Rutuja Shinde: Women approached me to challenge ICC decisions
As some appalling stories came to light, Rutuja Shinde, a 26-year-old civil lawyer with Bombay High Court, decided to offer free legal service to sexual harassment victims
Created a database of 70 lawyers who agreed to offer pro bono legal service to sexual harassment survivors
The rage of Indian women - suppressed for years by entrenched social stigma - came pouring out in October this year to set in motion India's long-overdue #MeToo moment. While actor Tanushree Dutta carried forward the long and exhausting sprint against sexual assault at the workplace, many others, too, pushed back against the corrosive abuse of male power. Hundreds took to social media and outed their abusers.
As some appalling stories came to light, Rutuja Shinde, a 26-year-old civil lawyer with Bombay High Court, decided to offer free legal service to sexual harassment victims.
"Celebrities usually have someone backing them and a range of legal resources to choose from. Most others, however, were not even aware if what happened to them was sexual harassment. I knew that they wouldn't have the correct legal aid," says Shinde. On October 5, she posted on Twitter, stating she would offer pro bono legal service to survivors. Following her, about 70 more lawyers from across the country joined the initiative. The National Law University, Jodhpur, alumna adds, "Those who needed help sent me a message on DM or email. As I have an honours in constitutional law, I have always been interested in women's rights. I have handled lots of sexual harassment cases in the past. When I come across one, I see not just the offence, but also the trauma. There is also stigma in the society and self-internalised hatred. I feel it is not just a legal problem but a socio-legal one."
Discussing the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) she says that, at this stage, the survivor doesn't need legal aid. "If you're not satisfied with it [the ICC's decision] you can challenge it through a lawyer. Usually women prefer to not challenge the ICC, as there is diminishing faith in the process. In case of India's #MeToo movement, the financial burden is taken care of by lawyers like me. But people are more worried about investing the time required for such procedures. One needs to go to the court, file a case, go for testimonies, etc."
Shinde, who has taken on 50 cases till now, thinks that gradually more women will take this time out. "There are women who came to me to challenge the outcomes of ICC. Some others, who have been slapped with defamation suits for calling someone out on social media, too, have come for consultation. So, there are enough success stories."
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