By Tanay Gandhi*
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), one of India’s premier non-profit organizations working in the field of social justice lawyering since its formation in 1994, has turned into an important voluntary organisation instrumental in setting up quality parameters in the fight for women’s rights. And, there is reason for this: Apart from providing direct legal services to marginalized groups and communities, it has been playing a pivotal role in creating a cadre of paralegals who are trained at grassroots level for legal interventions and advocacy on issues related with sexual violence.
One which has facilitated the implementation and operationalization of such important legislations such as the Domestic Violence Act in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, it is known to have simultaneously fought for social justice of the women who became victims of extreme forms of sexual violence in Gujarat during the 2002 anti-minority riots. CSJ, in fact, has been campaigning for providing special compensation to the women survivors of the riots.
CSJ works in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where legal services and representations are provided to survivors of domestic violence, rape and other human rights violations. Similar services are provided as part of action-research on minority rights in other states as well — Rangareddy in Telengana), Gulbarga in Karnataka, Kandhamal in Odisha, Howrah in West Bengal, and Gumla in Jharkhand – all as part of partnership with local organizations.
Especially focusing on social and legal support to victims of sexual violence, one of CSJ’s main thrusts has been to provide free legal aid, counseling and related services to the seven states in India where it is active. While in Chhattigarh it has filed public interest litigation (PIL) on domestic violence, in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat it has worked with survivors of sexual violence to ensure compensation to the victims. At the same time, it has been working on awareness and capacity building programmes for volunteers and paralegals on women’s rights on issues ranging from sexual violence to property rights. This is done so that the victims are able to identify violation of their rights and come forward with their cases to find legal solutions.
Among the major interventions relating to women’s rights the CSJ has successfully fought include:
- Velacha riot compensation case, Usmanmiya G Sheikh v/s State of Gujarat (Case No. 2262/2007 in Gujarat High Court): A writ petition was filed in the court demanding payment of adequate compensation to riot victims, whose commercial/residential properties were looted and destroyed by mobs. In October 2010, after a protracted legal battle, the High Court ordered that victims be paid compensation equivalent to the one paid by the government to families affected by the riots in 2002.
- Gagan S Sethi and Yusuf Shaikh v/s State of Gujarat and Others (Case No. 14664/2008 in Gujarat High Court): A petition highlighting the non-implementation of the compensation package announced by the Government of India for victims of the 2002 riots. The court ruled in the favour of CSJ and the Gujarat government was forced to release Rs 300 crore to victims as compensation for loss to residential property.
- To ensure implementation of provisions under Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005), the CSJ filed a PIL pushing the state to appoint protection officers at the taluka level and ensure quick disposal of pending applications.
- CSJ-initiated campaign for the establishment of family courts in Gujarat triumphed after a PIL was filed, resulting in the establishing of such courts in Ahmedabad
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As part of its advocacy efforts for working out an effective policy framework, CSJ was actively involved, on being selected by the UN Women, in an action-research project on the situation of minority women in Gulbarga (Karnataka), Rangareddy (Telengana), Kandhamal (Odisha). This apart, it was invited by the Planning Commission (12th Five Year Plan) to submit an approach paper on Access to Justice for Minorities; and by the Law Commission for a study done by Justice SN Kapoor to submit recommendations for the improvement of functioning of the Legal Service Authority Act, a work that was appreciated in the final report.
Invited by the Department of Justice to give suggestions on improving the condition of Legal Services Authority, CSJ’s recommendations on three schemes were accepted and launched — paralegal volunteer scheme, retainer lawyer scheme and law clinic scheme. Further, it was invited by the Department of Justice to undertake a study on legal empowerment in seven states; by the advisory group to NAC for formulating the Communal Violence Bill; and to be on the Advisory Committee to the Assessment and Monitoring Authority to look at the implementation of the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme. Not without reason, CSJ was honoured with the Best Innovation for Legal Empowerment award by the Ministry of External Affairs at the Pravasi Bharatiya event in Bangalore.
At the same time, CSJ has worked in collaboration with UNICEF to undertake capacity building on child rights in Madhya Pradesh, for its partner organizations; with the Gender Resource Centre, Gujarat to undertake training of protection officers in the state; with the Central Industrial Reserve Force (CISF), police and several government departments to set up the anti-sexual harassment committees at work places; with the National Judicial Academy for training judges; with the NLSIU, Bengaluru, for helping design its Human Rights Training Programme; with the DGP, Madhya Pradesh, to undertake sensitization training for police in Bhopal; with the Government of Gujarat to set up the Child Rights Protection Committee in Surendranagar; and with Prof Madhav Menon to design the curriculum of the law course in Guru Ghasi Das University, to participate in a programme on the Uniform Civil Code organized by Mumbai National Law University and to contribute to a book on social justice lawyering being developed by him.
Its international interventions have included training of South Asian trainers on legal empowerment, in collaboration with SAILS and BRAC-U; working with the Wada Na Todo Abhiyaan for the international process on determination of post-2015 MDG agenda; and contributing in preparing the Shadow Report of the National Alliance of Women for CEDAW on 2002 Gujarat riots.
*With Centre for Social Justice, Ahmedabad