Investigating Health Facilities in Rural India and Visiting the Supreme Court

It has been a busy couple of weeks travelling on a fact-finding trip in Maharashtra, listening to oral arguments at the Supreme Court of India, attending a World Population Day conference and seeing more of Delhi.

Fact finding in Maharashtra was fascinating. It exceeded my hopes of what lawyering could be. Not only have I learned so much about the reproductive health laws in India, but I actually have the opportunity to go out into the rural villages and investigate how those laws are being implemented.  Myself, a former intern, a lawyer and, at times, a caravan of local social activists visited 18 different health facilities in 4 days. We interviewed delivery and sterilization patients in tiny remote health centers and huge city hospitals. At some, I was impressed with how much can be accomplished with so few resources. At others, the conditions were deplorable and left me with nightmares.

As we drove from town to town, we were shown so much hospitality.  Local activists were excited to show us their hometowns and people we met along the way invited us into their homes for tea and meals. I crawled through underground tunnels in Hindu temples, hiked to the ruins of a fort in tiger habitat, ate fruit I’ve never seen before that was knocked out of a tree by a team of boys and skillfully aimed rocks, and watched villagers catch fish from what looked like an uninhabited puddle by throwing buckets and buckets of water into a hand-held net.

After feeling a little bit stranded when our trip was extended two extra days because all the trains were over booked, and our 17.5 hour train ride home turned into a 21 hour ride, it felt good to return to my home away from home in Delhi.  Back in the office, I have been working hard to write a report of everything we saw on our trip and draft a petition that will be filed in the High Court of Maharashtra.  We will file a case asking the court to order the State to adequately implement the government policies for pregnant women and improve the conditions of its health facilities.

After the two hours it took to get inside, visiting the Supreme Court of India was very exciting.  Piling (literally) 11 lawyers, interns and activists into one car to drive there was hilarious. Waiting in a nonexistent line in a hot, humid crammed room for over an hour to get a pass to enter was not as enjoyable. But eventually I was able to listen to arguments challenging the Juvenile Justice Act of India before the Chief Justice. One lawyer focused heavily on international law and brought up several US cases I studied over the past year for my social justice project working with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. It was a great experience. I am hoping to go back again before I leave to listen to arguments in a case about sex selective abortions which contribute to the very unbalanced ratio of males and females in India.

I also attended a very informative World Population Day conference this week, where the founder of HRLN spoke along with population and health experts, an outnumbered government official and journalists.

Now it is 10:30pm and I must get to bed so that I can leave at 4am tomorrow morning for a weekend getaway to Agra and Jaipur!

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