Case studies on Centre for Social Justice-supported paralegals suggest they are instruments of change among vulnerable sections

Some of the participants at the review workshop at Kesla
Some of the participants at the review workshop at Kesla

A review workshop held by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Ahmedabad, at Kesla, Bhopal, on May 15-16, 2014 highlighted how paralegal volunteers of the CSJ and other grassroots organizations attached with it in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have been working to bring about legal awareness among vulnerable sections of the population, especially adivasis, Dalits, factory workers, migrants and women. During the workshop, some of the Ahmedabad-based CSJ volunteers jotted down a few case studies showcasing how paralegals have triggered a change in society. A glimpse of some the case studies:  

Pradip Kumar, Bhopal: This is regarding a small village in Madhya Pradesh. Paralegals, on a visit to the village, found out that locals faced serious issues related with sanitation. Also, several people were left out from the below poverty line (BPL) list. They discussed with villagers on how to go about overcoming the twin problems. People took the help of paralegals to draft applications addressed to the district collector. This resulted in the construction of 22 toilets in individual households. Also, 12 persons were issued BPL cards in January 2014. Paralegals organized a law camp, where information was disseminated on rights people enjoy to avail benefits from government schemes.  They helped people draft right to information (RTI) applications.

Kanuni Margdarshan Kendra (KMK), Rehnuma, Bhopal: Paralegals organized a camp in Pipli village of Madhya Pradesh to inform people about the government’s pension scheme. The villagers were told about the existence of the Seva Kendra, which is supposed to facilitate the scheme. They were also told how to draft an application so as to start getting pension. Following the camp, people themselves began being involved in the process of filing application forms. Paralegal volunteers helped them.

Aadil Raza, Rehnuma: On visit to Islamnagar village, Bhopal district, paralegals found people were agitated over availing housing rights (aavas patras). They were not getting ownership of the land on which they were living in huts. They had been staying there for long. This is because they did not have documentary evidence as proof of their residence. Paralegals held a meeting with them. After gathering all necessary information, they helped them draft a RTI application and a public interest litigation (PIL). The RTI application woke up the administration. It helped them receive certificates of lease of the land they were occupying. They also got voter identity card, for which they were agitating for long.

Ram Shingh Kushvada, Sagar, Madhya Pradesh: In Madal village, Sagar district, paralegals identified a gruesome incident in which a nine-year old girl Mamta (name changed) was raped by a local village boy. Despite the incident, which had pushed the girl into a state of trauma, the victim was unable to get any treatment. Paralegals took the girl to the city magistrate, and also provided her with treatment. She was given necessary financial aid. A complaint was filed at the Madal police station, a copy of which was sent to the district superintendent of police (SP). A first information report (FIR) was registered. During the interaction with local cops, it was found that they were not interested in pursuing the case. As for doctors, they too did not take up the victim’s case seriously. In fact, they refused to treat her. Only after paralegals’ intervention, things began to move. Media was supportive.

Abhisek Langere, Sagar, Madhya Pradesh: During a visit to the Kodni village of Sagar district, paralegals came to know about how a few underage children’s names were falsely added to the voters’ list. Paralegals complained to the district collector, as also other officers. The information was disseminated to local newspapers. Thanks to media highlighting the issue, officials were forced remove these names, and became alert for future.

Sushil Kumar Patel, Sagar, Madhya Pradesh: In Village Jellingar, Sagar district, the forest department took away land of a few adivasis, which they were cultivating since 1980. They became landless. Paralegal provided legal assistance to the affected adivasis.  An interaction with the adivasis took place. An application was drafted. It was addressed to the district collector. The Madhya Pradesh High Court was also approached. Two non-government organizations (NGO) working on forest rights Act (FRA) had already taken up the issue with the authorities. But nothing happened. After gaining the confidence of adivasis, relevant information was collected. An RTI application was filed. It helped pressurize the administration. The sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) was forced to act and handed over the land back to the tribals on lease. Media was support.

Manoj Mistri, Bhopal: In September 2013, the paralegals visited village Omnagar, Bhopal district. During a meeting, people expressed dismay over refusal of the authorities to construct a drainage channel (nullah) and a pucca road. Paralegals drafted an application, on which the signatures of several villagers were taken. The application was submitted to the zonal office. This resulted into the construction of the nullah and the road. The villagers appreciated the help rendered by paralegals, as it changed the face of the village. The village used to get inundated during monsoon. Paralegals also organized a camp in the village, where people were informed about how they could take advantage of different government schemes.  Media was supportive.

