New Delhi: On June 13, the Central Bureau of Investigation filed an FIR against Anand Grover and Lawyers Collective for alleged violations of rules related to NGOs receiving foreign funds.
Grover and his partner Indira Jaising, both senior advocates, have been at the forefront of public interest and civil rights litigation in India. Several Indian lawyers have cut their teeth doing human rights work as a part of Lawyers Collective since 1981. Their work has had implications around the world.
Between the two of them, they have contributed to the legal field in India for close to 80 years.
Jaising has also been the additional solicitor general of India and was awarded the Padma Shri in 2004. She was one of the first women to be designated a senior advocate by the Bombay high court in 1986 and in 2008, she was elected to the UN’s committee against discrimination of women. Grover has been the UN special rapporteur on the right to health for six years.
The allegation that Lawyers Collective flouted norms to accept foreign donations was first made by the BJP government in 2015. While it subsided for a bit, with the Bombay high court issuing an interim stay on any penal action against the NGO, it has been resurrected again by a new petition, filed by a lawyer who is allegedly part of the BJP’s legal cell.
We will resist this attack most foul pic.twitter.com/HlYJUHYBZI
— indira jaising (@IJaising) June 18, 2019
This notwithstanding, what kind of good work have Jaising and Grover been involved in over the last few decades of their work?
Some of India’s most pivotal cases in the areas of gender justice, sexuality and non-discrimination, labour rights and healthcare provision have been fought by Jaising and Grover.
Most prominently and recently, Grover argued the petition to decriminalise Section 377, which has been a tool for the harassment of queer people in India. Jaising was also a part of the allegations of sexual harassment against the current chief justice of India being made public (along with her website The Leaflet, the investigation was also published by The Wire, Caravan and Scroll.in).
Gender and sexuality
Section 377 was finally decriminalised by the Supreme Court last September. The historic decision read down a colonial-era law that criminalised “unnatural sex” and was used disproportionately to harass members of India’s queer community. Grover represented the Naz Foundation, which brought the original challenge to court in 2001 and had been fighting the case for 17 years.
“Anand has worked sincerely for years for the LGBTQI community and for HIV/AIDS. He took no money from us, he did it pro bono. His work has had such far reaching effects for the community. There is no question on his commitment,” says Anjali Gopalan of the Naz Foundation. “He still takes up cases of rights of people with HIV and of people from the LGBTQI community.”
Long before #MeToo, Jaising successfully argued the case of sexual harassment faced by IAS officer Rupan Bajaj Deol in 1996. Former DGP of Punjab K.P.S. Gill was convicted in the case.
In 1986, Jaising won a landmark case representing Mary Roy, author Arundhati Roy’s mother. The case gave Syrian Christian women equal property rights in India.
She also fought the case of Gita Hariharan, noted author, and Vandana Shiva, acclaimed environmentalist, winning a verdict that said the mother, and not just the father, can be the “natural guardian” of a child. They challenged the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act.
Explaining the impacts of her case, Hariharan told The Wire, “After the victory in my case, I heard from so many women about how it helped them. The judgement set a precedent, helping women in situations different from mine – wanting to leave a bad marriage, fighting for custody and so on. It was also a powerful signal that we need not take this unconstitutional protection of patrimony.”
She says she is “very proud to be associated with their work” and that she “didn’t spend a rupee on the case”. “Indira said, ‘Of course Lawyers Collective would do my case for free’, but I would need to help them with research. I learnt so much. I was not just a client for them, I was a junior soldier,” says Hariharan.
Jaising was also part of the drafting of the ‘Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005’ and campaigned for it as well.
She recently argued the case against instant triple talaq in the Supreme Court as well as the petition regarding the entry of women into the Sabrimala temple in Kerala.
“The impact of seeing a woman like Indira Jaising in the public sphere, the impact of seeing her speak up on behalf of us, on a variety of issues, as a feminist activist and lawyer, speak up for equality and democracy even in the Supreme Court… All this has a bold and energising effect on young women in India,” says Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association.
In 1985, Jaising and Grover fought for the rights of pavement dwellers against eviction and the loss of livelihood. This was triggered by a decision of the Maharashtra government in 1981 to evict them. A prominent journalist, Olga Tellis, was one of the petitioners on behalf of the pavement dwellers.
