The initiative conducts workshops in Dalit ghettos every week, teaching them how to lodge complaints and fight their cases.

Barefoot lawyers Initiative in rural Andhra is arming Dalits with legal knowledge
news Human Interest Thursday, September 05, 2019 - 12:42

In a bid to empower the Dalit community legally, an initiative ‘Barefoot lawyers’ has been started in the rural town of Kovvur in Andhra Pradesh. The initiative aims at imparting legal education to poor Dalits, so that they can file cases of atrocities and fight their own cases. The initiative has been taken up by an NGO called Santhi Welfare Association, the British Deputy High Commission Hyderabad and another organization- Yes We Can. 

According to the project members, ‘Barefoot lawyers’ has two in-house practising lawyers who have trained seven ‘paralegals’ (a person who is not fully trained as a lawyer) from the Dalit community. These paralegals visit Dalit ghettos in Kovvur every week and conduct workshops on how to approach the police, lodge a complaint and read the charges in the FIR. 

Besides having these paralegals, the initiative also has a toll-free number 18004258580 so that the victims can seek legal assistance from these legal professionals. 

The initiative came into existence earlier in August and would continue for another two months. 

“Dalits are extremely vulnerable and illiterate. They don’t know their rights and the laws which safeguard them, and because of this, they fear approaching the police or filing a case of atrocity against the ‘upper castes’. So, we thought of arming them legally, so they can fight the cases on their own and follow it up,” says Stephen Anurag Prathipati, one of the founders of the initiative.   

TN Snehan, a practising lawyer, who has trained the paralegals says, “In most of the cases of atrocities against Dalits, police often don’t charge the accused under Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which is a non-bailable offence. Police try to exploit their vulnerability, so we are specifically teaching the community on how to read the charges in FIR, and to insist upon filing these sections.” 

“Our aim is that the Dalits fight the cases on their own. In case, if they require further legal assistance, our team helps them,” Snehan explains. 

Citing an example of how police try to dilute the case, Snehan claims that in Ravulapalem village, a Madiga woman was sexually harassed by an “upper caste” man. Following a complaint, police had registered the case, however, under bailable sections of 354 IPC (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty). “When we learnt about the case, we pressured the police to file a case under SC/ST (PoA) Act. This was our first success,” he says.

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