The HRLN West Bengal Unit was established in Kolkata in 2000, primarily to provide pro bono legal aid to prisoners detained in various correctional homes across the state. Over the years, the unit has expanded its work, and now engages in providing pro-bono/low-cost legal aid and advice to thewithe poor and marginalized persons, persons with disabilities, refugees and socially discriminated sections. A core component of our programmes is engaging with people and working in collaboration with different stakeholders, including grassroots organizations, academics, policy-makers, the judiciary, students and activists. At present, our activities span across 15 districts of West Bengal. The unit holds the distinctions for filing the first domestic violence case in West Bengal, followed by many landmark judgments on domestic violence. We provide legal training on a wide range of rights-based issues to activists, district lawyers, and other key stakeholders at the grassroots level.
HRLN is the implementing partner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) India and provides legal aid to Rohingya refugees fleeing the ethnic cleansing catastrophe in Myanmar. We facilitate the refugee application process for Rohingya detainees in various correctional homes across West Bengal with the UNHCR, and we represent them in legal proceedings all over West Bengal. The unit also provides legal aid to Rohingya children who are being housed at juvenile homes across West Bengal and makes efforts to reunite them with guardians and relatives who are living as refugees in different parts of India.
District Lawyers Program
The West Bengal unit runs a District Lawyers Program partnering with lawyers in 15 districts across West Bengal. The aim is to further litigation at the district level, reach out to clients located in and around small districts across the state, and advance the state of human rights in west Bengal.
To know about our District Lawyers Click here.
1. Women’s Justice: Focus areas include matters pertaining to sexual harassment of women at the workplace, particularly in educational institutions, domestic violence and obtaining adequate care and compensation for acid attack survivors.
2. Criminal Justice: Providing legal aid to prisoners, particularly female prisoners, and juveniles. We also take up issues pertaining to detention of refugees.
3. Disability Rights: We provide legal aid to disabled persons, and families of persons with disabilities and advise on matters relating to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, and the draft West Bengal State Rules under the said Act.
4. Environmental Justice: Focus areas include matters pertaining to displacement of communities, destruction of forest areas and loss of livelihood due to environmental violations.
5. Refugee Rights: In collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, we work for the rights and protection of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar.
6. Transgender Rights: Providing legal aid to those transgendered persons facing discriminatory treatment from State authorities.
The cases mentioned are indicative of the kind of cases the unit undertook and several other cases that were filed on the same issue have not been mentioned individually.
The support from our partners enabled the unit to establish a network of lawyers in 14 discricts across West Bengal. The state unit filed over 134 cases including 6 PILs taking on issues of reproductive rights violations on women in rural areas (Banglar Manava Adhikar Suraksha Manch- Masoom vs Union of India and others was filed when a fact finding conducted by the unit revealed that mass sterlizations had taken place in unhygienic conditions in Malda district and Ratnabali Ray vs State of West Bengal and others was filed to fix state accountability and improve health services in mental health institutions), shortfalls in upholding children’s rights to education and food (Ashraf Ali and Others vs State of West Bengal and Others WP No 4796 of 2013 was filed for provision of mid day meals to children and for investigation into misappropriation of funds along with Darjeeling Terai Dooars Gorkhali Adivasi welfare society vs State of West Bengal and others on non-appointment of primary teachers in Darjeeling since 1997) along with enabling a better juvenile justice system delinquents who are minors (Jagatdhatri village welfare society vs State of West Bengal and others to demand establishment of State Commission for protection of child rights and appointment of one public prosecutor in every juvenile court). The unit represented tribal villagers from North 24 Parganas district who were being deprived of benefits from National Rural Employments Scheme by the village Panchayat heads (Titagarh Association for Human Rights Awareness vs State of West Bengal) an conducted fact finding on the impact of stone quarrying and mining in Birbhum which lead to the filing of a landmark Writ on the issue the following year. Sexual and Acid violence against women plagued the state and the unit conducted several fact findings across the state laying grounds for litigation on the issue (Fact finding on Acid Attack on Shabana Khatoun in Diamond harbour, on Acid Attack on Shampa and Swastika Burman in Poorvi Medinipur, on rape of disabled girls in Pandua in Hooghly district, on gang rape on a girl with multiple disabilities in Dankuni in Hooghly district, on gang rape of tribal woman in Labhpur in Birbhum district: All the above mentioned fact findings were used to files cases representing the survivors), A Judicial Colloquium on Criminal Justice System and Prison Reform was organised by the state unit in collaboration with the Regional Institute for Correctional Administration (RICA) in Kolkata to provide a platform to officials of correctional homes to voice their concerns and problems in securing justice for inmates and seek advice from a panel of Judges and Senior judicial officials, police officials and lawyers.
