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Meet The Fierce Lawyers Fighting To Bring Down Section 377

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The Supreme Court hearings on the constitutional validity of Section 377 began on July 10, and since then, ten advocates have appeared before the five-judge Constitutional Bench, representing activists, artists, and civil society members demanding the end of Section 377. At the risk of sounding dramatic, what we see now is that the rights of the LGBTQ community lie in the hands of these 10 lawyers. Let’s get to know them.

Mukul Rohatgi

Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.

The former Attorney General of India was recently appointed as “eminent jurist” on a panel that will appoint members of the Lokpal (a central anti-corruption body). In 2015, he was (rather accidentally) the first to argue in the Supreme Court that the Right to Privacy was not, in fact, guaranteed under the Constitution.

He is appearing for petitioner and classical dancer Navtej Singh Johar.

Anand Grover

Source: YouTube.

A founding member of Lawyers Collective, Grover was among the group of lawyers who tried their best to delay the execution of Yakub Memon, who was suspected to be involved in the 1993 Bombay bombings. His legal activism on HIV-related cases began in the late 80s, and he was the lawyer who won the Delhi High Court case against Section 377 in 2009.

In these hearings, he is appearing for activists Arif Jafar and Ashok Row Kavi, as well as Naz Foundation (who filed the first petition in 2001).

Arvind Datar

The prominent Madras High Court advocate had his beginnings as a tax lawyer and is now one of the biggest names in corporate law. He has published articles, books on Central Excise, and edited an important compendium on the Companies Act. He has been a strong voice against the way the GST was being rolled out, all at once rather than in phases. Datar has also opposed foreign lawyers coming into India to practice.

Datar is appearing for Keshav Suri, head of The Lalit group of hotels, and an openly gay figure.

Menaka Guruswamy

Source: YouTube.

The first Indian to have her portrait displayed at the the Rhodes House, Oxford University, Guruswamy has said “[her] heart is in constitutional law”. he Harvard graduate has also been a Human Rights Consultant for the UN. She has fought a PIL case (filed by Cabinet minister T. S. R. Subramaniam) on the Right to Education, defending the provision that all private schools should take in disadvantaged children. Guruswamy has also fought a case against the Salwa Judum, the state-sponsored militia in Chattisgarh. In 2016, the Supreme Court appointed her amicus curiae in a case concerning fake encounters and extra-judicial killings in Manipur.

She is appearing for IIT students, graduates and alumni.

Chandra Uday Singh

Singh has also responded to foreign lawyers practising in India, saying the Advocates’ Act must firmly regulate any in-flow. With respect to Section 377, the senior advocate said striking down the law was not enough. What was needed was a declaration against orientation-based discrimination. Singh also brought up affirmative action, as a measure used to mainstream marginalised communities.

He is appearing on an intervention application.

Jayna Kothari

Source: YouTube.

A founding member of the Centre for Law and Policy Research in Bangalore, Kothari’s practice has been around the Right to Education, health and housing, gender, disability rights, and environmental law. She has also written a book about disability law in India. Earlier this year, Kothari appeared for the Bengaluru based Child Rights Trust in a case to make the laws against child marriage stronger.

She is appearing for noted trans rights activist Akkai Padmashali.

Krishnan Venugopal

He has raised the fact that Section 377 denies the LGBTQ community the freedom of expression granted to them by the Indian Constitution.

He is appearing for academicians from Central Universities based in Delhi.

Shyam Divan

Divan’s gig is mainly civil litigation across banking, securities law, arbitration, administrative law and environmental law. In January this year, the Supreme Court advocate made strong arguments against the Aadhar card. He has said it “seeks to tether every resident of India to an electronic leash.” In a case against illegal iron ore mining in Karnataka, he was appointed amicus curiae.

He is appearing on behalf of intervenors Voices Against 377.

Saurabh Kirpal

Following the vicious misuse of Section 66A of the IT Act, when Shreya Singhal filed a case which would become one of India’s biggest free-speech judgments, and Kirpal was among the team of lawyers that made it happen.

Kirpal is also appearing for Navtej Singh Johar.

Ashok Desai

Active during the Emergency, Desai was chief consultant in the finance ministry in 1991-93, and Attorney General of India between 1996 and 1998. When theatre actor and playwright Vijay Tendulkar was banned from staging his play “Sakharam Binder”, Desai worked with a team of lawyers to get a stay. The eminent lawyer has been praised by former President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman (before whom Desai argued that Section 377 has “created utter chaos”).

He has been Legal Correspondent at Times of India.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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