Arvind Singh | Oct 9, 2021 | 6 min read
Legal aid services are critical to those who can't afford representation, particularly vulnerable women and children, ensuring that the innocent get their day in court. But awareness is low and services underutilised.
Jaipur: In September 2021, Mohamad Enus was set free by the Special Court for Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Cases of Bharatpur in Rajasthan. He had been languishing in prison for four years after being charged with the alleged murder of a nine-year-old boy found dead in the toast factory where Enus used to work as a daily labourer.
Facts of the case
Mohamad Enus' ordeal started on November 26, 2017, when the Roopbas police arrested him on suspicion of the murder of nine-year-old Arjun Jatav.
According to the FIR given by the boy's father, Omprakash Jatav, Arjun had gone to deliver milk to the labourers working in the toast factory on November 25 and never returned home. His body was found behind the factory the next day. The police said that the body was found with a rope around the neck, and they suspected occult practices to be the motive behind his death.
Initial investigation reports said sniffer dogs picked up some scent but stopped at a nearby abandoned mine. The police then detained Enus as he lived in a rented shanty nearby and worked in the same factory. Police later claimed that he confessed to the murder in custody. He was booked under sections 302, 201 and 379 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sections of the SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. He was also accused of stealing a golden locket that Arjun was wearing. He remained in judicial custody for four years.
Role of legal assistance
Being illiterate and poor, Enus could not hire a lawyer before the trial court and was unaware of his right to legal aid from the government. After looking at the charge sheet filed by the police, the trial court took the initiative and provided him with a lawyer through the District Legal Service Authority (DSLA) of Bharatpur.
The court observed no conclusive evidence against Mohamad Enus during the trial, and the case against him was based mainly on circumstantial evidence. The FIR given by Omprakash Jatav did not mention Enus as a murder suspect. Court also noted the post mortem report, which said that the boy's injuries were possible only if he had fallen from a height and not because of asphyxiation as previously believed by the police.
Judge Girija Bhardhwaj pronouncing the judgement on September 12, 2021, discharged Mohamad Enus of murder charges and instructed the authorities to set him free, giving him the benefit of the doubt. Advocate Jamuna Prasad Sharma said that it was a historical decision where a poor man had been given justice against all odds.
"Mohamad Enus now lives in Saipau in Dholpur, where his father worked as a labourer. He did not leave any contact number and never called back. No one remembers him now in Roopbas, but his poverty and struggle with the law were enormous. I tried my best to argue his case, and the court accepted our argument that there were many loopholes in the theory put forward by police. Chargesheet had many substantial gaps that the court accepted, and Mohamad Enus was discharged from the case giving the benefit of the doubt," Sharma told 101Reporters.
Judge Bhardwaj also indicted the case's investigation officer for lax investigation and recommended to the district magistrate and Inspector General of Police (Prasanna Kumar Khamesra) of Bharatpur to take action against the erring officials. The court's instructions remain in the official files and are yet to be acted upon, while the IG remained unavailable for comment.
Challenges in accessing legal services
Awareness is the most critical challenge that authorities come across when providing legal help to the needy. Poor and uneducated people are unaware of such services, and even victims such as women and children remain bereft of any legal help.
"RSLSA and district legal aid services are doing great work in Rajasthan. Still, awareness is limited about the right of people to get help if they are not able to afford it. In cases of destitute women, minor children and undertrials, free legal support has provided some relief which seemed an insurmountable task given their situation," said Satyendra Singh Raghav, Additional Advocate General (AAG) in Rajasthan.
Despite this, the number of people under custody seeking legal assistance in Rajasthan has shown an increasing trend in the last four years. In 2018, 2,847 undertrials sought legal aid, which increased to 2,927 in 2019 and 3,841 in 2020. From January to June 2021, 4,696 people have already sought help from the RSLSA.
"We provide legal services to everyone who comes to us and entitled under the Legal Service Authority Act, 1987. We have dedicated the action plan of 2021 for the respect of women, their security and pride," said Poonam Dargan, Director of RSLSA.
Other case studies and data
The RSLSA deals with many cases daily that require immediate intervention. Recently, there was a case of domestic abuse from the Kho Nagoriyan area in Jaipur where two women married to two brothers approached the local police station with a video in which their husbands brutally beat them. Their sister-in-law recorded the incident on August 8, 2021.
The women said that the police refused to register their complaints and turned them away. They then approached RSLSA and, on August 26, the DLSA of Jaipur. The women police station of Jaipur – North registered an FIR against the husbands of both women under sections of dowry harassment the next day.
It is not just women, children, or other victims from impoverished backgrounds who seek legal aid authorities. A 41-year-old woman from Jaipur and currently living in Victoria, Australia, approached the RSLSA in March 2021 through email for legal help.
In her email to RSLSA, the woman said that she had procured a Family Domestic Violence Intervention Order (FIVO) from Moorabin Justice Center in Melbourne to protect herself. She pleaded that she lives with her two sons aged 13 and 19 and that her life is in danger.
The member secretary of RSLSA referred the matter to the Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Civil Rights of Rajasthan, who prepared a thorough report on the woman's complaint. The ADGP concluded that as the complainant had not provided any name or contact number, the police could not pursue a detailed inquiry and hence no action could be taken.
However, on July 1, 2021, the woman sent another email and complained about dowry harassment and physical torture by her husband and this time, she also provided her details and contact information in both India and Australia. RSLSA immediately appointed an advocate, Om Prakash Vashishtha, to provide immediate legal recourse to the woman.
"The woman is being provided with all legal help possible in Jaipur. We are committed to legally supporting all who come to the organisation and request our services," said Ravikant Soni, Deputy Member Secretary of RSLSA.
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