SHE & the LAW – The Expert Connect

Interview with Tanya Appachu, Lawyer & Social Media Content Creator

The constitution of India has many laws written to secure the rights of an Indian woman. Unfortunately, most women are unaware of these rights and are often subjected to abuse and exploitation. We recently got in touch with Tanya Appachu, a Lawyer who has also been working towards creating awareness about women’s rights and laws on Instagram through her handle – @yourinstalawyer.  She shared with us her experiences, plan for the future, and some beneficial legal information. Read on to know more…

Your short videos on Instagram are indeed a boon to us women. What made you choose Instagram as a platform to communicate something as serious as you do?

I started the page “Yourinstalawyer” with a vision to create legal content for the layman. The objective was to create awareness in a fun and comprehensible way, accessible to women of all ages. Instagram is a fantastic platform that allows you to easily reach out to your target audience. The sheer number of users it has enables anyone to create a small niche for themselves. So the idea was to add value, keep it interesting, short and crisp – & the reels feature on Instagram is just perfect for it. 

Do you think ignorance is the primary cause for women-exploitation in India? How do you think this can be tackled?

Absolutely. If you peek into any typical Indian household, legal and financial issues are usually handled by the Man of the house. Women are rarely involved. Also, our education system doesn’t teach us much about the Indian legal system. Women grow up completely unaware of their rights and are wary of taking action when required or in trouble. Add to it the social stigma surrounding the police, making it difficult for women to reach out and take action. 

I think the best way to tackle this is to spread awareness. I believe that basic laws and financial management should be introduced at the high school level instead of those boring moral science lectures that barely help anyone! With an education system like that, any Indian woman with even just the primary education will be armed with practical life tips that can help her in times of distress.

Once you are aware of your rights, you will stand up for them and against anyone who tries to exploit them.

What do you think are the five laws every woman in India must be aware of?

  • Every woman has the right to marry a person of her choice, and no one can force her into a marriage. Forced marriages are illegal in the country.
  • Whether married or not, every woman has an equal right to Father’s ancestral property just as a son. 
  • If you cannot afford a lawyer, you have the right to free legal aid provided by the Government. You can reach out to the Legal Services Department office in the respective District or High Courts. 
  • Abortion is legal in India (within 20 weeks of pregnancy)
  • A woman cannot be arrested or called to the Police Station before sunrise or after sunset, and a male police officer cannot touch her for any reason. A woman can only be searched or inspected by female police. 

How can a woman file a police complaint in India?

A woman can go to the local Police Station in the jurisdiction of which the crime has occurred and file a complaint. She can also file a complaint via email or registered post to the city’s ACP or DCP if she is not comfortable going to the Police Station. A woman can file a complaint in any Police Station regardless of where the crime occurred. This is known as the Zero FIR.

Also, some city police departments have their own websites where you can file a complaint online.

What amounts to a punishable workplace harassment?

Any unwelcome act or behavior either directly or implied includes:

  • Physical contact or advances.
  • Demanding or requesting sexual favors.
  • Making sexually colored remarks.
  • Showing pornography.

It also includes any of these acts done with a promise of preferential treatment or detrimental treatment at work – e.g., promising a promotion in return for sexual favors or threatening not to promote or creating a hostile work environment for a woman also accounts for harassment. 

You can reach out to your HR or Internal Compliance Committee at your workplace. You can also register an FIR in case your workplace is refusing to take any action. 

Internet safety is a buzz topic everywhere these days. How free are women to enjoy the web without the worries of being harassed? How should one go about dealing with harassment on social media platforms?

Nowadays, the Internet is a common place for trollers, body shamers, and stalkers to harass women. Real-life harassers and stalkers now have a new outlet in the virtual world. The anonymity lets people get away with anything. Women should be aware that many legal provisions protect them from such harassers and stalkers online. They should be aware that they have the right to take action against them. And nothing should stop you from being themselves and doing what they want on the Internet. 

The Information Technology Act was notified in 2005 to deal with cyber-crimes, and the provisions of IPC also comes to the rescue of women dealing with harassment on the Internet. 

Actions to take in case of harassment on social media:

  • Block – if someone is sending you hurtful msgs, trolling you, or being hateful, simply block them from accessing your account and your mental space.
  • Report- Report the matter on the social media platform you use. Also, ask your family and friends to report the account and amplify the issue. 
  • File a complaint with the Cyber Crime Cell.

A complaint can be filed online in cybercrime.gov.in, which is the Government portal for filing a complaint. You can always go to the nearest police station to file a complaint, and the same will be transferred to the cyber cell. 

In case of trolling, one can also file a defamation case under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. 

Domestic violence is prevalent in India and 86% never seek help, and 77% don’t even mention it to anyone. How can women be encouraged to talk about this and fight it legally? Is it a battle that women can win?

Women have been taught to brush violence at home under the rug. They often watch their mothers enduring violence at home and normalizing it; they grow up thinking they should do the same. The social stigma around reaching out for help and maintaining the reputation in the society are some of the other reasons women tolerate abuse in their own homes. 

Women can be encouraged to talk about this only by awareness. They have to be made aware of the fact that being abused at home is not normal, and they do not have to tolerate it. They also have to be made aware of the legal protection available to them.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act gives women many civil reliefs in the form of the right to residence, right to maintenance, protection orders, etc. They also have the option of filing an FIR for cruelty and the return of stridhan

And yes, of course! Women can win this battle. It is going to cost them their marriage probably. But, staying single and happy is way better than staying in an abusive marriage. 

According to you, what is the greatest triumph of your career so far, and how did you make it happen?

I was part of one of the big four consultants, and entering the field of social media content creation was a bit daunting for me and completely out of my comfort zone. 

When women and really young girls reach out to me and tell me that the information from one of my videos on Instagram helped them take a stand in their marriage or face their abuser and take action against them, it makes me really happy! Probably happier than getting a promotion at work. The fact that I can reach out to a few people and make a difference in their lives is my biggest and most satisfying triumph. 

As independent as we women are, we all have our support system. Tell us about yours…

My mom is my biggest critique, and my husband, who always pushes me to try new things, is my biggest support system. I couldn’t do anything without the both of them. 

What are your plans next?

In the future, I want to create more engaging and informative content and reach out to more people on Instagram. I also want to start legal aid cells for armed personnel and their families. This has been on my mind for a long time now. (I happen to be married to an Army Officer, hence the thought!) I’ve often seen that since they spend a lot of time in remote places, armed forces personnel have many legal issues back home to deal with and are taken easy advantage of. I want to do my bit to help them out. 

A long term plan would be to settle down somewhere and start my own practice in the field of marital laws, women’s rights, and child protection.