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Giving a voice to the voiceless, Jayashree Satpute stands up and fights for women

Kavita Charanji| New Delhi 15 Apr 2011, Vol 2 Issue 15

As a young school-going girl in the small town of Chandrapur, a three-hour drive from Nagpur, Maharashtra, Jayashree Satpute would never have imagined that one day she would be declared an inspiration for women around the world. But recently, the name of Satpute, 31, who is a New Delhi-based human rights lawyer and an activist, figured among the five Indians who had been selected to be part of the 'World's Top 100 Inspirational Women' by 'The Guardian', a prestigious UK-based newspaper.

Of course, Satpute, who is an advocate in the Delhi High Court as well as the Supreme Court, believes that with this distinction, a greater responsibility now rests on her young shoulders. "I will have to be very careful in raising important legal and social issues at national and international forums. However, as I see it, I am now a representative of women who have no voice and my aim will be to see that the State delivers a woman's entitlements, be it vis-a-vis health rights, domestic violence, or sexual harassment at the work place," she says emphatically.

On top of the world: Leading UK based newspaper 'The Guardian' has chosen Jayashree Sutpate in its  list of 'World's Top 100 Inspirational Women'  (Photo: Women’s Feature Service) 

In her capacity as the head of litigation with the NGO Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), Satpute is also the guiding force behind the organisation's initiatives in areas as diverse as the rights of the disabled, juveniles, the HIV/AIDS afflicted, housing rights, criminal justice and the right to information. Lately, she has even turned her attention to environmental justice and the reproductive rights of women.

Several of the lawsuits she has spearheaded have led to landmark judgements in both the Delhi High Court and the Apex court. Notable among them is a Supreme Court judgement that has upheld the right to employment of people with cerebral palsy, calling for sensitive handling of cases of the disabled.

More recently, Satpute has worked closely with the HRLN's Reproductive Rights Unit in the case of Laxmi, a destitute woman who died in August 2010 on a pavement in the crowded locality of Connaught Place in central Delhi, after giving birth to a baby girl. For four days before her death, Laxmi lay on the ground as hundreds of apathetic passersby stepped over her until she eventually succumbed to septicaemia.

The Delhi High Court took the petition suo motu and appointed the HRLN lawyers as amicus curiae a few days after Laxmi's death. Later, the Delhi High Court, in a first of its kind judgement in the world, held maternal mortality as a human rights violation. The court went on to pronounce that the government of NCT of Delhi must demarcate or hire or create at least two shelter centres for destitute pregnant women and lactating mothers so that no "destitute woman is compelled to give birth to a child on the footpath".

For Satpute, it's been a long journey from Chandrapur to Delhi. She did her schooling from Vidya Niketan in Chandrapur and then, encouraged by her father, Purshottam Satpute, a senior advocate in the Chandrapur district court, she went on to study at the Babasaheb Ambedkar University College of Law in Nagpur. Spreading her wings further, she did her LLM in International Law from City University, London, going on to do an internship with the Coalition for the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Finally, four years ago she came to Delhi to work as an advocate.

Besides fighting for women's rights, Satpute is a juvenile justice lawyer as well. In addition, she provides legal aid to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-recognised refugees (this programme is part of HRLN). "I deal with cases relating to refugees that come to India from countries as diverse as Somalia, Myanmar, Sudan and Afghanistan, who may have a protection problem. It could be problems with landlords, threats from locals or any other kind of legal trouble," she says.

Incidentally, apart from the recent honour, last year Satpute was selected as one of the seven young advocates from developing countries to attend the prestigious Women: Inspiration & Enterprise Symposium in New York, USA.
 
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