India Country Director, iProbono
BY SWATHI SUKUMAR
In the life of a lawyer, few moments are more rewarding than when justice is done: a hard-fought, challenging court battle that ends well, changing the law.
On 13 October 2014, the Delhi High Court delivered a landmark judgment in a case involving the sexual assault of a 3-year-old child we call Amal*. The daughter of construction workers, she was raped by a neighbor and the assault left her with wounds that would require at least three reconstructive surgeries.
In February, a Delhi trial court dismissed Amal's clear testimony on the basis that she was an incompetent witness, and disregarded her repeated identification of her rapist.
On appeal, the Delhi High Court reversed the trial court's decision and held that there were no circumstances to disregard the child's evidence. The Court laid down detailed guidelines on how a child ought to be interviewed. The decision will undoubtedly lead to more sensitive treatment of children within the criminal justice system and will encourage fair trials. In every way, the verdict is a grand victory.
This is a story of the triumph of good over evil. This is a story of what competent lawyers can do for a cause. But it is also a story of the extraordinary resilience and strength of one woman: Amal's mother, Munira*.
Since 2012, when Amal was assaulted, Munira, 24, and by any measure severely under-weight at just 40 kgs, has been the sole care-giver for her three children. Her neighbours turned against her early into the police investigation which included violent interrogation.
Amal's father suffers from a mild mental disability and Munira's in-laws wanted to have nothing to do with Amal, by then a 4-year-old who was forced, as a result of her sexual assault, to carry around a colostomy bag that hung outside her body to manage her digestive functions.
Munira worked 10-hours a day at construction sites, on as many days as she could find someone willing to employ her, to support her three children, the oldest of whom was Amal. Munira has personally visited the police station, the Magistrate's court and sat through an entire criminal trial with no family support and no money.
In the course of her cross-examination, Amal was asked to show how she was raped and Munira's heart broke, but she remained dignified and resolute in her endeavor to get justice for her daughter. Amal was mocked, taunted and insulted by the trial court judge who said "Gudiya tum jhoot bol rahi ho (child, you are lying, right?) True or not?". When Munira asked the judge to see the evidence, she was told, "Don't interrupt."
It was Munira's exceptional strength that brought her to the doors of lawyers in August to file an appeal on her child's behalf. Above all, it was her faith in the law that drove her to continue fighting when the future looked bleak. We must celebrate the fact that this outstanding woman has been successful in navigating our complex and intimidating legal system.
Munira's family has been relocated to a safer area, so Amal can access prompt medical help. But Munira is out of work and her daughter is still not in school because of her medical condition. Munira's illiteracy compounds her inability to seek a better quality of life for her family, which has already undergone severe hardships that have damaged the fabric of their lives.
Munira is looking for employment that will allow her to support her family, once Amal is declared medically fit to attend school. iProbono is trying to secure admission for Amal and her younger brothers in a school that will give them the attention that they deserve. If you would like to assist Amal's family by offering Munira employment, or school admission for the children, or donating to Amal's family please send in your pledge at HopeForAmal@i-probono.com. Once we receive your pledge, we will contact you with further information on how the contribution will be accepted.
*Names have been changed to protect their identities. "Amal" means hope.