In the contemporary legal landscape of India, the dearth of lawyers willing to undertake pro bono work for individuals from marginalized communities is a pressing concern. This scarcity is exacerbated by the financial impracticality of such endeavours, as vulnerable community members often lack the means to afford legal services. Additionally, younger lawyers, despite their potential, often lack exposure to matters of social justice and public interest, contributing to hesitancy in engaging with this critical work.
A multifaceted legal domain, public interest law addresses the needs of unrepresented or underrepresented individuals and interests. Encompassing constitutional law, environmental protection, human rights, consumer protection, poverty law, labour rights, national security, women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, education law, criminal defense, children’s rights, disability law, and more, public interest law plays a pivotal role in safeguarding the rights of the marginalised populations.
Against the backdrop of ever-increasing civil rights violations in the country, the targeting of human rights defenders, and heightened vulnerability among marginalised groups, it becomes imperative to cultivate a group of dedicated lawyers equipped to champion such causes. Recognizing this need, the Centre for Law and Policy Research has instituted the Constitution Defenders Project, proposing fellowships for practicing lawyers. These fellowships aim to empower and train lawyers, enabling them to offer legal representation to marginalized individuals in court.
The central objective of the Constitution Defenders Project is to combat discrimination and safeguard the constitutional rights of marginalized groups, focusing on women and girls, Dalit/Adivasi individuals, transgender persons, and those with disabilities. By addressing the prevailing lack of access to justice experienced by these groups, the project seeks to advance equality and protect their constitutional rights.
The project is set to run for a period of two years and some key project objectives include recruiting young lawyers as Constitution Defenders, imparting training in public interest lawyering, and addressing the unmet legal needs of vulnerable groups. The anticipated outcomes encompass building the capacity of young lawyers, enabling them to effectively represent individuals seeking justice, handling a targeted number of cases, and securing positive legal outcomes that protect the rights of community members. These efforts are poised to yield significant benefits for targeted groups, including women, Dalit/Adivasi individuals, transgender persons, and those with disabilities. By focusing on access to justice and unmet legal needs, the project aims to empower marginalized communities and safeguard their constitutional rights.
While Karnataka has been a focal point of the Centre for Law and Policy Research’s engagements with marginalized communities, the aim is for the Constitution Defenders Project to achieve national reach. Consequently, the project is open to recruiting lawyers from all corners of India, with a commitment to contributing meaningfully to its goals and promoting the rights and well-being of marginalised communities in diverse geographical locations.
Heading the Constitution Defenders Project are Jayna Kothari, Senior Advocate & Executive Director of CLPR, along with Payal Gaikwad, Projects Coordinator at CLPR, and Anish Saha, Communications Associate, who forms an integral part of the broader project team.