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  • Writer's pictureSailesh Mishra

Humans of Pink Innings - Flavia Agnes

Meet Flavia Agnes an Indian women's rights lawyer with expertise in marital, divorce and property law. Her own experience with domestic violence inspired her to become a women's rights lawyer. A pioneer of the women’s movement, she has worked consistently on issues of gender and law reforms. As co-founder of MAJLIS, a legal and cultural resource centre, her primary engagement has been to provide quality legal services to women and children.

The Women Warrior

Majlis is committed to the protection and promotion of women and children’s through legal representation, advocacy and training since last 27 years. Majlis was registered as a society and Public Trust in 1991. At that time the concept of undertaking legal presentation on behalf of exclusively women had not yet become established and hence the work of Majlis was pioneering. Today the concept is well established. Majlis has provided litigation support to more than 50,000 women and given legal advice to three times this number. Majlis has many success stories of securing women’s and children’s rights and has received many awards for this pioneering work. Many documentary films have been produced on Majlis work as well as the life and struggles of Flavia Agnes’ personal journey. Majlis is an all women organization comprising of lawyers and support persons. Most women and children who approach us are from under privileged background and marginalized sections. Majlis over the years has extended to provide socio legal support to victims of domestic violence and sexual violence.We believe in creating awareness through community based programs and also publications.

The motivation to work with abused and violated women and children has come from my own personal experience. Being a victim of acute domestic violence and having endured it for 13 long years and raising three children in this environment, I have felt very acutely the lack of support system to help women rebuild their broken lives. So along with my own personal struggle and my own legal case, I also pursued my studies, graduated at a late stage in my life and later became a lawyer with a single-minded dedication to fill up this great void that existed in the early eighties. I became part of the fledgling women’s movement and became part of a campaign group that demanded legal reforms to secure women’s rights.But while bringing in the much-needed reforms was not easy, implementing these laws on the ground so that women who most needed the protection of these laws were able to actually approach the courts to secure these rights was and continues to be a herculean task. Majlis took on this challenge and was able to provide a model that could be followed by other groups.Over the years we were able to build a dedicated team to carry forward this work despite all the challenges we faced. I published an autobiographical account of my struggle titled, My Story ... Our Story of Rebuilding Broken Lives which is an inspirational story which has reached thousands of battered women and helped them to change their lives.

The social impact of my work is that today Majlis has become a household name nationally and also received recognition internationally in the area of protecting the rights women and children. We have built several collaborations with state and non-state agencies working in the area women’s and children’s rights. We have brought in certain sensitivity to issues of women’s rights among the judges in the family courts in Mumbai by constantly highlighting lapses and insensitivity on the part of the judges to the notice of higher judiciary. We have conducted trainings of around 6000 police officials in the middle and lower level and trained them on the provisions of the new child friendly statute. The Prevention of Children from Sexual Assault (POCSO) Act of 2012, which has several positive guidelines for investigating sexual assault against children and we closely monitor the system while helping victims in their legal journey and bring lapses to the notice of the higher officials so that systemic changes take place. We also guide the Protection Officers appointed under the Domestic Violence Act so that they are able to fulfill their assigned role in helping victims to access the system. We also work with Child Welfare Committees in Mumbai City and Suburbs so that a victim of sexual abuse can be provided a safe shelter and her needs get fulfilled.

Transforming victims into survivors by providing quality legal services is the motto of the organization. Achieving this goal has not been easy. It requires perseverance, dedication and rigor, especially at a time when the concept of women’s rights and gender justice had not yet been established. Issues such as protection against domestic violence, right to reside in the matrimonial home, child sexual abuse, etc. were terms which were not heard even by our courts. But working consistently over the years, we were able to secure the rights of women and children around these issues and make these terms very popular not just in our courts but in society at large. Through sustained campaigns the women’s movement and the child rights movement in India were able to bring about some important statutes like the Protection of women from Domestic Violence Act and Protection of Child from Sexual Assault Act which rendered our task a bit easier. Having an all women litigation team was also a novel idea which was unheard of, since lawyering is generally considered a male bastion. But we were able to challenge these established patriarchal norms and chart out a new course of action. Our team of lawyers and support persons was able to reach out to violated women and children in a sensitive manner and provide holistic socio-legal support.

“I don’t want everybody to be a lawyer. I want everybody to understand the law.”

As Narrated to Tanvi Mane.

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