Jan Sahas: Helping victims of violence in India demand justice

Every day, we are inspired by the human rights activists who demand dignity for the most vulnerable members of their communities.

Jan Sahas, based in India, is one such organization. In the face of abuse and intimidation, Jan Sahas champions opportunity for women and girls known as Dalits, or “untouchables.” Because of their low placement in the caste system, Dalit women are often targets for abuse and sexual assault. Normally the legal system would turn a blind eye to these crimes, but Jan Sahas works to hold perpetrators to account.

Not only does Jan Sahas demand justice for these women, but they also train them to help other victims by serving as travelling legal advocates, informally known as “barefoot lawyers.” Through this life-changing model, Dalit women are breaking free from the chains of the abusive caste system and building a new life for themselves—on their terms.

Jan Sahas staff know that survivors of violence have the courage and ability to fight against the injustices they have experienced; all they need is the guidance to bring their cases to court. And that’s exactly what Jan Sahas provides—the legal, psychosocial, and medical support victims need to bring their perpetrators to justice.

Once their cases are heard, survivors then use their unique experience to help others on the road to healing. Once victims themselves, these women become social advocates for others—women just like Aditi.*

On a dark, spring morning at 3am, Aditi was raped by her neighbor. Afterwards, the rapist threatened to kill Aditi if she reported him to the police. But in the face of intimidation, Aditi defied his threats, bravely reporting the crime to the police. When her case was ignored by the authorities, Jan Sahas stepped in to help. They provided Aditi legal counsel through every stage of her case, including supporting her as she testified against her rapist in court.

Outrageously, the court refused to convict the rapist, making Aditi’s one of the 72% of rape cases in India in which the accused is acquitted – often despite overwhelming evidence of guilt. But Aditi has not given up on justice. She appealed to the high court and is now awaiting a decision.

In the meantime, Aditi is helping other victims as a barefoot lawyer. Jan Sahas prepared Aditi with education in how the law applies to violence against women.  Now, she counsels women who need her guidance and perspective more than ever.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of individuals in this piece.