India’s Legal Aid System Needs More Female Paralegals, Monitoring

Manish Chandra Mishra | Feb 10, 2020 | 4 min read


For a 26-year-old woman from rural Madhya Pradesh, government's legal aid mechanism has been nothing more than a disinterested agency merely going through the motions instead of being helpful.


Akshara (name changed), hailing from a small village in Dewas district, has accused a man of promising marriage, getting sexually involved and then abandoning her. Under Indian laws, this amounts to rape. However, Akshara faced immense difficulties in initiating criminal proceedings against the accused. She learnt about her local District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) and sought help there, only to end up disappointed again

DLSAs are district-level legal aid clinics of the government, formed under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, to provide free and competent legal help to the weaker sections of the society. Such clinics exist at the national and state levels too. 

Akshara's experience with DLSA shows these clinics are failing to discharge their function in letter and spirit.

It was a year ago when she realised that the man she believed would be her husband was, in fact, sexually exploiting her and did not intend to marry her. She approached the women's police station to file a case but the police did not register a First Information Report. She said she then approached the district collector, which is where she learnt about the DLSA.

However, getting in touch with the DLSA was far from the end of her woes. 

Unhelpful lawyer

"It's been one year but I'm still seeking proper legal support. The lawyer was not very interested in my case and he even refused to frame charges of rape and advised me to file a domestic violence case instead. Who knows better than me about what happened to me! Police had also denied taking a complaint of rape and that's why I was seeking the intervention of the court. Somehow, I managed to convince the lawyer to file my case under relevant sections for rape and violence," she explained.

Repeatedly blaming her lawyer's disinterested handling of her case, she said: "If you want to know my views about the legal aid, I would say it is useless and there is no proper communication between beneficiaries and the appointed lawyer. I had to go to the DLSA office every day to know the status of my case. If I could afford a private lawyer, they must have advised me something more."

Samroz Khan, Additional District and Session Judge, and secretary of DLSA explained how the authority works. He said, "We provide legal aid in two ways: one through our empaneled lawyers and the other through paralegal volunteers. In this way, we extend our support to those people who need support out of the court such as for making ration cards and availing of government's schemes."

Khan added that the work is challenging. He said, "A lot of people are not aware of our services. We try to make common people aware about the legal aid facility. Most of the time, our lawyers get cases of undertrial prisoners who do not have the resources to hire a lawyer."

Responding to Akshara’s complaint, he said the DLSA ensures a lawyer fights the case with best of his/her knowledge, efforts, and understanding but the court is all about evidence. “Sometimes, if we lose a case, it is very obvious that the beneficiary feels that the lawyers have not worked hard. However, we ensure that lawyers put their 100% efforts in all the cases."

Rajendra Pipaliya, a legal activist associated with a non-government organisation Jan Sahab, is of the view that the DLSAs fail to meet their objective of providing sound legal help. He said there is a lack of awareness about legal aid services and people in remote areas are not educated about them at all.

Low-hanging fruits

Pipaliya works with people who need legal aid and his observation is that it is difficult to get proper help in cases such as those of atrocity against backward castes and crimes against women. “I feel that people associated with the authority sometimes refuse to take such cases. It is not about discrimination, but something else. These types of cases need more effort and time and people do not want to invest a lot of effort in these cases, and ask for easy cases instead," he opined.

Sangita Sarsiya, a paralegal volunteer associated with Bhopal DLSA, said the inflow of cases is huge. "We play the role of gatekeeper and talk to people who need legal aid. Most of the time, we found that the case can be resolved out of court. People are not aware of the legal aid and our role becomes important for awareness purposes. I have been working as a volunteer for six years and despite the lack of staff, I'm able to handle cases properly," he said.

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