The unit filed over 174 cases filed on behalf of persons from marginalized communities (including disabled persons, children, and women) across 13 districts in West Bengal. Landmark PILs included Agannath Soren Vs. State of West Bengal & Ors (on the issue of misappropriation of funds in the course of implementation of schemes under the “Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act”), Sukumar Ari & Ors. Vs State of West Bengal & Ors. (where the High Court stopped eviction of 50 families living in slums), Rampurhat Nagarik Sangha Vs. The State Of West Bengal & Ors. (for immediate removal of police personnel and others from the Makhra Primary School and all other schools that have been similarly occupied by the police personnel; to restart school and the mid day meals) among others. Along with PILs, several individual cases representing sexual assault survivors (Jyotsna Bibi Vs State Of West Bengal), traffciked persons (State Versus Mampi Biswas) were filed. Rampurhat Nagarik Sangha Vs. The State Of West Bengal & Ors. (to secure the rights of the oppressed and underprivileged people of Birbhum where brutal massacres transpired leading to the death of a child and attempt to rape on a tribal girl in the village of Makhra, Birbhum) was a landmark writ filed by the unit lawyers. The unit also organized 5 paralegal training attened by over 1000 students, activists and young lawyers. Longstanding partnerships were developed with 56 NGOs and civil society organisations including the West Bengal Women’s Commission, West Bengal Legal Aid Services Authority, and West Bengal Commission for the Protection of Child Rights.
With relentless support from our partners, the West Bengal unit expanded its network of district lawyers to cover 18 districts across the state. The unit intensified its litigation work including cases of political prisoners (Rina Chatterjee versus State of West Bengal – Writ petition filed seeking transfer of inmate convicted under the UAPA and also a political prisoner, from the Jalpaiguri Jail to any other correctional home within Kolkata as his mother being a senior citizen and an ailing lady is unable to visit her son), Mass starvation deaths in tea gardens (Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity and Anr. Vs Union of India and Ors in the matter of starvation deaths in North Bengal tea gardens and also for implementation of Plantation Labour Act, at all 276 tea gardens in North Bengal), and initiatied the ‘Campaign Against Acid Attacks’ ensuring attack survivors received due compensation of Rs. 3,00,000, medical bill reimbursements, and disability certificate (Kakoli Das vs State of West Bengal and Sanchayita Yadav Vs State of west Bengal) while continuing our fight for persecuted women, labourers, disabled persons and children. Two major fact finiding projects were undertaken to bring attention to mass human rights violations in tea gardens in North Bengal and the Birbhum mining area. Several district level consultations and paralegal trainings were organized to further human rights education in the state (The Oak trafficking meeting organized in collaboration with Jobala Action Research being one among many crucial others.)
