Source: The Wire
25th June, 2019
The two lawyers have fought a number of cases on issues ranging from access to healthcare to gender justice.
New Delhi: On June 13, the Central Bureau of Investigation filed an FIR against Anand Grover and Lawyers Collective for alleged violations of rules related to NGOs receiving foreign funds.
Grover and his partner Indira Jaising, both senior advocates, have been at the forefront of public interest and civil rights litigation in India. Several Indian lawyers have cut their teeth doing human rights work as a part of Lawyers Collective since 1981. Their work has had implications around the world.
Between the two of them, they have contributed to the legal field in India for close to 80 years.
Jaising has also been the additional solicitor general of India and was awarded the Padma Shri in 2004. She was one of the first women to be designated a senior advocate by the Bombay high court in 1986 and in 2008, she was elected to the UN’s committee against discrimination of women. Grover has been the UN special rapporteur on the right to health for six years.
The allegation that Lawyers Collective flouted norms to accept foreign donations was first made by the BJP government in 2015. While it subsided for a bit, with the Bombay high court issuing an interim stay on any penal action against the NGO, it has been resurrected again by a new petition, filed by a lawyer who is allegedly part of the BJP’s legal cell.
This notwithstanding, what kind of good work have Jaising and Grover been involved in over the last few decades of their work?
Some of India’s most pivotal cases in the areas of gender justice, sexuality and non-discrimination, labour rights and healthcare provision have been fought by Jaising and Grover.
Most prominently and recently, Grover argued the petition to decriminalise Section 377, which has been a tool for the harassment of queer people in India. Jaising was also a part of the allegations of sexual harassment against the current chief justice of India being made public (along with her website The Leaflet, the investigation was also published by The Wire, Caravan and Scroll.in).
Gender and sexuality
Section 377 was finally decriminalised by the Supreme Court last September. The historic decision read down a colonial-era law that criminalised “unnatural sex” and was used disproportionately to harass members of India’s queer community. Grover represented the Naz Foundation, which brought the original challenge to court in 2001 and had been fighting the case for 17 years.
“Anand has worked sincerely for years for the LGBTQI community and for HIV/AIDS. He took no money from us, he did it pro bono. His work has had such far reaching effects for the community. There is no question on his commitment,” says Anjali Gopalan of the Naz Foundation. “He still takes up cases of rights of people with HIV and of people from the LGBTQI community.”
Long before #MeToo, Jaising successfully argued the case of sexual harassment faced by IAS officer Rupan Bajaj Deol in 1996. Former DGP of Punjab K.P.S. Gill was convicted in the case.
In 1986, Jaising won a landmark case representing Mary Roy, author Arundhati Roy’s mother. The case gave Syrian Christian women equal property rights in India.
She also fought the case of Gita Hariharan, noted author, and Vandana Shiva, acclaimed environmentalist, winning a verdict that said the mother, and not just the father, can be the “natural guardian” of a child. They challenged the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act.
Explaining the impacts of her case, Hariharan told The Wire, “After the victory in my case, I heard from so many women about how it helped them. The judgement set a precedent, helping women in situations different from mine – wanting to leave a bad marriage, fighting for custody and so on. It was also a powerful signal that we need not take this unconstitutional protection of patrimony.”
She says she is “very proud to be associated with their work” and that she “didn’t spend a rupee on the case”. “Indira said, ‘Of course Lawyers Collective would do my case for free’, but I would need to help them with research. I learnt so much. I was not just a client for them, I was a junior soldier,” says Hariharan.
Jaising was also part of the drafting of the ‘Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005’ and campaigned for it as well.
She recently argued the case against instant triple talaq in the Supreme Court as well as the petition regarding the entry of women into the Sabrimala temple in Kerala.
“The impact of seeing a woman like Indira Jaising in the public sphere, the impact of seeing her speak up on behalf of us, on a variety of issues, as a feminist activist and lawyer, speak up for equality and democracy even in the Supreme Court… All this has a bold and energising effect on young women in India,” says Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association.
In 1985, Jaising and Grover fought for the rights of pavement dwellers against eviction and the loss of livelihood. This was triggered by a decision of the Maharashtra government in 1981 to evict them. A prominent journalist, Olga Tellis, was one of the petitioners on behalf of the pavement dwellers.
Tellis said, “The case also spawned a lot of interest in fighting for housing as a fundamental right.”
HIV/AIDS, TB, healthcare
“Incredibly important global leaders in global AIDS response” is how Matthew Kavanagh describes Grover and Lawyers Collective. Kavanagh is currently director of the Global Health Policy and Governance Initiative at Georgetown University.
Grover found his niche fighting various cases that made it possible for Indians to access affordable healthcare and without discrimination.
He continues to fight these cases and in 2017, was able to successfully get access to a life-saving TB drug, bedaquiline, for a young Indian woman with drug-resistant TB. The woman died soon after winning the case, but it caused the Indian government to roll back their procedure of giving the drug only in five big cities and begin larger distribution.