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Angry young petitioners
Meet some of India's youngest PIL crusaders who have forsaken the pleasures of lazy cafê afternoons for the grind of litigation work.
The younger generation in India has often been criticized for its short-lived outrage on social networking sites and candle-light vigils. But a slew of youngsters have been taking time out of their frantic lives to move courts and drive change.
Most of them are twenty somethings who are still studying but that hasn't stopped them from filing public interest litigations (PILs). A democratic tool, a PIL can be filed either in a High Court or the Supreme Court and is in essence a right guaranteed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.
Given the laborious process involved, it is interesting that many a collegian is sacrificing hanging out in malls or bars to pore over legal documents instead. Some may be driven by the prospect of furthering career prospects but whatever the motivation, this army of young litigants could emerge as a force to reckon with, believe legal eagles who say their enthusiasm should be nurtured and encouraged.
Delhi law student Nipun Saxena (22) hit the headlines when he filed a petition with the Supreme Court on measures to protect women. He like many others was jolted by the horrific gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi last December. He sets aside the stipend he earns through his internships to fund the litigation. Interestingly, 300 student-volunteers have stepped forward to support Nipun's mission. They have collectively compiled a perception survey on different aspects of women's' safety, running into 10, 000 pages of research.
Optimism has been Nipun's constant motivation. "I want to show that there is a way to change the system. What better than doing it through the highest court whereby the judgment could have a national impact, " he says. His petition addressed four issues crucial to the security of women in the national capital - the government's failure to compensate survivors of violence even 19 years after it was first recommended, a review of buses plying in Delhi and their violations under the Motor Vehicles Act, declaration of a ban on the two-finger test used on rape survivors, and a formal framework of medico-legal procedures for first aid to victims.
There are others like Saxena, seeking answers to flawed systems. Student bodies in Mumbai and Pune have filed PILs against irregularities in the academic system. In Goa, 13-year-old Akash Naik has become a popular face in the fight against illegal mining.
Akash was only nine when a PIL was filed in his name on behalf of the Goa Foundation objecting to mining in his ancestral village Advalpal in Bicholim taluka. He was of course, just a front with adults working out the legalities, but his passion has only piqued since. "Mining has destroyed our home and fields. I couldn't study because of the noise and constant sickness forced me to miss school. We even had to temporarily move to Panjim because many villagers were getting asthma, " says Akash. His petition filed in the Goa bench of Bombay High Court led to the first stay on mining in 2009, says his proud father Shyam Sunder. It was subsequently withdrawn as all appeals against mining in Goa were clubbed in the apex court.
Anti-mining activist Ramesh Gaus believes the contribution of youngsters like Akash is invaluable, especially since it is their future that is at stake. "The future belongs to them and it is important that they assert their legal and constitutional rights to secure it. " He fears however, that judicial delays, often running into years, could dampen their spirit.
But it is unlikely that these young crusaders will give up without a fight. "There comes a point when mere expression of outrage in drawing rooms is not enough. I think I reached that when I heard about the arrest of two young girls in Palghar for posting something on Facebook, " says Shreya Singhal (22) whose mother is a Supreme Court lawyer.
The incident she refers to is the arbitrary arrest of Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan on November 19, 2012 in Palghar. The former had lamented on Facebook about Mumbai shutting down after the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray and her friend Rinu Srinivasan had 'liked' the post. The charges slapped on them were later dropped.
Singhal, an astro-physics graduate who is now moving to law, decided to move a petition seeking a review of Section 66 A of the IT Act, 2000 under which the duo and many others have been arrested. For the past eight months, Singhal and an advocate have been establishing case laws to build their argument. She felt encouraged when the Centre, on the court's directive, issued a circular directing all states to ensure that no arrests are made under Section 66 A without the approval of a senior police officer.
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