“A Community Paralegal is a bridge…a problem solver for women…someone who is committed to provide assistance and to fight for justice in society.”
SFC-trained Community Paralegal, Bihar, India
Many women do not report cases of violence due to shame and fear of social stigma and further abuse. Many women suffer in silence and deal with the huge trauma of violence alone. So Sisters For Change believes it is a success every time a woman comes forward voluntarily to talk about the violence she has experienced and to seek support in her quest for justice. This story shows the impact that a trained paralegal can have to rural women and girls in India who otherwise would have no access to justice.
A 15-year-old Dalit girl, called Swati (not her name), was kidnapped on her way home from school by a man from a higher caste. He took the girl to a secluded place and raped her. When she didn’t come home, her father and brother got worried, and they started searching in the local village and around her school. Eventually, they found her.
The father did not know what to do. He was worried that if he reported the rape to the police, the perpetrator – because he was from a higher caste – would threaten the family and perhaps even attempt to murder this daughter. But if he did not take action, his daughter would get no justice. So he contacted a local community paralegal trained by Sisters For Change. He had heard that the paralegal (a man) had held legal literacy training for local women on violence against women, and he thought the paralegal could give him some advice.
The paralegal met with the family and listened to what had taken place. With the family’s permission, he then met with local community leaders, to make sure the community would support the victim and protect her and her family from reprisals. The leaders said they would. After securing this support, the paralegal accompanied the family and the girl to the police station to report the rape. The paralegal had to remind the police of their obligation to register the case under the criminal procedure code. After some initial resistance – because the victim was from India’s lowest social caste – the police did register the case, began an investigation, and arrested Swati’s attacker.