Queer Friendly Lawyers Network (QFLN) - West Bengal is a legal advocacy initiative of Varta Trust, Kolkata to bring together lawyers, paralegal workers, teachers and students of law, human rights workers and legal aid agencies to develop an effective response system against the rights violations faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer people in West Bengal.
These violations may occur on grounds of non-normative sexual orientations, gender identities, sexual behaviours, sexual / romantic relationships or other gender and sexuality markers. They may occur also in combination with discrimination around class, occupation, caste, race, religion or disability. QFLN - West Bengal is therefore also a forum for sharing experiences, clarifying doubts, networking and learning from each other on a wide variety of legal and associated issues concerning queer people.
This forum was created in the run-up to December 11, 2014, the first anniversary of the Supreme Court verdict that reinstated Section 377, Indian Penal Code. Given the continued rights violations faced by queer people even after Section 377 was finally read down by the apex court on September 6, 2018, this forum is a reminder that the struggle ahead for social equity has to be a collaborative effort, which will make the journey as rewarding as it is challenging!
QFLN - West Bengal Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/qfln.westbengal
This initiative, also called Project Varta: Expanding Queer Friendly Legal Aid in West Bengal, started with preliminary activities (monthly meetings) in April 2018. It is a part of the activities of QFLN - West Bengal. Our collaborators in this initiative include several queer support groups and networks in West Bengal. From October 2018 till January 2021, the initiative received support also from SAATHII, Chennai and CREA, Delhi – both NGOs working on gender, sexuality, public health and social justice issues.
Project goal: To run one or more legal aid support groups to promote greater access to legal literacy and legal remedy among queer communities in West Bengal so that they can protect themselves from human rights violations primarily in relation to their gender and sexuality and claim their rights from the State through legal means.
a) To create a pool of lawyers across all districts of West Bengal who are well sensitized on queer issues.
b) To identify individuals from queer communities who will be able to work as paralegal volunteers and act as coordination points for various legal advocacy activities in different districts of West Bengal.
c) To conduct district-level monthly (or bi-monthly) meetings of the support group(s) wherever feasible to bring together lawyers, paralegal volunteers and members of the queer communities to share problems being faced and work out best possible and sustainable socio-legal solutions to the problems.
d) To create simple but accurate communication material (print, audio-visual, online) that will provide essential legal literacy support to queer people in West Bengal.
Attention! See short films developed under the project on key Supreme Court verdicts: On the NALSA verdict on transgender identities and rights of April 2014 here; on the verdict reading down Section 377 irreversibly in September 2018 here.
e) To provide litigation support to queer individuals in West Bengal using a dedicated strategy in lower courts, High Courts, Supreme Court and other judicial or quasi-judicial forums based on: (i) Writ petitions; (ii) Public interest litigations; (iii) Applications for compensation under the West Bengal Victim Compensation Scheme 2017 or any other welfare schemes under the central or state government and; (iv) Civil or criminal litigation depending on the specific factum of the cases.
Attention! See example of legal aid success achieved by the project in Shampa Singha Vs. State of West Bengal & Others (January 2019), in which the Calcutta High Court ruled that consensual cohabitation between two adults of the same sex or gender cannot be illegal.
f) To conduct research on socio-legal issues that concern queer people in West Bengal in collaboration with other agencies, researchers and students of law, media and social sciences.
g) To use the website of Varta Trust to document project activities and progress; act as a repository of legal information useful for queer people, lawyers and researchers; provide an online face to the project; and through a link to the QFLN - West Bengal Facebook group, facilitate a public information, discussion and networking forum on issues related to the project activities.