Painting titled "Justice" by Sonja Brzak

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] joined the Lawyers Collective (“LC”) in the year 2000 as a 22-year old. LC was my first job, which I have managed to hold to date. I was inducted as an ‘Advocacy Officer’ into LC’s HIV/AIDS Unit, which was headed by Anand Grover, after applying for the post and undergoing a round of interviews. For an ordinary person and a fresher, it is not easy to secure a job in India. But LC’s practice of advertising positions and conducting interviews allowed me and people like me who are not “so and so’s son or daughter” to get a fabulous opportunity to train.

I was not a lawyer at the time; in fact, I had previously declined admission in law because of the poor opinion I had of the legal profession. But two years at LC changed my perception. I enrolled in Delhi University’s Law Faculty and attended classes in the evening after work, with the encouragement and support of colleagues. Though I was irregular with attendance, the regular discussions that we had in office on law and its impact – a practice that Anand has inculcated – led me to top DU in Constitutional and Labour Law.

In 2006, I left LC as I felt overworked and underpaid. I joined an International NGO where I worked less and was paid more, only to miss LC terribly. I came back in less than six months and consider this to be one of the best decisions of my life.

At the HIV Unit, we advocated for a rights-based response to HIV and groups vulnerable to it. Training under Anand and Vivek Divan (who was the co-coordinator then) was amazing, but what was even greater was the chance to question my own prejudices about people and issues, including those that I publicly espoused as an advocate. For this is one of the first things you learn when you work with Anand. “You must practice what you preach.” This lesson has stayed with me for good. As I battle fear and insecurity today, I am reminding myself that if I tell clients not to be afraid and believe in the justness of their cause, I must do the same.

There are many other lessons that I have learnt from Anand, some of which I enumerate below:

  1. Every case is important and deserves 100% preparation. As I have witnessed over the years, the quality of Anand’s effort and preparation does not change, whether he is arguing the high- profile section 377 challenge or an application for a lesser-known litigant. Neither the fees nor the fanfare associated with a case makes a difference to his approach. I have tried to imbibe the same spirit and treat everything that we do – ‘big’ or ‘small’ with sincerity and earnestness.
  2. Experiential learning is as important as textbooks. At LC, Anand fostered a culture of listening and learning from clients and communities and shed any sense of superiority that we may feel as lawyers. It is for this reason that LC held meetings and consultations on legal issues, which the authorities under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) consider “misutilisation” of foreign funding.
  3. Be big-hearted and broad-minded. Anand is accessible to everyone. He does not follow hierarchy in his interactions – anyone can approach him anytime. This is the reason for his “telephone and internet expenses”, which the FCRA authorities have termed “personal benefits”. Likewise, the so-called “Life Style Apartment” in Vienna, which has been ‘flagged’ in the FCRA inspection was booked out of a budgeted grant, where four of us from LC and a community participant had stayed while attending the International AIDS Conference in July 2010. I do not know of many bosses who share accommodation with juniors and take care of their living expenses from their own per diems. Anand always does that.
  4. Look at the substance of the argument, though you may not like the person who is making it. Anand has taught me to develop my own ideas while letting them be exposed to others’ views and criticisms. The right to dissent is not only professed outside but duly respected and observed in Anand’s chambers and the LC office.
  5. Be like a racehorse with blinders. In the course of my work, I have had many a heartburn, especially when others have taken credit for our ideas and efforts. LC has been understated and our contributions seldom feature in the press. Anand doesn’t mind that. He says that the only way to reach your goal is to focus on it single-mindedly, without getting affected by others. This has helped me to rise above my ego and look at the larger picture and purpose of what I do.
  6. Don’t give up: Anand believes and says that the battle is always won by the side that doesn’t give up. This was his first reaction after the horrific Koushaljudgment in 2013. And this is why LC didn’t crumble after our FCRA registration was cancelled in 2016. As a result and contrary to expectations, we did more intense and diverse legal and human rights work than we did earlier when we had funding.
  7. Rise to the occasion, when the chips are down. This has always been evident from Anand’s conduct but was absolutely clear when he appeared for Yakub Memonon the night of July 30-31, 2015 before the Supreme Court because of LC’s principled opposition to the death penalty. That night, Anand drove his own car to the Court with Amritananda and me, sitting beside him. He calmly prepared and delivered his arguments in a highly-charged environment. And after the matter was over, he coolly walked to Patiala House to carry on his duties as SPP in the 2G Case for the CBI and ED, unfazed by the developments of the previous night including the media harangue and the disappointment of losing the case. It is my greatest pride to work for a person like that.

Our work is under attack. LC is under attack and by virtue of being the Director of LC, Anand is under attack.

As someone who considers LC to be her home, her world and a part of her very being, I have experienced every negative emotion possible after the news of the FIR.  But I am determined to neither show nor feel any fear. This is because Anand and the Buddhist philosophy that I follow have taught me that the best way to remain undefeated is to continue to do what needs to be done. So even as I fight the fear within and without, I am drafting a representation to the Delhi Government on behalf of a transgender woman, advising a transman who is being harassed by the Customs Department, working on the 377 documentation for UNAIDS and reading up for a drug policy assignment abroad. I am simultaneously doing everything I can to protect LC and defend Anand.

Anand says he is an eternal optimist. I cannot say that about myself. But I believe that justice will prevail. Not because I have faith in our institutions, but because I have faith in people’s capacity to change and to see and do what is right. This to me is the essence of human dignity and I am confident that we will see this in times to come.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” LC has long been pushing and pressing in that direction for others. Now, we will do so with our own cause.

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