Lawyers working for free

Lawyers working for free

Hundreds protest against CAA at Town Hall in Bengaluru on Saturday. | DH Photo: Pushkar V

A network of lawyers is working for free to provide support for activists protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The student-led movement has spread across the country since early December.

Prasanna R, Constitutional law expert, says lawyers are stepping in to ensure the state does not harass protesters. 

“When the act was passed, we anticipated that there would be a reaction to it,” says Prajwal, a lawyer doing probono work.

On WhatsApp groups and other social media such as Instagram and Twitter, lawyers are putting out their numbers for the benefit of activists who need help.

“I got my first call at 10.30 am on December 19. That was the day bus loads of people, including the historian Ramachandra Guha, were detained,” says Prajwal.

He and his group coordinated and went to police stations to ensure the detainees were treated well and not framed in cooked-up FIRs.

Young lawyers are streaming out on the streets to help those in need. “Those who can attend courts are doing that, others are putting in research, yet others are creating manuals,” Prasanna says.

Manual ready

A manual, written by a group of Mumbai lawyers, has a checklist on what to do in case one is detained, and lists out forms that can help streamline the legal process.

Prasanna says the group is planning to translate the manual, now in English, into Kannada, Hindi and Urdu. 

City lawyers are also helping detainees in Mangaluru and other places, where the situation is volatile. “Social media has been a great tool in helping us connect with people who need help,” says Prajwal. 

Prasanna recalls an incident in which an underage detainee in Lucknow needed help to prove his age and Bengaluru-based lawyers stepped in, thanks to a Whatsapp group. 

Permission paperwork

Lawyers have also been helping students get permission for protests. Teresa Braggs, student activist, says without the probono help from lawyers, students would not have been able to come so far.

“The lawyers stepped in as soon as they knew the students wanted to go out, and they have been running from pillar to post for us without any complaints,” she says.  Lawyers and law students have also been involved in creating guides and documents to educate the general public about what to do in case of a police detention.

Students, faculty and alumni of the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, have put out an FAQ about the CAA and the National Population Register (NRC) in 21 languages.

“We have also been organising events in college to keep the momentum going,” says Hamza Tariq, Student Bar Association president.  

Bar Council statement

Many lawyers have distanced themselves from the Bar Council of India statement describing protesters as “Illiterate ignorant masses”.

“The Bar Council is not a representative body. It’s a mere regulatory body and they have no right to issue statements for or against a law. They can’t speak on our behalf,” says Prajwal.

When asked about lawyers who have not just been helping protestors, but actively protesting themselves, Prasanna says, “While we have to help in our professional capacity, the approach did not seem good enough in times like these. It demands individual as well as collective action” 

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