A non-descript building stands amidst the sea of brick and mortar in the Sultanpuri district of Delhi. Inside, the bright pink walls are witness to a bevy of women working tirelessly; preparing documents, collecting papers, attending to the endless phone calls. These are the paralegal volunteers of CFAR (Centre for Advocacy and Research), whose job is to facilitate identity documentation for various governmental schemes.
Today, one needs basic identification to avail all governmental welfare schemes. However, people find it difficult to procure them due to the opaque and inaccessible governmental system that does little to acquaint people with the functioning of the system and the various requirements of documentation.
Setu, literally meaning bridge, also known as the single window mechanism, was set up by the Delhi State Legal Services Authority. Their primary function is to serve as an interlocutor between the people and the government. Here, the people are given necessary handholding in order to facilitate their transactions. In light of the pedantic processes of the government, such outfits are indispensable for carrying out work that is primarily the duty and responsibility of the government.
The paralegal volunteers; women from the neighbourhood itself, process documentation required for Aadhar cards, birth and caste certificates, income and domicile papers and old age and widow pension certification. They also organise several social rights awareness camps and information drives to ease access to the government schemes. These include Aadhar camps, Social Entitlement Scheme Awareness camps, legal aid clinics, help desk counselling sessions and exchange learning programmes.
Often, transgender people and prostitutes face a lot of social stigma and harassment when they go to the government offices to have their documents prepared. Transgender people have to opt for the gender of their birth instead of the gender they associate with. Unsolicited advances are made towards women who work as prostitutes. With few opportunities given to them, they often have to resort to commercial sex or begging for survival. With little or no official documentation, these people have immense difficulty accessing public welfare systems.
In the backward areas of Delhi like Sultanpuri and Mongolpuri, women are often the sole bread earner of the family. The men in these areas are often victims to cheap liquor that sucks away all the money that the women earn. To compound the problem further, these households have several children whose entire responsibility inevitably falls on the woman. They are also often subject to domestic violence and verbal abuse. In this endless cycle, there often seems to be no viable solution, for there does not exist an official channel to register complaints.
Resorting to the police is an unviable option since the accused are often released within a couple days, and there is no improvement in the situation. The violent episodes, in fact, increase. There is no system to ensure safety for women and children within the house. Neither is there a rehabilitation centre to rescue men and even young boys who have succumbed to alcoholism and drug abuse.
Here, again, CFAR steps in to fill this crucial void. The workers travel from doorstep to doorstep, spreading awareness about their legal redressal system. The legal redressal system provides advice in matters related to domestic abuse and inform people of their rights. A lawyer provides legal counsel to the distraught clients having come for a variety of issues, from domestic violence to divorce counsel.
Mutual redressal of the problem is prioritised over court procedures. Though in cases that require the latter, where the involved parties are too mired in their conflict to resolve it by themselves, or when the situation is too dire, the lawyer advises the plaintiff accordingly. Every week, three to four complaints are registered. They have follow up systems to ensure that a relapse into the former situation does not occur. They also provide information and means to drug users to enrol into rehabilitation centres.
In these manners, Setu provides necessary public service to ensure a harmonious and functional society. The government may have come far in terms of giving the people facilities, but it still has a long way to go. Setu is an important part of the long journey ahead.
– Rohan Parikh is a student of philosophy and creative writing at Ashoka University. He is a published poet, short story and travel writer.
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