How our working areas evolved?
- Sahyog, headed by social worker and Gandhian, Balasaheb Sarode, has been working from 17 years (founded 1987) as a humanistic pro-active organization. Sahyog started with a primary school for children of the nearby slum area, whose parents couldn't afford to pay for their education. For many parents sending their children to school is not an option because they are dependent on the extra income generated by their working children. As a result, the teachers of Sahyog school often needed to seek direct contact with the parents, persuading them to let their kids attend the classes. Besides the gain of basic education skills, social values such as gender equality, concern for the poor and needy, solidarity with the people's movement, the promotion of peace and social justice were imparted to the contents of the classes. In terms of providing them with broad education and raising them to be responsible people who are able to see things from different perspectives, they were well exposed to different philosophies of great thinkers like Mahatma Gandhi, received quality information on health issues and other informal skills such as environmental consciousness and so on.
- To strengthen the advocacy effort around Human Rights, the Trust established a socio-legal advocacy initiative called Human Rights and Law Defenders (HRLD) in 2002.
HRLD has been working over the years with a lot of different Human Rights issues, trying to reach as many people as possible with their aid and empowerment strategies. The overall goal is to make the marginalized aware of their basic civil rights and to show them sensitive and inexpensive ways of claiming their rights.
With their initiation, HRLD began to work with under-trial prisoners [read more]. Adv. Sarode, trough his former working activities, was informed about the often inhumane living conditions in the jails and the broad ignorance towards prisoners. To provide them efficient help Adv. Saorde travelled to various prisons between 2002-2004 to broaden his knowledge of their basic needs. His results were that a majority of them suffered from poor health services, a lack of representation and long waiting times for court auditions, as well as the often violent treatment given by police or jail staff. After the examinations, HRLD started with legal awareness programs in prisons and education about how to claim their rights. They further started to provide free legal aid to the prisoners in need, who could not afford to appoint counsel. HRLD searches for their case details and case papers in the court, and handles all court procedures till the final argument, underlining their Right to Representation. HRLD makes visits to the concerned prison once a week and works as a link between the un-represented under-trial prisoners and the judicial system. HRLD is following the idea that there are no criminals before they are not convicted as criminals on the ground of solid evidence. Even then, HRLD is promoting that they should still be seen as human beings and have the right to adequate living conditions and should be given a chance to change and get back to a normal life after their prison stay. Besides educating the prisoners about their rights, HRLD is training the police staff too, in order to sentizise them about the rights of their wards and that they should be treated with the same respect like any other members of the society. To ensure their successful rehabilitation, HRLD visits remand homes and intervenes where the rights of the juveniles are violated or where the juvenile is not properly represented.
- In 2003 HRLD started working on the enforcement of Women's Rights and was awarded the fellowship of Majis to fund their commendable work. They began to focus on the rights of the commercial sex workers (CSW) in Pune, who receive hardly any representation. First, HRLD tried to understand what legal issues the workers have to face. Although the women were very shy to talk about their problems, it turned out to be that police harassment was the most common problem in their daily lives. Because they are a very vulnerable group and don't know about their rights, the police would abuse their authority over them. For example, arrested CSWs were little reluctant to ask for the reason of their detention just because they were too frightened to speak up in front of the policemen. Even in front of HRLD members they were afraid to talk about their complaints, for the reason that the police might get to know about it and beat them up. Eventually HRLD were able to persuade them that if they knew about their rights and how to use them, the police would realize this as well and their situation will improve. Similar to the case of prisoners, HRLD was working also with the police by training them to not abuse their powers and educating them about the consequences their misbehavior could entail.
- Later on HRLD took on the issue of Domestic Violence and the insufficient law provisions from the beginning of the century. Among others, they played an active role in the drafting and consultation process of the Law against Domestic Violence, which was passed in 2005. After the law came in force in 2006, HRLD started checking the different contents and provisions of the law in practice and was regularly meeting with the concerned authorities to adapt things or make them more practicable. "Even the application of the law on their cases and how to operate at best with it was a learning process", stated Adv. Rama Sarode. It was still a difficult task to implement the law for cases on an urgent basis. HRLD is trying to accelerate the till date often very slow legal process by strongly arguing for the urgency of their cases.
- Moreover, HRLD started to work on the issue of Noise Pollution which is a big issue all over urban India. They conducted a survey in the Pune newspapers about the problems of noise pollution people have to face and how they are affected by it. They received numerous responses, stating that many people are suffering because of very loud generators, building construction activities and so on, which went on for long periods.
In the wake of this, HRLD called a public meeting at Kamela Nehru park to discuss the problem. The response was overwhelming with over 80 attendants and more than 200 calls Rama and Asim Sarode received during these days from people who stated that they lived too far away or were too old to come, but were definitely supportive of the idea. For the meeting, experts on various linked issues were invited, such as people to measure the sound decibels around the city, doctors spreading awareness about the health risks by noise pollution and experts reporting on the legal possibilities of an enforcement of daily silent hours. Nevertheless, HRLD made it clear to the audience that HRLD is not an authority which can stop noise pollution, but the aggrieved can only fight it themselves. HRLD can however guide them and make them aware of the procedures to fight the noise in their neighborhood.
- Since 2004, HRLD pursued their work with HIV/AIDS infected people which they have started to take up while working with the CSWs. During their work in the red light districts they ascertain in which scale the HIV-affected need to deal with a big social stigma and how less on the other hand the knowledge about the disease among the society is. Even in official institutions which are dealing with health care issues or among doctors the knowledge is alarmingly little. Many private doctors would even refuse to treat a HIV-affected person, being scared the virus could be spread by shaking hands or using the same toilet. A questionnaire conducted by the HRLD which was handed to lawyers in 9 districts of Pune revealed that their information on this issue was just as bad. HRLD asked how lawyers who are supposed to fight for the rights of this vulnerable group, will be able to do this if even they didn't know about the subject and for that reason often refused to provide legal services to them. Most HIV-affected people would therefore not seek a lawyer if their rights are violated due to their disease, just for not being afraid of telling someone about their infection. HRLD is trying to help if possible without going the way trough legal intervention, where the state of health of their clients would become public and which can as well be very time-consuming, expensive and their trial is at risk to be affected by discrimination and corruption. It is always attempted to initiate a dialogue with the family members/ the work place/ the local police within the areas where most problems occur. In addition, HRLD is trying to connect the aggrieved with local/regional support groups of other HIV-affected people. For cases which require legal intervention HRLD has formed a legal guidance centre that provides free counseling and support to HIV/AIDS–affected from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Started as a single-handed legal movement, HRLD has developed into a continuously active organization which is engaged in various Human Rights issues and has teamed up with Human Rights movements around the world. With their work, HRLD is contributing a commendable effort so that the formerly weak and marginalized will someday reach the position to spread the word themselves, saving them and their fellow sufferers from continued exploitation.