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Intervening, ensuring access to justice to women, Dalits, Adivasis, minorities, others

Established with the aim to intervene and ensure that vulnerable communities get access to justice, especially to women, Dalits, Adivasis, minority communities and other marginalised groups, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is one of the first organisations of its kind in India that uses the law to fight for the rights of marginalised people. It first began operating through a network of law centres across Gujarat in 1993 and today works in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and responds to nearly 3,000 cases every year. Its law centres consist of lawyers, paralegals and researchers passionate about making a difference. A CSJ note:
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LEGAL SERVICES & FACT FINDING

CSJ provides a span of legal services while also, in the process, work towards activating government and civic bodies. CSJ's aim is to identify and address policy gaps and fight for social justice and simultaneously engage in legal know-how, hold public campaigns, and train young lawyers and paralegals. The organisation, through its networks spanning across India, also intervenes in disaster situations. Be it the migrant crisis during the nationwide Covid-19 crisis or the devastation that followed the Tauktae cyclone, CSJ ensures that vulnerable communities receive their due entitlements.
CSJ's primary work is in the sphere of grassroots lawyering. This involves providing legal assistance to members of vulnerable communities. It is the experience of CSJ lawyers and paralegals from this domain that informs other engagements of the organisation such as those with duty bearers or academic institutions. During the year 2022-23, it was able to intervene in around 8,000 cases and claims.

Ankleshwar, Gujarat

Despite its paralegal recommending the police to take forward the process of abortion of an 11-year-old rape victim with utmost urgency, as per the POCSO Act, the police refused to budge. After the active intervention of CSJ's paralegal with the assistance of the empanelled advocate of the DLSA, CSJ secured an order of medical termination of pregnancy from the Special POCSO Judge, Ankleshwar. Both the Child Welfare Committee as well as the police had left the child at the mercy of her fate. As a result of CSJ's engagement with the Police and the DLSA, CSJ was able to activate these institutions, acquainting them with the roles and responsibilities they are statutorily obligated to follow under POCSO.

Amreli, Gujarat

In Amreli, applications under Section 125(3) of The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 were being allowed only for recovery of maintenance that had been due for a year. It was argued by CSJ's lawyer in two cases that even though as per the proviso of Section 125(3), the levy of a fine and the detention of the defaulter in custody would not be available to a claimant who had not approached the Court within a period of one year, the proviso did not curtail the right of the claimant to recover the amount of maintenance beyond one year. Breaking the interpretation in court which was against the letter and spirit of law, CSJ's lawyer was able to claim maintenance from the court for a period of 2 years (Rupees 4,80,000) in one case and for a period of 3 years and 2 months (Rupees 2,88,000) in another case.

OUTREACH PROGRAMS: VILLAGE VISITS & AWARENESS PROGRAMS

All of CSJ's centers engage extensively with the community through various outreach activities, including legal awareness camps, village visits, campaigns etc. The goal is not just to provide legal assistance, but also to empower the community so that they can formulate their own strategies and aid the community in the long run. To this extent, all centers identify and train community volunteers and paralegals, who then intervene in cases of human rights violations.

Jaffrabad, Gujarat

A one-day service camp was organised for the fisherfolk community in the Pipli Kaantha area of Jaffrabad. It was organised in collaboration with various government offices such as the Fisheries Department, Taluka Panchayat and Gram Panchayat. One of the objectives of the camp was the facilitation of entitlements such as E-shram registration, jut yojana, birth registration etc. For generating awareness of various rights of the fisherfolks a Dayro (a folk art of telling a story through songs) was organised in the evening. CSJ reached out to around 1,500 people during the one-day campaign.

STRENGTHENING CIVIC ENGAGEMENT THROUGH LEGAL CAPACITY BUILDING

Capacity Building forms one of the core activities of CSJ as it is directly related to CSJ's larger institutional goal of expanding the scope of access to justice for marginalised communities. In line with CSJ’s pedagogy, capacity building programs are designed to empower people to overcome the adverse and sometimes brutal impact of systemic discrimination.
The participants for such training include law students, young lawyers, aspirants for the All India Bar Examination, community volunteers, staff of civil society organisations, government officials, etc.

Land training of Nyay Mitra in Gumla:

Maintenance and accuracy of land and revenue records is a huge problem in the country. A national-level process of digitisation of land records is underway now. To identify the gaps and issues in the process, to understand the impact of the process on vulnerable communities, and to influence the national-level process by identifying systemic issues through CSJ's interventions, CSJ conducted a two-phased training for CSJ's nyay mitra (community volunteers) from Gumla and Ghaghra blocks in Gumla district of Jharkhand. In the training, CSJ looked at the different types of land records and their relevance, understood the process to locate the digitised land records on the Jharbhoomi website, and also looked at the usage of Jharbhoomi for filing a grievance on any issue in the digitised land records and ways to track the status of the grievance. CSJ's nyay mitra have, so far, identified 20 issues in the online land documents and filed online grievance applications to rectify the same. It is also engaged in tracking the status of the same. Some applications have been favourably disposed and the mistakes in the land documents have been rectified. While others are being processed, it has filed Right to Information applications in the rest of the grievances where there has been no movement.

