For me, as a young legal professional working on anti-trafficking issues and as someone who works very closely with survivors, I realize how much of an impact interacting probably on a daily basis has had on the kind of work I do and has helped stay in touch with the root cause of why I chose to work on such an issue. Coming from a background of doing some amount of case work on anti-trafficking issues, I have found that the voices of survivors are often over shadowed by the activism of those who fight for them. Yes, of course fighting on behalf of them requires passion, and dedication and spirit of a battle field soldier, and I understand and acknowledge that. What I have slowly started to realize is that if we want to create a bigger impact, if we want to influence the bigger picture, if want the justice system to respond to the needs of those sexually violated- we need to take them along with us.
Why not fight the good fight along with those voices that need to be heard- we don’t need to replace them, we can help them be heard….
During a late night discussion with my current boss regarding strategizing the plan ahead with the PIL, I remember us discussing that the voices of the survivors needed to be heard in this PIL- that they have reached a point in their lives where they have the courage to challenge the criminal justice system needed to be heard, told and spread…that you know, it was ultimately their fight.
And besides the shower, sometimes brilliant ideas come during late night conversations also and I remember us planning that for the next PIL hearing, we would take at least two survivors along to see what exactly is going on. And while we had this plan in our heads, there were survivors who kept sharing with my team on how keen they were to attend the PIL hearings and to meet the lawyer who was handling their matter.
So on the 9th of February, 2018 along with me two Utthan Council members- Keya* and Rinku* not only attended the hearing but also met with Advocate Chetan Mali, the lawyer who is appearing on behalf of the petitioners to the PIL. Utthan is a collective of survivors of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. A council of 17 members, the young women now work as a peer support group for other survivors of trafficking and their focus is not just on bridging the gap by offering emotional and moral support- this group of young women also work on various awareness issues by engaging with local stakeholders and other members of their villages.
The idea behind them attending the hearing and meeting with their lawyer was that my team and I very much believed that this would be a great opportunity for them if they could attend this hearing along with me. This would not only enable them to feel involved in their fight along with having a first hand experience of the Court's proceedings, but also that it would help foster a relationship of empathy between the survivors and the lawyer.
While attending the Courts proceedings was a whole new experience for them and it involved translating and explaining the matter to them, I found that their excitement level was so much more to meet with their advocate
During their interaction with Chetan, Keya and Rinku shared about what Utthan is and does, while I translated. Rinku took the lead in sharing about Utthan being a survivor’s collective where as a group hey shared how these trainings has helped them reach out to other survivors be it supporting them in their cases, going with them to Court, ensuring that the other survivors have bank accounts, helping their other sisters at their villages get rehabilitation services.
There were two questions that Keya asked during this meeting.
First one being, why did Chetan agree to be a lawyer in this PIL? Chetan’s response was that since he was a lawyer who had the experience working on these issues, he agreed to be a part of this PIL. He shared his professional experiences of how he has worked on cases involving rights of street children, victims of domestic violence, prisoners who were forcefully detained in prisons and how on many occasions, the Court has appointed his senior to be on committees that are involved in drafting laws for women and children.
The second question and the one that stood out the most during this meeting was when Chetan was asked what did he feel when he took up matters like this PIL?
Chetan’s response of feeling a “stupid sense of satisfaction” was explained by him to both the Utthan members as “feeling like I am doing something”.
And while I thought that it took a while for Chetan to state something on how he felt about it, since ( believe me, I know this better than anyone else!), that lawyers don’t often consider their feelings when doing a case- this was a question that is currently stuck in my head- why do we do what we are doing and how does it make us feel?
Coming back to the meeting, I am sure that lawyers like Chetan have met many victims/ survivors during their cases but to change how we view them- from only victims to strong, independent survivors was a different experience for all of us. To hear the stories of feeling empowered from being victims of exploitation….wow!
Before going for this meeting, Utthan member had written a letter to Chetan thanking him and expressing their eagerness to meet him. Going by the facial expressions that day, I am pretty sure that this was something Chetan had not expected–gratitude is something very rarely expressed and when it is, can take one by surprise !
Reflecting back on this day, I believe that this was a good meeting. I think it’s deeply motivating factor for Utthan to- to have that kind of impact of lawyers. Because any lawyer can do a case, but it takes much more to have an influence and create an impression of a group that prides itself on not feeling anything at all.
So what do I take back from this meeting? Interesting how a 15 minute meeting has actually got me thinking on whether or not, in the daily routines of our lives, we actually stop to think and reflect on why we doing what we are doing and how does it make us feel. Because if we thought it about it often, why would it take anyone time to answer this….