By Matters India Reporter
New Delhi, Dec. 29, 2018: It was in the second week of December that advocate Jose Abraham received a call from the Austrian Embassy in Delhi requesting for a meeting.
The subsequent meeting made things different for ever for the Pravasi Legal Cell, a New Delhi-based NGO Abraham founded some ten years ago to provide free legal aid to needy individuals.
The embassy officials presented him the case of Martina Kropej, an Austrian citizen in custody in Kerala for overstaying. She was arrested in 2016 for staying in the state additional five days after her visa had expired. She was placed in the women’s prison in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital.
The arrest and the conditions in the jail made Martina sick, physically and emotionally, and she was subsequently moved to a correctional home. Owing to her condition, she failed to communicate with the Austrian embassy and seek proper legal aid. She stayed for almost two years in the correctional home without being represented adequately before a court of law.
Finally, the officials at the correctional home wrote to the embassy informing them about Martina’s plight. The embassy wanted to help but found it difficult to reach legal help some 3,000 kilometers away, and the language was a barrier too.
That is when the embassy officials got in touch with the Pravasi Legal Cell that had helped hundreds get justice in the past one decade. It has the reputation of taking up many social and legal concerns before the Supreme Court and various High Courts in India.
The cell’s request to the authorities was plain – help Martina, who has only an ailing mother at home, celebrate Christmas at her home this year. It was already mid December, but the mission started immediately.
The cell with help of lawyers from its Kerala chapter coordinated between the court, police and administration to secure Martina’s release in less than a week’s time. Wolfgang Gröblacher, her consul, traveled to Kerala to be present at the court with the advocates and to encourage Martina.
The embassy also arranged for tickets and other logistics. Martina was sent home on December 21 – well in time for her to celebrate Christmas with her mother.
“It is irrational to keep a foreign national in jail for years at the tax men’s expenses on account of overstaying in India for a few days alone,” Abraham told Matters India on December 29. “We are planning to approach the Supreme Court seeking direction for a change in the law.”
Since its inception, the cell has taken up diverse matters requiring the attention of the court or the government.
They include issues such as the labor-bond system of nurses, problems associated with Non Resident Indian (NRI) marriages, discrimination of students at Delhi University, NRIs’ exclusion from the RTI (Right to Information) Act, repatriation of mortal remains, and violation of individuals’ rights. Lawyers from the cell have taken them up before the concerned authorities.
Though the cell primarily focuses on the legal needs of migrant Indians, both domestic and International, it now looks forward to extend services to foreign national in India as well.
“Association with the Austrian Embassy worked as an awakening for us – an awakening to the plights of foreign nationals in Indian prisons,” said Bins Sebastian, the cell’s general secretary. “The nationality of the migrants does not matter when it comes to exploitation and legal troubles. We are already in touch with a few embassies in Delhi,” he told Matters India.
This year’s Christmas was special also for the Pravasi Legal Cell and the Austrian Embassy in India.
The Austrian media, both print and online, prominently published how the cell had helped Martina celebrate Christmas with her mother after two years.