Sahyog was founded in 1987 by a social worker himself and a Gandhian, Balasaheb Sarode. He has been working from 17 years making Sahyog as a humanistic pro-active organization. Sahyog was first started by providing a primary school for slum children who couldn’t afford education. 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 with an agenda of providing them a broad education and raising them to be responsible citizens, they were well exposed to different philosophies of great thinkers like Mahatma Gandhi also. Information on health issues and other informal skills such as environmental consciousness were taught to them.
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. Adv. Sarode, trough his former working activities, was informed about the inhumane living conditions in the jails and the broad ignorance towards prisoners. To provide them efficient help Adv. Saorde traveled to various prisons between 2002-2004 to broaden knowledge and provide them basic needs. He found out that a majority of them suffered from poor health services, a lack of representation and long waiting times for court auditions, as well as violent treatment given by police or jail staff were given to them. After the examinations, HRLD started with legal awareness programs in prisons and education about how to claim their rights. They further provided free legal aid to the prisoners in need and who couldn’t 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 they are no criminals before they are not convicted as criminals on the ground of solid evidences. HRLD says that they must be seen as human beings and have the right to adequate living conditions and should be given a chance to change to get back with a normal life after their prison ends. Besides educating the prisoners about their rights, HRLD is training the police staff too, in order to sensitize them about the rights of their wards and that they should be treated with the same respect as 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 doesn’t receive any recognition. First, HRLD tried to understand what legal issues the workers have to face and found out that police harassment was the most common problem in their daily lives. Because there are vulnerable groups who 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 with the police by training them to not abuse their powers and educating them about the consequences their misbehavior.
Later on, HRLD took on the issue of Domestic Violence and the insufficient law provisions. 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 a difficult task to implement the law for cases on an urgent basis.
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 Kamala 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 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 had to start while working with the CSWs. During their work in the red light districts, they were ascertaining 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 so less. 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 an 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 they 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 without going through 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 workplace/ 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 center 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.