Fighting The Breach Of Promise
Poor Man’s Legal Aid works around the clock to deliver all that its name impliesBy Shalaka Kulkarni
Famed Roman politician and lawyer Marcus Tullius Cicero once said, “The people’s good is the highest law.” And with that firmly in mind, Susanta Kumar Basu took a leap of faith, building an organization, through which he intended to give back to the society by meeting its legal needs. In 1993, Susanta went pro bono Publico and established Poor Man’s Legal Aid (PMLA). A benevolent non-profit organization registered under the West Bengal Society Registration Act, 196, PMLA came into being with the primary purpose of helping poor people who need legal help and advice. PMLA’s executive committee is composed of retired judges, practicing advocates, jurists, senior students of law colleges and people related to various walks of life, who provide guidance to the underprivileged on various legal matters. “I practiced law in a Citizens’ Advice Bureau in England as a legal adviser,” says Basu. “Some people could not afford to go to the lawyers as they charged a lot. I gave them free legal advice. Then I thought that many people in my motherland are suffering from injustice in silence as they can’t afford to go to the lawyers. I should help my countrymen by giving them free legal advice and educate them on how to protect themselves from being cheated by the fraudulent.”
Basu and his team also started a journal Ainee Samashar Samdhan, and trained people in collaboration with the Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences. “We don’t want people to suffer in silence. Suffering in silence is a crime in itself,” says Basu, who pursued LLB (Hons) at the University of East London. A resident of England for more than 50 years now, Basu is an overseas citizen of India. He worked in England in various fields, including the British Parliamentary Counsel office working with barristers, solicitors who were drafting the ParliamentaryBill, the Citizens Advice Bureau and Access to Justice. Now retired, he has dedicated his life to the benefit of the poor to make them aware of their legal rights in accordance with the law of the land.
“We Help People Understand How To Go About Fighting Injustice, Guide Them Through The Steps Of Appealing, And Even Clarify Assumptions And Misunderstood Or Partially Known Concepts.”Hirak Sinha, Advocate and Member, PMLA
In 2005, Poor Man’s Legal Aid extended its scope by associating with another NGO, Society for Equitable Voluntary Actions (SEVA), and started working in the remote parts of West Bengal, organizing legal awareness camps among the peasants, unorganized laborers and other sections of the downtrodden. Says advocate Hirak Sinha, a leading member of PMLA: “We help people understand how to go about fighting injustice, guide them through the steps of appealing, and even clarify assumptions and misunderstood or partially known concepts. If the case is not sustainable in lawful terms, we advise them not to file a case. That is important too, I believe.” The 25-year-old organization has helped over 1,000 poor people to find legal succor. The organization provides assistance across various genres like property, consumer protection, electricity, fatal accident claims, marriages and divorces, immoral trafficking, copyright issues, dowry and foeticide, industrial disputes, general medical negligence, money recovery, insurance, criminal cases and more. “Medico-legal cases have been emerging a lot in recent times,” says Sinha. “In one case, a young man underwent surgery at an ophthalmologist’s and unfortunately, turned blind. He filed a case against the doctor; we helped him in fighting for his right and settled the issue by appealing for monetary recovery.”
Shyamal Kumar Das, a senior member of PMLA, narrates the story of a rape victim. “A lady, in her late 20s, was harassed and raped by the same man multiple times,” says Kumar. “Her life was miserable. She was in flux about approaching the police. She found our contact details and came to us. It took time but we put a full-stop to the gruesome activity. We helped her seek justice and put the assaulter behind bars”
PMLA is working on building up a list of young, experienced and talented lawyers dedicated to social welfare who wish to work for the benefit of the poorer section of the people. The future plans of this benevolent legal organization include fundraising activities for not just law-based cases but for supporting the deprived as well. PMLA plans to organize exhibitions, debates, seminars and training courses, besides publishing useful books on legal matters; it also wants to bring in legal reform and is working in the child rights space. The aim is to make parents aware of their rights through meetings, camps, and legal publications. To top it all, PMLA plans to open branches across the country to reach help out to more citizens.