Agami Prize
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Jansahas

Empowering Dalit lawyers and survivors to improve access to justice

According to the Indian National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, the total number of registered crimes (including rape and murder) committed against Dalits is increasing: 14,318 crimes were committed against them in 1981; and 33,594 in 2009. Unfortunately, justice is rarely delivered even in cases registered. And a key reason is because the Dalit community is not represented adequately in the legal system. Dalits and tribals make up nearly a third of India’s population (15% Dalits, 13% Tribals) but there are less than 2% Dalit or tribal lawyers at the bar or the judiciary.

Jan Sahas saw that it would not be enough to rely on a few pro-bono lawyers to address the scale of problems the community was facing. It was central for the victims / survivors and members of the community itself to be able to proactively fight their cases. Towards this, Jan Sahas has pioneered the process of organising lawyers from Dalit, adivasi, and SC/ST communities through the “Lawyers Initiative Forum”. This membership-based forum acts a platform to support and strengthen law students and lawyers from excluded communities in their practice and to represent the interest of the marginalised.

Seeing that trial processes can be as torturous as incidences of violence, Jan Sahas has also trained survivors of rape and sexual violence and their family members as “Barefoot Lawyers”. Given most of them have never seen the inside of a courtroom, Jan Sahas and members from the Lawyers Initiative Forum, mentor and equip survivors with the knowledge of the criminal justice system, processes of the cases, and roles of the police and hospitals, and understand what is written in a chargesheet. They also conduct mock courts, that boost confidence and communication skills needed to ensure they are able to effectively demand justice.

Over the last several years, Jan Sahas has developed 5,826 survivors as barefoot lawyers. This has enabled a higher conviction rate of 63% for rape (national average is 12%). They have also provided socio-medico and legal support to 8,000 survivors of rape and sexual abuse. They have also established the Lawyers Initiative Forum in 36 districts of five Indian states which have 1,084 practicing lawyers as active members and 300 law students. 80% of them appear for legal aid cases and 95% of them are Dalits, women and adivasis. Many of their incomes have improved due to the support received from Jan Sahas.They also envision pushing for policy changes that better support law students and lawyers from marginalised backgrounds.

The Jan Sahas-led community-based bottom-up model of legal intervention has achieved tangible impacts. They have:

Developed 5,826 survivors as barefoot lawyers. This has enabled a higher conviction rate of 63% for rape (national average is 12%).

Provided socio-medico and legal support to 8,000 survivors of rape and sexual abuse. In collaboration with other organisations, they are now creating a national Forum for Rape Survivors that will advocate for policy changes.

Established the Lawyers Initiative Forum in 36 districts of 5 Indian states which have 1,084 practicing lawyers as active members and 300 law students. 80% of them appear for legal aid cases and 95% of them are Dalits, women and adivasis. Many of their incomes have improved due to the support received from Jan Sahas.They also envision pushing for policy changes that better support law students and lawyers from marginalised backgrounds.

Currently, 8 different institutions and organisations are replicating and scaling Jan Sahas’s model of legal justice for socially excluded communities in their respective areas.

These efforts have a huge potential to improve representation of socially excluded communities in the justice system, including lawyers, public prosecutors, and judges. It also empowers excluded communities, especially women and girls to have more knowledge about laws regarding violence and discrimination. Their work is scaling rapidly and laying the ground for making legal support systems more available to communities in local areas and enhancing the reporting of cases of violence and discrimination.

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