Covid Legal Helpline By Nyaaya At Vidhi

Covid’s Impact Beyond Health

India has witnessed over 2.7 crore positive cases and three lakh deaths since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The country, as a whole, as well as individual states have seen multiple lockdowns and curfews since March 2020. The cumulative impact of this on social and economic structures is still unfolding. The scale of the damage to the mental health of individuals grappling with loss, grief, stress, loneliness, not to mention the threat to vulnerable individuals stuck with perpetrators of abuse, is hard to fully comprehend.

For many people, the idea of navigating all these uncertainties is debilitating. When faced with a specific situation, people are struggling to find guidance and accurate information. This is particularly relevant for legal and procedural issues. For instance, in understanding curfew regulations, how wills operate upon the death of a loved one, dealing with situations of domestic violence and child abuse, availing compensation in cases of Covid deaths, filing paperwork for death certificates and cremations, and even in defending against medical negligence and hospital exploitation – people require support.

As Covid spreads from cities to towns and villages, there is a pressing need for resources to address these COVID related questions, with customized context for a person’s location, in a medium they can easily access and in the language they speak. 

Nyaaya, an open access, digital resource which makes laws accessible for the common person, has thus launched a helpline – Ask Nyaaya Covid Legal Helpline. Nyaaya was conceived by Rohini Nilekani and incubated at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.

Where Does Nyaaya Fit In?

Nyaaya’s mission is to help people solve their problems by providing them with simple, actionable, recallable, and authoritative legal (SARAL) information. From this perspective, the pandemic shines a light on the information gaps in the country’s legal framework that prevent access to justice, where citizens are either unaware of their rights under the laws or are uncertain about how to enforce them. Some of the barriers identified include:

  • Lack of awareness: People don’t know the nature of the problem they are facing – is it medical, legal, administrative or something else?
  • Lack of access to information: People are unsure about where they can access useful, actionable information. 
  • Language gap: Most of the information being disseminated is in English and can be complex and filled with jargon, especially legal information. Over 30 crore Indians cannot read and only 10.6% of the population can speak English.
  • Complex process: Where the government is involved, there is usually a complex framework of central legislations, state laws, notifications and multiple justice delivery forums.
  • Identity: Additional factors like the person’s gender, identity, income, level of education and social status affect their experience.

Nyaaya has been working to bridge these gaps to enable better availability of information to those who need it, to empower them to access their rights. It believes that the best use of its knowledge and resources, at this time, is to allow people to raise any issues the pandemic has brought forth for them, through an easily accessible platform and help solve these problems by providing actionable legal information for as many of these questions as possible in regional languages. 

Ask Nyaaya Covid Legal Helpline

To achieve this, Nyaaya has started the Ask Nyaaya Covid Legal Helpline – a Whatsapp-based helpline for all such queries. Anyone with a Whatsapp number can ask a question by sending a message to +91 9650108107 and specifying the state they live in. 

Whatsapp bridges the urban-rural digital divide and has the potential to serve people who really need information at this stage. The helpline is currently operational in English, Hindi, Kannada, Bengali and Gujarati. Nyaaya is working on expanding to other regional languages based on demand.

The Helpline has instituted a volunteer cohort of experienced lawyers and law students to answer the questions that come in. All answers and reviewed and vetted by the Nyaya team so that people get up-to-date and verified information tailored specifically to their question. 

In a week since launch, the Helpline has already answered 200+ questions, with many questions following similar themes, such as:

  • What happens if I break lockdown/curfew rules?
  • How do I get a death certificate?
  • Can family members of a person who has passed away from Covid get any relief from the government?
  • They got my name wrong on the vaccination certificate. How can I change it?
  • What are the legal steps to claim the 4 lakh rupees amount the state is offering for the deceased family?
  • What is the process for a Covid19 victim’s child who has lost his/her parent to enroll for the PM Scheme / CM Scheme?

Nyaaya is also in the process of collating a list of verified resources that can provide helpful information beyond its legal and process-linked expertise. 

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