Human Rights Law Network

Media Reports

Legal fees are on the house

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Corporate Social Responsibility has entered India's legal corridors. Top law firms and lawyers are doing pro bono so that they can give back to society.

A man phones a lawyer and asks, "What's your fee for answering three simple questions?" The reply is: A thousand dollars. "Whoa! That's very expensive, isn't it?" exclaims the man. "It certainly is, now what's your third question?" asks the lawyer.

Expensive legal fees have been the butt of many jokes but not all lawyers are the sharks they're made out to be. There are a number of socially aware and generous souls who are increasingly lending their expertise for pro bono work. Short for the Latin term pro bono publico, 'for the public good', pro bono means a case is taken up for free or the rates are deeply discounted. I n India, traditionally, pro bono legal work was carried out by lawyers who had dedicated themselves to helping society. Take senior advocate Colin Gonsalves who, in the early 1980s, co-founded the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) to provide free legal access to the needy. Since then HRLN has expanded the scope of its legal offerings to include filing PILs, legal clinics and advocacy. Pune-based advocate Asim Sarode set up Human Rights and Law Defenders in 2002, which won accolades for providing free legal service to prisoners.

Yet, given the need for proper legal help for a diverse section of society — ranging from NGOs to social entrepreneurs; from sex workers to child labourers; and from battered women to helpless prisoners — even the PM, in his address at the Bar Council's centenary celebrations earlier this year, urged lawyers to take on more pro bono cases.

Cyber-platforms such as the international Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation and i-Probono are already helping connect law firms with social projects. Then there are organisations such as Ashoka which, through its 'Law for all' initiative, ensures that Ashoka Fellows (social entrepreneurs) have access to the most appropriate law firms. "In addition to meeting regulatory hurdles, this initiative also aims at providing emergency support to Ashoka Fellows, who given the nature of their work sometimes face threats and intimidation from vested interests," says an Ashoka spokesperson.


Inside India's Female Sterilization Camps

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Sumati Devi knew before she arrived at the grimy government clinic in northern India that she would be paid to be sterilized. She didn’t know that she would lie on an operating table with bloody sheets, that the scalpel used on her would be stained with rust, or that she was supposed to get counseling on other birth control methods before consenting to have her fallopian tubes cut and tied. The main reason Devi agreed was that the $10 she received—about a week’s wages for a poor family—would help feed her three children. “I did it out of desperation,” says Devi, 25, as she lies on the concrete floor recuperating at the clinic in Bihar state. “We need the money. Health officials came to our home. They told us it would be best.”

India carries out about 37 percent of the world’s female sterilizations. Quotas set by state governments and financial incentives for doctors contributed to 4.6 million women being sterilized last year, many for cash and in the unsanitary conditions Devi encountered. Vasectomies accounted for just 4 percent of all sterilizations. “Women are the easiest prey, whether it’s government officials or their husbands asking them to undergo the operation,” says Kerry McBroom of New Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network, which provided the lawyer for an ongoing court case against the government that was filed last year. The lawsuit documents the brutal practices at sterilization camps, where large numbers of women are gathered to have the procedure, and calls on the Supreme Court to issue guidelines to prevent abuse.

Only about half of Indian couples of child-bearing age practice modern birth control methods, United Nations data show. The government doesn’t pursue the costly option of teaching often-illiterate women how to use contraceptives. One in five babies born worldwide is Indian, straining supplies of land, food, and water. “A fast-growing population affects everything: the economy, the environment, quality of life,” says Vishwanath Koliwad, secretary general of the Family Planning Association of India, an advocacy group.


A Lahori’s take on Delhi

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Pakistani journalist, development professional and blogger Raza Rumi’s first book ‘Delhi By Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller’ (HarperCollins India, 2013) is his “humble effort to write on a complex city such as Delhi and its past.” It is, he says, “not an academic treatise or a history book but a Pakistani's effort to reclaim his roots and shared heritage”. Available in bookshops across the region now.

South Asia Justice Trbunal formed

At the end of a two-day Indo-Pak seminar on ‘Judicial Activism, Public Interest Litigation and Human Rights’ held last week in Karachi, participants agreed to establish a South Asia Tribunal of Justice through a Peoples’ Network.