Kartikesh Tivari, Bhopal: This is a case about IVRCL, an infrastructure company, one of whose contractors refused to pay wages to its laborers. The contractor bought a motorbike from the money he was to pay to a wage worker and disappeared. Paralegals came to know about this and contacted local officials in order to help the labourers. A complaint was filed with the police station .The labourers were so poor that they did not have any money to make ends meet. Paralegals contacted the labourers and gathered necessary information. They approached the police to get information from the contract box. An investigation was ordered. Finally, the company and the labourers reached an agreement, under which the labourers were provided with company identity cards. Paralegals also held a camp with labourers to make them aware of their rights.

Shiv Pratapsingh Chauhan, Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh: In Chhattarpur village, Madhya Pradesh, BPL families were informed about the Rajya Bimari Sahayata scheme, meant to help poorer sections of people during their illness. Paralegals helped BPL persons prepare application to take advantage of the scheme. Till paralegals approached them, they had no knowledge or information regarding the health scheme. Nor did they know how to communicate with the officials concerned. The situation was such that no one was ready to support when a person fell ill. Even the sarpanch or the secretary did not show any interest in helping the affected person or the family. Paralegals’ intervention helped victims get timely treatment in Bhopal.

Dhirendra Kumar, Chhattisgarh: In a village in Raigarh district, Madhya Pradesh, paralegals came in direct contact with a case of forcible land acquisition. Several villagers were staying on this land for the last 30 years. However, the government wanted to set up a hospital and a housing board colony here. A notice was served on the villagers, which made them extremely worried. They did not know where to go. Paralegals drafted an application to the district collector and made officials alert about the problem. A gram sabha was called by the village panchayat, where the matter was discussed. An application was filed with the Madhya Pradesh High Court seeking stay order over land acquisition. The process is still continuing.

Hemlata, Raigarh, Madhya Pradesh: Paralegals came to know in April 2014 that an aged person of a village in Raigadh district was not getting his pension for the last 10 months, though it was his basic right. Paralegals, after holding a meeting in the village, found out that there were 25 others facing a same problem. Five of them were made to write an application to the Panchayat Samaj Karyalay Samiti. It was found during an interaction at the Samiti that the sarpanch was creating hurdles in the payment of pension. The matter was argued out in the panchayat office, and finally the 25 persons received pension. This became a major reason for paralegals to rejoice, as it encouraged them to work even harder for people’s cause.

Shobharam Gildhare, Raipur, Chhattisgarh: Two years ago, two Dalit adolescent girls were kidnapped and raped in a village of Raipur district. An FIR was filed by members of the family and the girls underwent medical test. Police filed a case under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 376 and 506. Following the incident, the accused absconded. Legal aid volunteers from Raipur came to know of the case and approached ASP, Raipur. However, he sounded negative, which disappointed volunteers. Thereafter, they contacted the DGP in Raipur, which helped restart the investigation. During the investigation, the local cops seemed to favour the accused. They took the case very lightly, putting the victims in great stress. The victims’ family filed applications in the National Human Rights Commission, the State Human Rights Commission, the National Women’s Commission, the State Scheduled Caste and Tribe Commission, the DGP, the SP, and the ASP, Raipur. The family and the victims were further socially ostracized. Following legal aid volunteers’ help, girls were married and the accused were punished for seven-and-a- half years’ imprisonment. The victims were also given compensation of Rs 20,000 each.

Manu Pratap Jhadiya, Panna, Chhattisgarh: This case involves rehabilitation of people of Panna village due to the decision of the state government to expand the Panna Tiger Reserve. Villagers were not given any information about the government decision. Paralegals approached villagers of Panna as also four neirbouring villages, which were to be affected by the decision. Paralegals told people that the government was seeking to rehabilitate them, and this would adversely affect their livelihood, which is based on farming and farm labour. After pursuing the case with the authorities, the affected families were offered Rs 10 lakh in cash as compensation. Paralegals visited the affected villages, held meetings on several issues agitating people, as a result of which they became aware of their rights and policies.