ACADEMIC COLLABORATIONS AND STUDENT ENGAGEMENTS

One of CSJ’s interventions is the reinforcement of a culture of human rights among the youth through a pedagogical breakthrough in human rights and diversity education. Pedagogically influenced by the Freirian philosophy, CSJ seeks to create a culture of tolerance among different religious faiths and instill the same values in students by integrating human rights and diversity in the curriculum of Law Schools and other Universities.

STAKEHOLDER IMPACT

As a result of CSJ's continuous engagement with various stakeholders at the District, State and National level, it has been successful in influencing the policy decisions of various departments. A few of the many ways in which CSJ has positively impacted various stakeholders in its ecosystem have been captured below.

Candidates of the All India Bar Examination

CSJ conducted two online trainings (one in Hindi and Gujarati) in 2021 for grassroots lawyers appearing for the AIBE in vernacular languages from various parts of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. It tried to capture the lived experiences of hundreds of law graduates who participated in CSJ's trainings in a three-part article which is published on the Livelaw website. A petition was filed in the year 2023 in the Gujarat High Court, asking the court to direct the Bar Council of India to allow candidates to carry printouts of Bare Acts as Bare Acts in vernacular languages were much more expensive. The petition was based on the research in CSJ's three-part article. The petition led to the high court issuing directions to the BCI which finally issued a statement on its website stating that printouts of bare acts would be allowed for the exam.

Victims of Sexual Violence

In Mahasamund, Chhattisgarh, like many other districts in India, the twofinger tests are still conducted on rape victims. Following the Supreme Court's reiteration that the test has been prohibited, CSJ wrote to the DLSA, Superintendent of Police, CMO and District Judge regarding the development. Pursuant to CSJ's letter, the CMO called a meeting with all the Registered Medical Practitioners in Mahasamund, to talk to them regarding the Supreme Court order.

Victims of Natural disaster

A large section of the population of Dang lost their crops and livestock after the devastating floods in the monsoons of 2022. Those people who had not completed their process of succession/ inheritance were deemed ineligible for the compensation scheme that was announced. CSJ sent relevant recommendations to the Revenue Department to find a way through which this category of people could also get compensation. The new notification of the Gujarat government regarding the compensation package announced, had CSJ's recommendation incorporated in it. Here, CSJ played role in setting the discourse and bringing the issue to light and along with other relevant players, CSJ could bring the necessary reform in the policy.

Consumer protection

Establishment of District Consumer Protection Council and a District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in each district of the state is statutorily mandated as per the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. However, neither of the above had been set up in the district of Simdega, in Jharkhand. Around October 2021, CSJ sent a letter to multiple authorities in the state of Jharkhand such as the Directorate of Food and Consumer Affairs, Simdega Collector, State Consumer Commissions, Secretary of the Department of Consumer Affairs and the High Court stressing the importance of constituting the local district level bodies as per the legal mandate. While CSJ did not receive a response to CSJ's letter or follow-up measures through the Right to Information application, it received information from the Bar that the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission had been established in the district of Simdega in July 2022.

Rights of children

With the then-impending third wave of covid-19, and the potential risks it posed to children, CSJ wrote letters to multiple authorities highlighting implementational issues in the Integration Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS) according to CSJ's assessment of numerous villages in Gumla and Ghaghra blocks of Gumla district. In the letters, CSJ recommended that good quality and nutritious food arranged through Anganwadis and schools might help to improve the nutritional and health status of the children. This included recommendations to restart mid-day meals and additionally add eggs, fruits, sattu, to the diet. The letters were addressed to CMO, Gumla Collector, Department of School, Education and Literacy, Director of Dept of women & child development, Jharkhand State Food Commission and the Principal Secretary of Department of Women and Child Development. Due to similar active and timely intervention of multiple actors in the civil society, the Jharkhand cabinet then took the decision to provide eggs to children six days a week in more than 30,000 Anganwadi centres.

Labour rights

The Social Compact initiative has made recommendations for companies covering over 250,000 vulnerable workers and has triggered systemic impact for 53,000+ amongst them. Some of the policy breakthroughs anchored by CSJ are enabling a 90-day self-attestation certificate for BOCW beneficiary registration through engagement with The Ministry of Labour and the efforts to make the Telecentre Entrepreneur Course materials (TEC) & exam available in regional languages for the actualisation of the village-level entrepreneurship scheme.

