Women’s Rights and Domestic violence
Due to the long tradition of female discrimination, women’s rights are far from being fully recognized. HRLD is fighting for the fulfillment of the Right to Equality for women. Besides empowering and educating women about their rights, they offer legal aid to victims of rights violations who are too poor to afford a lawyer themselves. In the past few years, HRLD has filed various suits and complaints on behalf of the women who have been insulted, physically and mentally abused and tortured by men or other relatives. One drastic example was when Adv. Sarode defended the rights of a dowry victim (Rekha Gupta; Nagpur 2008) who was set on fire by her in-laws and died due to her injuries. HRLD helped to file a case under the Domestic Violence Act on behalf of her family. HRLD fought for the right of custody of her children (who after her death were kept by the in-laws), as well as monetary compensation and relief, and further for a protection order, ensuring that the accused was arrested soon after the incident. Even though these cases have only been preceded at the Magistrate’s level and have not set precedence for the national law, the recognition of the growing justice to women plays an important role in changing the traditional gender roles within the society and promoting equality amongst men and women.
HRLD is providing free legal aid to prisoners, by taking up pending cases of poor under trials and if necessary, fighting for the release of falsely accused people. For example, in 2006 HRLD was able to get M. Kounder released from prison after he was in jail for over 11 years for a charge of rape and murder, which he did not commit. Further, HRLD is fighting for a sufficient food and health service system in the jail, to reduce the high number of custodial deaths caused by untreated illnesses. Besides improving the situation in the jails, HRLD is engaged in psychological rehabilitation of the prisoners, which will raise their chance to find their way back to a normal life after their arrest. This is undertaken by mental rehabilitation programs. For example, we conducted for the first time in 2002; convicts in jail are offered education about Gandhi’s life and his philosophy of truth and non-violence. After the courses they are given the chance to attend a voluntary examination that is conducted by the Sahyog Trust and a certificate is given to all successful candidates. Many prisoners recorded that they felt less angry and displayed new moral values after the course. The jail staff stated that the amount of violence among the prisoners had declined. After the big success of the examinations on Gandhian thoughts, the courses have been conducted in different jails across the country. Currently, they are running in many prisons in Maharashtra (Mumbai, Thane, Ratnagiri, Osmanabad, Dhule, Jalgaon, Bhandara, Akola, Nagpur, Bhusawal, Chandrapur and Aurangabad) with the help of outside volunteers.
Despite the fact that India is a signatory of the International Convention of the Rights of the Child, it does not have a special law on child abuse except rape. HRLD is fighting for a law which prohibits various kinds of sexual harassment or the abuse of a child. Taking cognizance of the fact that child abuse is still on the rise, HRLD has, in association with other NGOs, been drafting a Child Sexual Assault prohibition and protection bill from the year 2004. Furthermore, HRLD is working actively in the promotion of the recognition of the – till date widely abandoned – Rights of the Child and especially the fulfillment of the Right to Education. They file suits on behalf of the parents if the rights of a child are violated and are campaigning to raise awareness about the importance of basic education for children among the less educated social sectors.
Rights of HIV/AIDS-affected people
A woman from a lower socio-economic background, who acquired HIV infection from her husband found herself boycotted by her family and the community after his death and the disclosure of her infection. At grocery stores, people would throw stones at her and drive her away. After an accident, she was denied medical aid at the city’s hospital because she had AIDS. The woman eventually succumbed to her injuries and died. HRLD filed a case in order to achieve justice for her denied right to medical remedies and equal treatment.
HRLD works especially for this vulnerable group, where innocent people get ostracized and are denied basic rights in the form of refusal of medical aid, education, job promotions and so on, due to the strong social stigma attached to people affected by HIV/ AIDS.
Rights of differently abled
HRLD has undertaken a survey on the blind hawkers at Pune Railway Station, revealing that the visually impaired hardly get a response when applying for a job and that their official 1% employment reservation rate is not even close to being guaranteed. Not rarely, the blind hawkers (especially the women among them) get harassed and those who work on the railway platforms need to share their little earnings with higher rung railway employees and sometimes the police to conduct their business. After the findings of the survey, HRLD started to promote that the working license to sell items on the platforms should be given to disabled people for free. The platforms are one of the few places where they can follow a straight path without a constantly changing environment and thereby be able to earn their substance of livelihood without needing to beg.
Commercial Sex Workers (CSWs)
HRLD recently took a case in which numerous CSWs were not given a ration card and were refused placement of their names on voting lists by the election offices. HRLD fought for the enforcement of their voting rights and their right to exercise the franchise. Participating in elections is seen as the fundamental expression of demands and equalizing empowerment of all the citizens. Non-inclusion in the voter’s list is a gross violation against the Right to Equality and the civil rights listed in the Indian Constitution.
Furthermore, HRLD is working on the enforcement of better health services for the workers and enrolling their children in schools, hopefully saving them from entering the same profession as their mothers.
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