Case History: Isha Khandelwal
Isha Khandelwal is a human rights lawyers and co-founder of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG), an organisation which provides free legal aid to Adivasi people in Bastar, Dantewada, Kanker, Sukma, and Bijapur. A number of Adivasi's have been harassed and accused of having connections to the violent movement linked to the Communist party, known as Maoists or Naxals. Furthermore, JagLAG has been working on cases involving police, such as cases of torture in custody, illegal detention and extra-judicial killings.
On 6 October 2015, human rights lawyers Ms Shalini Gera and Ms Isha Khandelwal learnt about the resolution of the Bastar Bar Association, prohibiting any lawyer who is not registered with the local Bar Council to practice in the Jagdalpur courts.
This resolution, which appears to be unlawful, prevents them from representing their clients in Jagdalpur, as they are registered with the Delhi State Bar Council.
On 6 October 2015, Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal learnt from the local newspapers about the unlawful resolution of the Bastar Bar Association, which greatly effects their human right work. The resolution, which was passed on 3 October at their general meeting of the Bastar Bar Association, prohibits any lawyer who is not registered with the Chhattisgarh Bar Council to practice before the Jagdalpur Courts. Thus it prevents the human rights lawyers from representing their clients in Jagdalpur, as they are registered with the Delhi State Bar Council. The request of JagLAG to receive a copy of the resolution was refused by the Bar.
All lawyers practising in India are registered with the regional Bar Council, which is a statutory body with legal authority to set its own rules regarding the criteria to practice law in that region. The Bar Council of Chhattisgarh region, which includes Bastar, allows outside lawyers to practise in the region under the condition that their legal credentials are countersigned by a local lawyer. The local Bar Associations, like the Bastar Bar Association, have no authority to overrule the regional Bar Council regulations and to prevent a lawyer from practising in any court in the country under the Section 30 of the Advocates Act of India. The recent resolution of the Bastar Bar Association thus appears to be unlawful.
This resolution is believed to be connected to the work of Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal, in particular their work in cases involving the police. Among their clients is human rights journalist, Mr Santosh Yadav, who has been falsely accused of connections to Naxals and held in detention in South Bastar since his arrest on 29 September 2015. While in detention he has been physically abused by police officers.
Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal have suffered repeated harassment due to their work in the region. They have both received personal anonymous threats. Anonymous police complaints have been lodged against them on the grounds that they do not possess the required legal credentials. Subsequently, the Bastar Police began an inquiry and did not close the procedure despite the fact that the human rights lawyers had presented their documentation.