LAW AND GOVERNANCE

CSJ’s philosophy of using the law for social change is not limited to providing legal services inside and outside the courtroom. It includes creating an eco-system of empowerment whereby communities and individuals feel strengthened to intervene with the help of pre-existing legal mechanisms. The top-down approach of governance has weakened processes at the village level defeating the entire purpose of strengthened local-self governance and the powers and functions of the Gram Sabhas as envisioned by the Constitution. CSJ, through its experience of working on the Panchayati Raj System at the grassroots, has developed a unique- rights-based model of local selfgovernance - the Integrated Model of Governance.

Integrated Model of Governance:

The aim of the Integrated model of governance is to strengthen local self-governance institutions in Schedule V regions and innovate an actionable framework through which current laws that deal with natural resource governance interplay and benefit the community. The overall objective is to create livelihood opportunities and conservation of traditional knowledge, management of forest and community resources, and cultural heritage of Adivasis in Schedule V regions through implementing these laws. These laws include the Forest Rights Act, 2006, The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016.

Significant Achievements:

- Resolutions regarding levelling of land, connection of water pipelines and concrete roads passed in 4 villages.
- Resolution of a concrete road was sanctioned, and the construction was completed in Garmal village.
- Resolution of road construction in Nirgudmal village was sanctioned by the Authorities.
- 62 Individual Forest Rights Claims from 4 villages were approved by the District Level Committee in Dang.
- Statutory village-level committees under PESA were established in 15 villages.

Engagement with Stakeholders:

a. Civil Society Organisations
In partnership with the Working Women's Group of Land Ownership (WGWLO) and the Foundation for Ecological Society (FES) a three-phase training was conducted on the Integrated Model of Governance for 15 paralegals. As part of this program, 150 claims of Community Forest Rights were submitted in 9 districts of Gujarat.
b. Government Departments
1) Enquired about the village-level committees established under PESA to Taluka Development Officer and at the District Level through Right to Information (RTI) applications and physical follow-ups. Due to continuous follow-up by CSJ's paralegal, an agenda of establishing committees under the PESA Act was added to the Gram Sabhas.
2) In practice, CSJ found that the bank account of the villages for the transfer of funds from the forest department required the signature of the talathi (the Secretary of the Panchayat). Thus CSJ filed an RTI application to investigate whether this was prescribed under any notification or law. In response to the RTI application, CSJ found that it was just a practice and not mandated by any law. Through CSJ's intervention, CSJ were successful in removing the condition of the signature of the Talathi for transfers in the bank account of the village.

MONETARY IMPACT

A monetary impact of around INR 3,91,29,180 was generated in CSJ's field areas in the last financial year.

Rajula, Amreli, Gujarat

CSJ was successful in securing an order from the Gujarat High Court in 2017 (18/08/2017), to deploy 7 medical Boat ambulances to operate across 1600 km of coastal areas of Gujarat. To date, 5 years since the order, only 2 boat ambulances have been deployed, one in Porbandar and another one in Okha. Recently in March 2022, a boat ambulance was deployed at Jaffrabad, after continuous efforts from CSJ's lawyers and paralegals for the past 5 years. While the monetary impact of the availability of this emergency medical service for the lives of the fisherfolks cannot be quantified, the boat cost around Rupees, 35,71,428.

GENDER JUSTICE

As an organisation that aims to achieve social justice for all, women are one of the most important marginalised groups CSJ works with. CSJ functions within the socio-legal framework, which enables us to better understand and address the disadvantages that inform a woman’s experience in accessing justice.
CSJ conducted a 5-day workshop on mooting for the students of Shri NS Patel Law College, Modasa. Through the moot problem on the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act, CSJ explored the concepts of consent, boundaries and unconscious bias. CSJ also conducted two, 2-days workshops on men and masculinity by Haritha Sarma. This was a two-day workshop for those people in the organisation who identified as men. The workshop was aimed at facilitating reflections on the masculine undertones that play out in men's behaviours at the workplace and in their personal lives. The groups came up with certain action points they would like to reflect on to move from patriarchal masculinity to transformative masculinity.
With respect to The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, prohibition, and Redressal) (POSH) ACT, 2013, CSJ provides services with respect to its compliance requirements and also provides training sessions for the management staff as well as for employees. Apart from conducting POSH training, CSJ members are external members (under (Section 4(2)(c)) of the POSH Act) of Internal Complaints Committees of various organisations and companies namely-
- Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar
- Gujarat Maritime University, Gandhinagar
- Utthaan, Ahmedabad
- Anandi, Ahmedabad
- Saath, Ahmedabad
- Cliantha Research Limited, Ahmedabad
- Maxxis Rubber India Factory, Ahmedabad
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Excerpts from CSJ's 2022-23 Annual Report. Edited for style. Click here to download

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