phone-in-progamme.

Eenadu newspaper has a supplement called Vasundhar which runs a column on legal issues once a week where legal advisers give answers to questions asked by the public.

Sakshi newspaper family supplement sometimes covers legal issues.

Vanitha TV Badhratha Chattallu- Voice of Vanitha: Sunday 12:00PM where legal issues are discussed and analysed for the understanding of common people.

TV9 launched on 8th March 2006 a daily show Naveena on contemporary women’s issues. It is now telecast on Fridays between 5:30 pm and 6 pm. Naveena takes up subjects that are taboo in the society and often dismissed as controversial. Naveena believes in questioning discriminatory norms for women through many debates and campaigns.

G.Jyothi, Assistant Public Prosecutor, Metropolitan criminal court, Hyderabad says that there is a serious lack of awareness among urban and rural women about many legal issues that are directly and indirectly related to their daily lives. She felt that while much attention was given by the media and politicians to the Delhi rape incident and it came up with a ‘Nirbhaya’ law but there was no follow up in the media about how this law was utilized. She said not all women are aware of the many clauses incorporated in this law which are in fact are very useful for most women in the society. For example, any woman can file a complaint against a man who she thinks is looking at her with a bad intention.

Jyothi thinks around 99% of women, including educated ones, are not aware of legal issues. The one per cent that may be aware are those who might have faced some legal issue in their life, or they must have had some legal background like a law education or parents being lawyers etc. She adds that most women who don’t get involved in legal issues think there is no need to know about these laws, but everybody should have minimum legal knowledge for their survival.

She also pointed out that newspapers and TV channels cover the legal content only when any major issue crops up but not otherwise. Though the NGOs and social activists are trying to reach out to people in this regard, their efforts are not reaching everybody due to limited sources.

Jyothi suggest that the media organizations should increase their coverage and all colleges should be mandated to have a women’s cell to bring awareness among educated women. The NGOs and the government should collaborate in creating awareness among rural women on legal aspects. She added that this lack of awareness is disturbing the Indian family value systems also, as women are not able to tell their children about the strengths of legal system and as a result of this most of the young children are getting themselves involved in criminal activities and are going to juvenile jails.

Mamatha Achanta, Founder, Taruni, NGO

Even Mamatha said that legal awareness among rural and urban women is very low and there is a need to improve their awareness. She pointed out that the government has failed to take up this as a serious issue and as a result many women are suffering as they don’t know the way to get out of their problems. She says to bring legal awareness in society personal level awareness and training plays essential role, SHGs and some NGOs like Taruni are making ground level efforts to improve the level of legal awareness. But that is not sufficient. The government, media and social activists should join hands in this endeavor.

She also suggested that legal awareness should become part of school curriculum that will help future generations and the media should come up with some social movies raising the knowledge of viewers on these issues, coverage in print media must improve and TV serials must focus on increasing awareness on these issues, rather than simply mislead the audience with family fights. She felt the coverage in the media is very low, about 30%. The media hypes when some incident happens against women and later completely forgets it.

Mr. Madav, Senior Journalist

Mr. Madav thinks that the media coverage is actually decided by ratings. As long as commercial benefits remain important for media owners this kind of programmes will be less important in the media. But we should be happy that there are some channels which are bearing losses by running shows on legal awareness to benefit the public. He said that expecting more coverage on legal issues by private channels is not possible, but the government media and the print media have more scope to cover issues for creating awareness on legal issues among women. He suggested that the government must provide some financial assistant for those who run such progammes for public benefit.

Conclusion

From the data presented above it is evident that the coverage on legal issues is very low in the mass media and awareness among women is also scanty. All the experts interviewed felt that there is lot more that can be done to improve legal awareness among women by using mass media. Some suggestion like incorporating legal acts and laws related to women in school curriculum would bring more awareness among the younger generation. The extent of coverage in print and electronic media on legal issue must increase and the government must take some special initiatives by providing financial assistant to run such programmes for public benefit. The print media must be extensively used for this purpose and more movies must be made to create awareness on legal issues. There is also the possibility of some women misusing the laws that are made for their benefit. Such kind of people must be properly identified and punished so that the innocent people don’t have to suffer due to some of the new and strict laws that are introduced for women protection.

Bibliography

  • Cover, Robert M. 1983. The Supreme Court, 1982 Term: Foreword – Nomos and Narrative. Harvard Law Review 97(1): 1-68.Allen, R. C. (1992b). Audience-oriented criticism and television.In R C.    Allen (Ed.), Channels of discourse, reassembled (2nd ed.) (pp.101-137). London: Routledge.
  • Marshall, Anna-Maria, and Scott Barclay. 2003. Introduction: In Their Own Words: How Ordinary People Construct the Legal World. In Symposium: In Their Own Words: How Ordinary People Construct the Legal World. Law & Social Inquiry 28(3): 617-628. Babrow, A S. (1987).
  • Marshall, Anna-Marie.2005. “Idle Rights: Employees’ Rights Consciousness and the Construction of Sexual Harassment Policies.” Law and Society Review 39 (1): 83-124.
  • Podlas, Kimberlianne. 2006. The Tales Television Tells: Understanding the Nomos Through Television. Texas Wesleyan Law Review 13: 31-62. (Law Source* locator citation: 13 TXWLR 31)
  • LidaJarahi, Majid Reza Erfanian, Rahil Mahmoudi.2014.”Knowledge about abortion law among young women in Iran,” Scientific research, An Academic Publisher. Open access Journal,Vol.6 No.5, (PP. 374-377). http://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=43136#.VVBOs_mqqko
  • Chahal Dinesh, SirswalDesh Raj (2014) “Laws and Rights for Indian Women”, Indian Journals.com, Volume:4, Issue:2.
    http://indianjournals.com/ijor.aspx?target=ijor:san&volume=4&issue=2&article=004
  • http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/hyderabad/Women-Lack-Legal-Education-Chief-justice/2014/03/03/article2087693.ece
  • Eric Vallillee, Deconstructing Infanticide. April 1, 2015. University of Western Ontario Journal of Legal Studies, Social Science Research Centre, Journal.
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2593910

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