While the phenomenon of lynching of persons from minority communities is not new to India (historically carried out under the guise of witch hunting, sometimes ordered by local khap panchayats, often as punishment to women, queer, and trans persons who break the status quo), 2016 saw brutal incidents of politically backed ‘cow lynchings’ (murdering of Muslims and Dalits on pretext of ‘cow slaughter’ by Hindu mobs, the pretext later changed to ‘child kidnappers’) dominating the political and social conscience of the nation. HRLN Kolkata unit, despite threat from various politically locally backed factions who endorse these mass killings, responded to the dire situation by conducting fact findings, gathering evidences, and assisting the Public Prosecutors in criminal cases against the perpetrators in Burdwan, South 24 Parganas, Murshidabad, and North Dinajpur districts where the incidents took place. The Rohingya refugees crisis worsened during the year with cases of hundreds of families fleeing persecution in Myanmar being detained and imprisoned in West Bengal. The unit, as implementing partners to UNHCR, represented the families fighting to quash their sentences and prevent the deportation back to Myanmar (State v. Md. Shahajahan & Ors., Rly. G.R. 26/2015, Chief Judicial Magistrate, Paschim Medinipur where Md. Hussain, Noor Begum, Md. Shahajahan, Sahara Khatoon belong to the Rohingya community were arrested at Kharagpur Railway station and awarded a sentence of two years rigorous imprisonment.) Meanwhile, the unit continued its work of getting acid attack survivors due compensation and after care (Angura Bibi Vs. State of West Bengal and Ors. And Jhuma Santra Vs State of West Bengal and others, W.P. 26192/2015; Sanchayita Jadav Vs State of West Bengal and others, W.P. 15181/2016; Janmenjoy Khan Vs State of West Bengal and others, W.P. 15179/2016; Kakoli Das Vs State of West Bengal and others, W.P. 15184/2016) and argued against the criteria mentioned in the West Bengal Compensation Scheme for relief of acid attack survivors which make access to compensation and after care for survivors difficult. The transgender community, empowered by the NALSA judgment, intensified their struggle for equality and the unit played its part to support their struggle by aiding several trans persons who faced difficulties while changing/choosing their gender on official documents and while accessing work opportunities. (Atri Kar v. State of West Bengal and Ors. wherein Atri Kar, a young transwoman from West Bengal faced a tough situation when she tried to apply for the West Bengal Civil Services (WBCS) but could not file her application form as the form did not have a third gender column. The unit filed an application on behalf of Atri in the State Administrative Tribunal seeking not only a change in the application form to include third gender as a column, but also demanded for the WBCS to allow Atri to appear for the examination that year itself. The tribunal immediately took cognizance and passed an order to amend the application form and allow Atri to appear for the examination. The case had a ripple effect, and was very well covered by the media and the other state units in Bihar and Odisha appeared on behalf of the trans community on mainstreaming and ensuring that the third column for third gender be added and recognized in the application forms of banks, passports and voters identity cards etc.)
What our clients and partners say about our work
“I was sexually assaulted by a lawyer (he was representing my husband in a case) and his family members in Kolkata. I came to HRLN as no other lawyer was willing to take up my case as it was against another lawyer. At HRLN, I was attended by Aparajitadi, Advocate Ankan Biswas, and Adv. Indrajeet who took up my case and gave me the support I needed.”
– Sexual assault survivor (Name withheld for privacy)
“The people at HRLN Kolkata unit not only provide pro-bono legal aid for our cases (for women from marginalized communities and poor backgrounds), they also counsel and encourage the women to rebuild their lives. We have always got the help we needed at any hour and the staff has become like family to us at Saujatya Family Counselling Centre.”
– Mousumi Sarkar, Counsellor at Saujatya Family Counselling Centre.
“The staff at HRLN Kolkata unit is well versed with trans politics and the staff here understands the various identities under the transgender umbrella and their issues. The community is so connected to people here that they call Aparajitadi ‘maa’! That really helps us when we bring cases to them. HRLN office has become a hub not just for addressing legal problems faced by the community but also a space where transgender politics and rights are discussed and we work on furthering them together. Sometimes I call them at 11 in the night and they have never refused help. I would say this space is a pioneer for TG politics and we don’t just get legal support here but also the ‘human’ support required.”
– Ranjita Sinha, Trangender activist, Founder, Gokhale Road Bandhan, All Trans and Hijras in Bengal (ATHB).
“HRLN helped me in the aftermath of the acid attack on me. Not only did they take up my case and got me an enhanced compensation that is of Rs. 3,00,000 they also offered me a job here and helped me regain confidence and faith in life. I try to extend the same support and care to the acid attack survivors who now come to us.”
– Sanchayita Yadav, Acid attack survivor, Social activist and office administrator at HR