Divya Jasval, KMK, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh: During fieldwork it was found that people were not aware of the the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, and it was not been implemented. Hence, paralegals decided that their aim should be ensure its implementation. Under the Act, the court is required to dispose of the case within 60 days of the first hearing. This was not being adhered to. Then, there is the provision for shelter home for the victims of domestic violence. But officials were refusing to create any such facility. Paralegals filed an PIL in the Madhya Pradesh High Court, so that the Act began being implemented in its true letter and spirit. Meanwhile, paralegals began campaigning for the creation of favourable atmosphere for implementing the Act. The process is still on. Awareness camps were being held for women, who have started fighting for their rights and raising voice against domestic violence.

Rajesh Kumar, Chhattisgarh: This case relates to the way Indira Avas Yojna is being implemented in a village in Chhattisgarh. Under the scheme, a beneficiary should receive Rs 45,000 in order to construct a house. However, Ramesh Kumar received just Rs 25,000 from the village panchayat, and he was refused rest of the amount. The sarpanch particularly did not support Ramesh Kumar’s case. Paralegals helped him file an application before the village panchayat. An RTI application was also submitted. A camp was organized in the village in order to make people aware of the type of benefits they could receive under the Indira Avas Yojna. But when even after all this things did not move, Ramesh Kumar contacted the CEO. This helped him in getting his money.

Gayatri Suman, Chhattisgarh: Black magic is widely prevalent in the rural areas of Chhattisgarh. It is used to beat up women, abuse them, and brandish them naked. Women are subjected to all types of physical and mental torture. Those who perform black magic and perpetrate this type of violence are able to get bail under Sections 376 and 302. Following several interaction with villagers, paralegals came to the conclusion that the Act should be strengthened and bail should not be granted to the quacks performing black magic. Advice should be taken from experienced legal luminaries while bringing about the change. There should be a study to find out as to how many cases have been registered till now against such spurious quacks, and an analysis should made in order to reach a conclusion.

KMK, Chhattisgarh: Following a case filed in the Supreme Court for the rehabilitation of migrants between 2006 and 2008, the Chhattisgarh government floated certain schemes for their rehabilitation. Paralegals decided to tell villagers about the schemes. However, several roadbocks need to be overcome. The case is currently pending in the High Court, which has stayed the legal process for implementing of the schemes as the case is pending in the Supreme Court.

Jabbar Khan, Samajik Nyay Kendra, Madhya Pradesh: Paralegals took up the case of several labourers who did not get their wages. They came to know following meetings with local labourers. The effort was to encourage them and make them aware of their rights. During interactions, it was found that several adivasi labourers were made to work for a month and they were not given wages. Paralegals took them to the district collector’s office, where a discussion ensued on several issues agitating labourers. The process made them aware of their rights. They received their wages as per their work after the district collector gave good response and helped them.

Rohit Loni Panna, Madhya Pradesh: During their visit to village Udki, Madhya Pradesh, paralegals identified displaced Bengalis, who had come to India from Bangladesh following the 1971 war. Land was given to them by the state government. However, they were not given any land titles or pattas. Paralegals worked to ensure that they received their legal right. An RTI application was filed. As many as 38 persons became legal owners of the land after a year long struggle.

Mangalben, Dangs, Gujarat: This case relates to the people who are fighting for their forest land. With the help of paralegals, adivasis filed up to 200 applications in Dangs so that they could become legal owners of the land they have been cultivating for decades. Of these, only 10 per cent applications were approved. As for the rest, their legal documents were found to be missing. Hence, the adivasis were unable to get their land titles. Currently, paralegals are in the process of collecting necessary documents so that adivasis are not deprived of their right under the forest rights Act.

Asha, Dangs, Gujarat: Paralegals began working on child rights issues about a year ago. People of Dangs did not know about the type of rights their children could enjoy. Awareness was spread by holding song and dance programmes, puppet shows, plays, drawing competition, and so on. Activities were conducted according to categories and age. Children enjoyed playing and taking part in these activities. Paralegals prepared a play in which children participated. Different themes were touched upon, including gram sahba, equality and forest rights. The performance was seen by adivasis with great interest.

Arvind B Khuman, Dangs: Paralegals interacted with the adivasis who migrate in search of jobs in neighbouring districts or states. They were told what their minimum wages were, how National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) could benefit them, and how could they take care of their children’s education as migrants. Awareness camps were held, petitions were drafted, and complaints were filed. The effort was to ensure that the adivasis get employment on an equitable basis, and they are able to focus on educating of their children.

