Three trafficking survivors from South 24-Parganas have been running from pillar to post since March to get a lawyer to represent them in court for free. None of them has got one yet. All three were minors when they were trafficked and sexually abused.
A public prosecutor who specialises in trafficking cases said the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act confirms the right of a survivor to free legal aid. A representative of an NGO that counsels survivors shared with Metro copies of over a dozen letters written between March and September by a survivor and the mothers of two others, seeking lawyers who would represent them for free.
The letters are addressed to the secretary, sub-divisional district legal services authority in Baruipur; secretary, district legal services authority, Alipore; and member secretary, state legal services authority. An official of the state legal services authority told this newspaper: “We have received applications from three survivors. On September 7, a communication was sent to the chairman of the sub-divisional legal services authority (SDLSA), asking for appropriate action to be taken at the earliest to ensure that the applicants got free legal aid. We had also sought an action-taken report. The report is yet to come. We will follow up again.”
The case is not an isolated one. Rights activists have often said that the legal battle to get justice is so cumbersome and fraught with so many challenges that survivors often lose faith in the system. Trafficking survivors are entitled to compensation from the state. The absence of legal aid also shuts the door on that.
“On at least two occasions, the survivors left home at daybreak and travelled to the Baruipur court to seek an audience with an official of the SDLSA. They were kept waiting for hours and then told to come another day. They reached home late at night,” said Kakali Das of Goranbose Gram Bikas Kendra, the NGO supporting the survivors.
Travelling at night is risky as the survivors have faced multiple threats by accomplices of their traffickers, she said. One of the three survivors waiting for legal aid lives near Baruipur town. Two others live in remote villages in Joynagar II Block. It takes over two-and-a-half hours to reach the Baruipur court, which houses the office of the SDLSA, from their village. One of the survivors was trafficked to Bihar by a dance teacher in 2021.
Another was confined to a house in Ghutiari Sharif in South 24-Parganas. She was raped multiple times and got pregnant. She has a three-year-old daughter now. She has since married. The survivors lack the resources to hire a lawyer. Asked why the NGO wasn’t hiring a lawyer, Das said: “It is not about one or two individual cases. We are fighting to get the system right.”