TAMIL NADU

Showing the right legal recourse is her forte

S. Senthamarai.R. AshokR_ASHOK

S. Senthamarai.R. AshokR_ASHOK  

This volunteer helps the needy in getting justice

When she is not attending to her duties as the leader of her Self-Help Group Federation at DHAN Foundation, S. Senthamarai can be seen reading legal procedures in India. This 54-year-old legal aid volunteer works twice a week at several clinics stipulated by the District Legal Services Authority. She provides counselling and direction to people belonging to low-income groups, who come to places such as offices of the Commissioner of Police, Superintendent of Police, district court, High Court, Madurai Collectorate and Social Welfare department in search of justice. She tells Sanjana Ganesh that in the six years of volunteering service, she has seen a wide range of helpless people from the lowest rungs of society.

Having come from a humble background herself, she says connecting with their plight came easily. “I struggled to make my children study because my husband had a lot of debts. I joined the DHAN Madurai Federation with several other women from my community. Soon, I picked up and eventually became their leader. The senior people at the DHAN Foundation felt I had legal acumen and sent me for a two-day camp. After that, I began volunteering at Legal Aid Clinics,” she says.

For Ms. Senthamarai, the legal world has been her greatest learning curve yet. Her interest has grown with time, along with apathy for the voiceless. She provides counselling and shows people directions to legal courses. She helps in getting the right guidance for resolving disputes in courts, tribunals or other authorities. She also helps petitioners in finding lawyers who take up their cases pro-bono or for a meagre sum.

She focuses on civil cases such as property disputes, education loan issues and motor accident claims. Her area of interest, however, is women’s welfare. “I once helped a woman whose husband cheated her, sold her kidney, her jewellery and house because he had many loans. He went to Dubai and abandoned her.

When she realised her folly, she went to Dubai in search of him, but could not find him. After some clandestine work at some houses to feed herself and her two children, she was deported as she didn’t have valid documents. “At this stage, I helped her procure Aadhaar and family cards. This case changed my life,” Ms. Senthamarai says.

As a basic piece of legal advice, Senthamarai amma (as she is fondly called), says: “Read all your documents before you put your signature.”

I help petitioners in finding lawyers who take up cases pro bono or for a meagre sum

S. Senthamarai

Legal aid volunteer

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