Chaudhri Mayana, Dangs: In Dangs, when a woman becomes widow she does become the legal heir of the property owned by her husband. There have been instances when the hearing of such cases takes place in the village panchayat, which often takes wrong decisions. Paralegals focused on the issue and found that it was necessary to highlight women’s land ownership rights, so that women are not discriminated against by the village panchayat or the talati. There is a huge misunderstanding that the property is only held by the son after the death of the father, and not the widow. Paralegals’ meetings helped solve the issue, and several women were able to get their ownership rights.

Roshan, Dangs: This case relates to forest labourers being paid low wages, that too after considerable delay. A workshop on the issue helped paralegals understand why this is happening in Dangs and what should be done to make labourers aware of their rights. It was agreed, they should be made to file RTI to find out what their rights were.

Parmar Kundan, Coastal Gujarat: This pertains to the issue of constructing jetties for fishermen. A paralegals’ workshop found out that more than 30,000 fishermen faced this problem. Without jetty, fishermen have to make do with small boats. They are unable to earn enough. They are forced to migrate to places where they can get better fish catch.  Lack of jetty also affects job opportunities for fisherwomen. Paralegals concluded that there should be a change in the attitude towards fishermen. Fishermen should be properly trained so that they could represent before the authorities concerned about the need for jetty. Steps should be initiated to ask those responsible to start construction of jetties. RTI should be used, wherever necessary, and applications should be filed to find out why jetties were not being constructed.

Vinod, Coastal Gujarat: This case relates to coastal protection, and the need to build protection wall around vulnerable coastal areas which are prone to natural disasters. During a workshop, paralegals floated the idea of forming disaster management committees with coastal communities. Ideas were exchanges on who should take the responsibility to form these committees. It was agreed that a mechanism should be worked out to see to it that each village is covered under coastal protection planning. Efforts should be floated to take advantage of government schemes by creating awareness among coastal people.

Kartira Mayamsingh, Coastal Gujarat: This case relates to those fishermen who suffer untimely death, or suffer from permanent disability, or go missing while on high sea, and how to file application about all this. Coastal people are generally unaware of the the Machchimar Kalyan Yojna, and the type of claims they can make under it. A paralegals’ workshop agreed that there should be a change in mechanism. Several government departments are involved — fisheries, labour, and the police. The aim should be to make people aware of the working of these departments and what were their duties were. There should be proper follow-up when a person is found missing. Search should begin within one year, and not after seven years, as is the case is today. People should be made aware of RTI and how to take advantage of the Machchimar Kalyan Yojna and the Janta Juth Akasmat Bima Yojna.

Anuradha, CSJ, Ahmedabad: Evidence was given on how efforts made in Himachal Pradesh by paralegals to make the Nyay Panchayat active. As many as 35 paralegals came together for this. It was suggested that the law was not being implemented. The aim was to ensure that the Nyay Panchayat becomes an important legal entity. Nyay Dals were formed. Members of Nyay Panchayat were made aware of the need to carry out gender training surveys, provide for perspective of A21Campaign, which aims at ending sex trafficking, and gender justice issues. All of this required comprehensive advocacy, implementation of gender justice laws in states, and capacity, it was suggested.

Shanthi NS, CSJ, Ahmedabad: This case relates to showcasing efforts to increase the number of beneficiaries of pre-matric scholarship among minority communities. During fieldwork, paralegals found that hardly anyone knew about the scholarship, particularly prematric scholarship. They found that there was a need for a change in attitude of the departments concerned about the programme, especially the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme, to alleviate the plight of the minorities, and sensitizing government officials about minority rights. Activists visited villages, and held meetings with different stakeholders, including government officials, head masters, community leaders, spreading awareness through the community radio and distributing pamphlets.

Isahqbhai, CSJ, Ahmedabad: This case relates to showcasing the fight put up by paralegals against complacence of the authorities to pay up compensation to Assam riot victims. The main aim was to help victims get their legal rights, including relief and rehabilitation. During fieldwork it was found that officials were not very quite keen in carrying out relief and rehabilitation or pay compensation and allowances to the victims. Paralegals worked for a change in mechanism. They carried out different forms of activities, including collective protest, filed a PIL, prepared affidavits, followed-up with the victims about FIRs registered against the accused, and so on. Finally, the compensation was approved.

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