Small Talk With George Pulikuthiyil

CHANGE leaders do great things, and often that is all we know about them. Here we want to get a different glimpse of the personalities that constitute the development space. Every month we get one leader to answer four questions, not necessarily about their work, but about themselves. This week we catch up with George Pulikuthiyil, founder of Jananeethi.

Being a lawyer, George Pulikuthiyil has witnessed how access to justice is closely linked to affordability. People who barely manage to meet their basic expenses can’t afford legal help which can often lead to a lifetime of suffering. George founded Jananeethi to address this and provide free legal aid to underprivileged people.

The Kerala-based organisation has a victim-centered approach and focuses on empowering the disadvantaged through legal as well as psycho-social support.

Small Change:  Why does this cause matter to you? Why now in particular?

George Pulikuthiyil: I believe that justice is a fundamental right of every human being. But that is not being practiced. You get justice if you can get a high profile lawyer who charges exorbitant fees to fight your case. So, underprivileged people can’t afford that which often results in them not getting justice. After witnessing this as a lawyer, I started offering my services for free to the people who couldn’t afford lawyers. With that in mind, I started Jananeethi to ensure marginalised people have access to justice. And this is the need of the hour!

SC:  Who/What inspires you the most?

GP: There are many! First, Dr N R Madhava Menon inspired me to pursue law so that I could devote my entire life for the defence of the defenceless. He introduced the very idea of para-legal volunteering (he called it barefoot lawyers) in order to popularise legal literacy among common people.

He always encouraged activists like me to enter into the field of legal activism so that legal services could be better democratised and brought to the doorstep of common people.

Second, Professor K G Sankara Pillai, one of the most brilliant university teachers and educationists we have had in Kerala. He is more known as a great poet in Malayalam literature. He proposed the naming of our organisation, Jananeethi. He beautifully synchronises human rights and culture, upholding them as great democratic values.

Some recent judgments of The Supreme Court of India have also greatly inspired me and have given me much energy to live for many more years to work emphatically on the lines those judgments. I also have to mention the resilience of people in Kerala, especially during the recent devastating floods.  It has restored my faith in the ultimate good of human coexistence.

SC:  If you could invite three famous people, living or dead, to your dinner party, who would they be and why?

GP: Well, it is difficult to limit to three but I would invite Medha Patkar as I see her as the hope of our democracy and constitution; Aruna Roy, whose efforts played a big role in getting the Right to Information Act passed by the Indian Parliament and inspired many to fight against corruption; and Advocate Prashant Bhushan who has become an icon for all lawyers who hold their values close to them.

SC: What is your least and most favourite thing about humanity?

GP: My least favourite thing about humanity is how people discriminate on the basis of sex, religion, caste, race or colour. Well, I don’t know about the most favourite thing but the rights of every human to be free, independent, dignified, fearless and engaged is most important to me.

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