The noble profession of law and practice is instilled with a sense of justice. Many lawyers are known as activist lawyers for representing the voices of the marginalised before courts. But the question is, how do we create space for the marginalised voices to represent themselves? In furtherance of this goal, Council for Social Development formulated a capacity building programme for budding lawyers from adivasi communities in 2012. The authors write about their journey with immense pride and gratitude. Today, on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples we honour their dedication law, practice and their fight for rights to secure justice.
The recognition we have gained as legal experts today is the culmination of a journey that began in 2012, with the valuable initiative of Council for Social Development, Hyderabad (CSD).
Till that time, we were ordinary lawyers from Adivasi communities practicing in courts in our districts without any guidance or encouragement from any senior lawyer. We lacked basic knowledge of court procedures and were clueless about what lay ahead of us in our professional lives.
Now some of us are part of the team that has filed a review petition of the Supreme Court’s judgment in Chebrolu Leela Prasad case. In this case, the Supreme Court struck down Government Order-3 that makes only teachers from Scheduled Tribes eligible for employment in Ashram Schools. We have developed a detailed critique of the judgement and discussed the same with lawyers who are appearing in the Supreme Court.
In 2012, twenty-two lawyers and two law students – all of us Adivasis from different tribes in Andhra Pradesh — joined a capacity-building programme at CSD. When we completed the training in 2014, there were 15 of us. Legal experts Ms. Abha Joshi and Ms. Seema Misra, traveled to Hyderabad in 2013 and 2014 and took classes for us.
(The lawyers at CSD’s inaugural programme with Dr. Vasavi Kiro, adivasi leader from Jharkhand, in 2012.)
We continued with our legal practice in the district courts and attended training sessions over weekends once or twice a month. We maintained diaries and discussed cases when we met for the sessions.
In 2013, we had the opportunity to visit the Model Police Station and Forensic Science Laboratory at SVP National Police Academy, Hyderabad to expand our legal knowledge. This was very valuable because it was tied to in-depth sessions on criminal law such as bail, FIR, anticipatory bail, non-bailable cases, how arguments are presented in a bail petition, etc.
We hail from remote villages. We have struggled to complete our education and scraped through a law degree. Yet, here we were in conversation with a Supreme Court judge – the dignity with which he treated us made us proud of who we were.
In Delhi we visited the Mediation and Conciliation Centre at Delhi High Court and Saket Court. We met Justice Rohini Chief Justice High Court, and Justice Geeta Mittal Delhi High Court Judge and other senior Advocates at Delhi. We visited a village called Mangalora in Karnal district of Haryana to understand community mediation in the village. We visited the Haryana Police Academy and learnt about various aspects of police training. We are really proud of having discussed the constitution with Hon’ble Justice Madan B Lokur.
This exposure helped us grasp the principles of the Constitution. We understood the Preamble, Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles. Most importantly, we learnt the method through which we could challenge a rights violation, such as in case of an illegal arrest.
We were introduced to everyone as Adivasi lawyers and encouraged to enter into discussions on various issues with them. We built our skills as lawyers and strengthened our understanding of the law in a way that makes us proud of who we are today.
We hail from remote villages. We have struggled to complete our education and scraped through a law degree. Yet, here we were in conversation with a Supreme Court judge – the dignity with which he treated us made us proud of who we were. Our discussion with Justice Lokur the next day focused on implementation of laws protecting Adivasi rights and the harm suffered by Adivasis on account of state reorganization in 2014.
(The lawyers with Hon’ble Justice Madan B Lokur.)
We wished to understand the issues faced by different Adivasi communities in depth. Thus, through CSD, we conducted state-wide surveys on socio-economic, health and educational status of adivasis in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in 2014 and 2015.
This responsibility was a gift beyond measure.
Our learnings were not limited to just our own empowerment as we spread our knowledge to others.
A ‘Training of Trainers’ programme was organized in 2013 where we learnt to train para-legal volunteers from Adivasi communities at the Integrated Tribal Development Agency in Bhadrachalam. We touched upon various aspects of law ranging from family law, labour protections in the informal sector, PCPNDT Act, sexual harassment, and criminal laws. Our first training programme was very successful. We received much appreciation from all quarters and this motivated us to take this programme to the Srisailam ITDA to train the Adivasi youth there.
Our most treasured experience happened after we returned from Delhi. The then Project Officer of Bhadrachalam ITDA gave us the responsibility of forming a legal cell in the ITDA office and prepare briefs for over 700 pending cases in the ITDA court.
This responsibility was a gift beyond measure.
We are children of the forest – for taking us along, sharing their expertise with us, and sharpening our skills so we hold our heads high today as Adivasi lawyers, we will always remember the efforts of the entire CSD team.
(The authors are Adivasi lawyers based in various districts of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The piece has been edited and translated from Telugu to English by Kalpana Kannabiran.)
Images courtesy Council for Social Development, Hyderabad.