In 1978, the highest court of India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, installed a black bronze sculpture, made by the renowned artist Shri Chintamoni Kar, portraying Mother India in the form of the figure of a lady. The lady is sheltering the young Republic of India represented by the symbol of a child, who is upholding the laws of land symbolically shown in the form of an open book. On the book, a balance is shown, which represents dispensation of equal justice to all. This statue symbolizes feminine power and reinforces the concept of Justice, which is also depicted by Lady Justice. This is a testament to the fact that our great Historians, Constitution-makers and Leaders recognized the power of women and power in women way before we did. In a historic moment for gender representation, three women took oath as judges of the Supreme Court in 2021.
In the modern world, a lot of transformation has taken place with rapidly growing instances of single parenting. Being inspired by the Constitutional Courts, Delhi State Legal Services Authority took a long awaited step in order to break the Gender Bias, by giving due recognition to mothers and reinforcing the principles of equality as enshrined in our Constitution. DSLSA updated the legal aid, victim compensation and other forms so that the applicant is at liberty to provide father’s name or mother’s name or both. In case of Single mothers, there is no need to provide father’s name in form, the applicant can provide mother’s name only. This is in line with the theme of the International Women’s Day 2022, #BreakingTheBias. Delhi State Legal Services Authority is a statutory authority working under the aegis of National Legal Services Authority and acting on the vision of the Hon’ble Judges of High Court of Delhi. Under the leadership of Member Secretary, Mr. Kanwal Jeet Arora, DSLSA during the COVID-19 pandemic formulated a holistic and inclusive strategy for ensuring the functioning of the “Access to Justice System”. DSLSA, in this situation of grave urgency, responded to address the concerns of women of all ages. As soon as the lockdown was announced, immediate provisions were made by DSLSA for accessing legal information and rights awareness through digital means, legal assistance were provided by strengthened networks and support system was envisaged to help women access social and economic benefits. To ensure access to legal and other necessary services is unrestricted for women, DSLSA, undertook various initiatives. DSLSA’s 169 Legal Services Clinics housed in Jails, CWCs, JJBs, IHBAS, Children Homes and other Community Areas which render free of cost legal services to all. To provide for a robust reintegration and rehabilitation of women inmates and delinquent juveniles, DSLSA has been conducting continuing education, skill development and vocational courses for them.
To ensure that domestic violence victims have access to legal services, following initiatives were undertaken, Vidhik Sewa Mobile Application was launched in collaboration with Yatra.com, in Hindi & English language, to provide legal services and necessary services. Collaborations with Mother Dairy Booths, Pharmacists, Chemists Anganwadi and ASHA workers throughout the National Capital for disseminating information pertaining to DSLSA Helpline, Complaint and Redressal Mechanism of Domestic Violence Incidents. The idea behind involving Mother Dairy booths and chemists was to reach out to women from the economic weaker sections that are unable to access online platforms and provide legal assistance to them. With the endeavor to provide “Access to Therapeutic Justice” for Domestic Violence Victims, DSLSA provided Tele-counselling through 24*7 toll free helpline number 1516. Legal Assistance was extended to more than 7032 domestic violence victims and 824 matrimonial disputes were settled during the lockdowns.
Under the National Legal Services Authority’s Campaign for “Empowering women through Legal Awareness,” DSLSA through digital means organized legal awareness and legal literacy sessions for Mahila Panchayats, Asha Workers, Angadwadi Workers, Protection Officers, College Students and general public to enhance their capacities so that they are able to advance their rights and navigate the judicial and administrative set up for actualisation of their rights. Remarkably, one of the webinars conducted by Delhi State Legal Service Authority (DSLSA) with Hon’ble Ms. Justice Hima Kolhi, then the Judge, High Court of Delhi and Executive Chairperson, DSLSA as the Distinguished Panelist also got mentioned in the Suo Moto Petition titled, “Increasing Domestic Violence Cases Against Women During COVID-19 Lockdown” before Hon’ble High Courts of Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir.
In furtherance of the directions passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal, DSLSA distributed Ration, Atta, Rice, Dal, Haldi, Salt, Cooking oil, Packed food, Medicines, Soap, Milk and Cooked food packets to more than 3,30,197 persons including Migrants, Sex Workers and others. Help Desks were set up in Jhuggi Clusters to provide E-Coupons to help people residing in slums in availing scheme of Delhi Government to support and provide ration. In coordination with DLSAs of other States, persons, especially women (college students/working) from Manipur & Nagaland or North West region were also reached telephonically to enquire about the difficulties faced by them and were also supplied dry ration and other essentials. DSLSA conducted Virtual Mental Health Awareness sessions with experts for female college students and working professionals, who were facing tremendous psychological issues due to COVID-19.
In a first, DSLSA rolled out job applications exclusively for Acid Attack Victims and is employing 7 such victims after providing training to them. These small but significant steps that help the victims of such barbaric crimes re-integrate into the society and give them a sense of belongingness. Remarkably, the legal aid movement in Delhi is primarily being led by women, with over 539 Woman Panel lawyers and 431 Woman Para-legal Volunteers. With the commitment to advance the goals of equality and development of women and girls in all spheres, DSLSA shall continue to assist, make aware and empower women of the capital city of Delhi.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Namrita Aggarwal & Bhawna Gandhi
Ms. Namrita Aggarwal is an Additional District Judge and Bhawna Gandhi is a Lawyer in Delhi. Both are currently working at Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA).