A schoolboy named Pugloo wakes up one morning and finds that a circus troupe has pitched tent in front of his house. It's summer; school is out and he had planned to sleep late every morning. Instead, he is kept up all night and awakened at dawn by the loud noise of rehearsals.
He would have liked to say something, but he's been taught about freedom of speech and expression in school, and he has understood it to mean that he cannot object to the noise of the circus.
In a new comic series created by Ahmedabad-based sisters Kelly, 27, and Kanan Dhru, 30, both lawyers, Pugloo learns about fundamental rights and fundamental duties, and how there are laws relating to violations of both. "I first suggested the idea of creating a comic series for children about laws at a May 2013 meeting of the Ahmedabad hub of Global Shapers [a community youth leaders initiative of the World Economic Forum]," says Kanan, a graduate of the London School of Economics.
Kelly was studying for a Master's in legal philosophy at Oxford University at the time. "We spoke on the phone and felt the idea was worth executing," says Kelly. "Law and legal cases are so hard for the general public to understand. We thought a graphic book series would help children become familiar, at least with the basics."
The sisters named their comic Lawtoons and put it up on a crowd-funding website for donations. In June this year, after a nail-biting three months, they reached their target of Rs 275,000. The first volume in the series is now set for release next week.
Through their non-profit organisation Research Foundation for Governance in India (RFGI), the Dhru sisters had already been conducting workshops on the Constitution, fundamental rights and democracy, in schools across Ahmedabad. "A workshop on human rights was held here in March, the second RFGI session in two years. It was inspiring to see professionals taking the initiative to teach children about our Constitution," says Lisa Chazot, humanities teacher at Mahatma Gandhi International School. "The session was very well received by our students."
With the comic series, the sisters realised that they could take some of that educational content to a wider audience.
First, they created a 10-page prototype, which they tested on two municipal and three private schools in Ahmedabad over six months, starting in October last year. An additional session was conducted in association with local environmental awareness group World Around You (WAY) "A total of 200 students from the five schools attended our joint session and the results were very positive," says Karishma Panchal, programme coordinator at WAY. "Students identified with the character Pugloo and seemed excited to learn about the law by following him on his adventures."
A group of legal experts and animation and design specialists helped structure the stories. Among these was Sekhar Mukherjee, head of animation film design at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, and Margie Sastry, writer and former associate editor at Amar Chitra Katha. "The law is complicated, even for professional lawyers sometimes," says Bhadrish Raju, an advocate at the Gujarat high court, who is now working to have it introduced as reading material at juvenile homes. "Lawtoons helps make it easier and more fun for children to understand the basics at a very young age."
Adds Sastry: "This is the best time to experiment with this form, even for a serious subject like law, because youngsters these days are very cued in to visual media."
We found this project to be an exciting culmination of two very different professions and were happy to contribute to this project and help spread awareness of basic laws among children, says Mukherjee.
The illustrations were created by Anish Daolagupu, an illustrator and NID alum. "Once I understood the concept, it became extremely easy to bring the characters to life," says Daolagupu. "While the first edition deals with basic laws, future editions will likely appeal to adults as well."
Ahmedabad Global Shapers is funding the self-publication of the first 1,000 copies of the first volume. Work on the second volume has already begun, and over the next year, the sisters plan to launch a book series, an interactive website and smartphone app that explain basic laws, legal clauses and rights relating to children, the environment and women's issues, in language simple enough for a child of 10 to understand.
(To order the first edition of the comic book series, email
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. Part of the first volume will also be available free online, on lawtoons.in)