Tellis said, “The case also spawned a lot of interest in fighting for housing as a fundamental right.”
HIV/AIDS, TB, healthcare
“Incredibly important global leaders in global AIDS response” is how Matthew Kavanagh describes Grover and Lawyers Collective. Kavanagh is currently director of the Global Health Policy and Governance Initiative at Georgetown University.
Grover found his niche fighting various cases that made it possible for Indians to access affordable healthcare and without discrimination.
He continues to fight these cases and in 2017, was able to successfully get access to a life-saving TB drug, bedaquiline, for a young Indian woman with drug-resistant TB. The woman died soon after winning the case, but it caused the Indian government to roll back their procedure of giving the drug only in five big cities and begin larger distribution.
A watershed case which Grover won was the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Novartis case in 2013. The Swiss pharmaceutical giant wanted a patent for its life-saving cancer drug Glivec. The Indian Supreme Court dismissed it. This case was vital as it strengthened Indian patent law which allows India to continue to supply cheap generic drugs to countries around the world, saving millions of lives.
“Mr Grover and the Lawyers Collective work has been truly global, supporting the AIDS response not just in India but throughout Asia and in Africa and Latin America. The series of cases they worked on in India set a global standard against discrimination for people living with HIV. Other cases helped build the global legal norm that HIV treatment is not only an imperative, which they showed at a time with the Indian government and others were saying it was too costly, but also a core human right. Their work was also essential on bringing down the cost of AIDS drugs by over 99%. Without their work on creating and maintaining pro-health patent laws, it is likely the Indian generic versions of key ARVs that are used throughout the world to keep people alive would not be available,” says Kavanagh.
“The work of Lawyers Collective has formed the backbone of the civil society and even the state’s response to challenges of gender equality, Violence Against Women, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, access to medicines and treatment and the rights of Sexual and Gender Minorities,” says a petition being circulated by the Labia Collective.
Shamnad Basheer, legal scholar on patent issues and founder of an organisation that works on legal diversity, says, “I can tell you that Anand is a phenomenal lawyer, excellent at his craft and standing for the highest level of integrity. I’ve witnessed his work first hand in a number of patent and access to medicine cases including the Novartis litigation in the Supreme Court and the Bayer vs Nexavar compulsory licensing case. He is one of our heroes, as is Indira Jaisingh and her fearless work in court on countless issues of public interest. Both represent the highest traditions of the law and public interest lawyering.”
Grover has also fought individual cases of medical negligence. One of his clients, Shishir Chand, has been fighting against a doctor at Tata Hospital in Jamshedpur over the death of his brother. “It is because of lawyers like Mr Anand Grover that a common man like me can hold people in power accountable. Otherwise the entire criminal justice system of our country is broken and a victim pitted against the powerful and influential is further victimised in his quest for justice,” says Chand.
About a week before the CBI’s FIR against her partner Grover and Lawyers Collective, Jaising got bail from the Gauwhati high court for Kargil war veteran Sanaullah. He was suddenly declared a “foreign national” by Assam’s foreigner tribunal as part of the country’s National Register of Citizens project.
Thanks Aman and I remember the feeling of high at the moment of justice when we got bail for SanaUllah with you B Sayeed and HRA Choudhry https://t.co/6IWqTcADv1
— indira jaising (@IJaising) June 18, 2019
Recently, Jaisingh has represented Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, in a petition about the spate of lynchings related to cows by “gau rakshaks”.
She is also representing Surendra Gadling, one of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case.
In 2015, she won the right for Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai to fly to London for a conference. Pillai was disallowed by the Modi government to leave the country to address a gathering where she was going to talk about India’s coal mining activities in Madhya Pradesh and the destabilisation of tribal communities in the area.
“When the government arbitrarily ‘offloaded’ me from my flight, Jaising took my case up pro-bono. It was not just a win for me personally, but also a victory for those who dare to speak up against the state. The court upheld the right to freedom of speech and expression and said that it includes the right to criticise and dissent, which is an important pillar of democracy, especially when a majoritarian government is ruling the country,” says Pillai.