Advocates Colin Gonsalves (India) and Faisal Siddiqui (Pakistan) were nominated as focal persons for the Peoples’ Network that will raise cross-border issues of public interest, like human rights violations, minority rights, missing persons’, and terrorism.

Indian delegates included senior advocates Colin Gonsalves, Mukul Sinha, Prashant Bhushan, Nijhari Sinha, and Justice Former Judge, Supreme Court of India and currently Chairman, West Bengal Human Rights Commission A.K. Ganguly.

Prominent Pakistani delegates included Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid who is also a member of the India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners; Justice (retd) Rashid A. Razvi, Advocate Faisal Siddiqui, Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) and Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) Chairman Mohammad Ali Shah.

The Indian delegates invited the Chief Justice of Pakistan to visit India.


Behind the bars of schizophrenia

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Thiruvananthapuram: When 40 schizophrenic undertrials and 181 schizophrenic convicts are languishing at the three Mental Health Centres and at the Central Prisons in the State for more than three decades, it reveals the extent of the callousness being meted out to them.

Though the Hospital Monitoring Committee and Jail Advisory Committees are being convened regularly, the fact that these schizophrenics continue to languish only exposes that these committees are not doing their job. But while jail DGP Alexander Jacob blames mental health law, criminologist and former DGP Dr. P. J. Alexander blames society for the stigma towards mentally deranged persons in particular and prisoners in general.

While prison and MHC authorities lament that they are helpless as long as the Courts do not come to their aid, Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan has underlined the need for them to be shifted them back to the prison. But prison authorities cite the lack of psychologists and psychiatrists in prisons.

J. Sandhya, lawyer attached to Human Rights Law network, is hopeful that when the High Court considers her petition on Thursday, it will take into consideration the need for the rehabilitation of mentally challenged under trials. Sandhya had received RTI information that there are five and 11 schizophrenics languishing Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode MHC’s respectively since the last 18 - 30 years.

“Forensic wards in MHCs are miniature forms of ‘prisons’ itself. Prolonged imprisonment of under trials who are mentally challenged amounts to denial of Rights of Life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution”, said Sandhya to DC.


Govt drivers` association team leaves Imphal

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IMPHAL, June 6: The All Manipur Govt Drivers’ And Technicians’ Association has notified in a statement that a team of six members led by its president Dr O Nobo Singh has left Imphal for New Delhi today to take part in the 4th National Conference of the All India State Govt Driver’s Federation to be held on June 8 at New Delhi.

Manipur High Court prohibits quarrying activity in Sekmai River

A division bench of the High Court of Manipur comprising of Chief Justice, Abhay Manohar Sapre and Justice Nongmeikapam Kotishwar Singh has today issued a notice of motion returnable within two weeks in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed for issuance of a Writ in the nature of Mandamus or any other appropriate writ or order or direction to the State respondents to enforce and implement the Manipur Flood Plain Zoning Act, 1978 effectively by appointing Flood Plain Zoning Authority under Section 3(3) of the Manipur Flood Plain Zoning Act, 1978 so as to prohibit any act of quarrying activity in Sekmai River, said a release of Human Rights Law Network (Manipur).

According to the release, the PIL was filed jointly by Angom Rajesh Singh of Awang Sekmai Khunou; Khwairakpam Chandramani Singh of Awang Sekmai Mayai Leikai; Yumlembam Ibohal Singh of Awang Sekmai Mayai Leikai and Meihoubam Manoj Singh of Awang Sekmai Makha Leikai.

In the said PIL, the petitioners contended that despite the enactment of an Act entitled” Manipur Flood Plain Zoning Act, 1978 by the Government of Manipur to provide for the zoning of the flood plains of rivers in the State of Manipur, the actual implementation of the provisions of the said Act has not been made till date, the release said.

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HRLN is a division of the Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC). SLIC is a non-profit legal aid and educational organization, registered under the Registration of Societies Act, 1860, Indian Public Trust Act, 1950 and the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act, 1976.