Colin Gonsalves

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Colin Gonsalves
Born (1952-05-24) May 24, 1952 (age 65)
Residence New Delhi, India
Nationality Indian
Alma mater IIT, Mumbai (B.Tech)
University of Mumbai (LLB)
Occupation Senior advocate, Supreme Court of India
Known for Founder, Human Rights Law Network
Co-Convenor, Indian People's Tribunal
Member of the Expert Group, appointed to draft the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 2006

Colin Gonsalves is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India and the founder of Human Rights Law Network (HRLN). He specializes in human rights protection, labour law and public interest law. Considered a pioneer in the field of public interest litigation in India[1], he has brought several cases dealing with economic, social and cultural rights. Most of these cases, decided by the Supreme Court, have been set as precedents[1][2].  

Since co-founding HRLN in 1989, Colin Gonsalves and his colleagues have built the organization into India’s leading public interest law group, working at the intersection of law, advocacy and policy[3][4]. He also co-developed the Indian People’s Tribunal (IPT), an independent organization headed by retired Supreme Court and High Court judges to investigate human rights violations. Fact-findings presented at the IPTs have spurred public interest litigation, formed social movements and led to concrete policy changes.[5]

Colin Gonsalves has written, edited and co-edited numerous articles and books on a range of human rights law issues[6].


Colin Gonsalves, is a B.Tech (1975) from the Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Bombay. He began working as a civil engineer, but was drawn to the law through union work and concerns over labour issues and exploitation. He then started studying law at night school in 1979[1]. Upon graduation in 1983, he co-founded the India Centre for Human Rights and Law in Bombay and developed it into a national network of over 200 lawyers and paralegals under the auspices of the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN).[2]

Gonsalves strives to use the law as a shield to protect the human rights of the poor and of the marginalized communities in India[7][8]. Over last two decades, he has played a prominent role in investigating, monitoring, and documenting human rights violations, generating “know your rights” material, and conducting training seminars and workshops for lawyers, activists, judges, and government officials including police and civic administrators.[9]

Awards and achievements[edit]

  • Winner of the N.C.P.E.D.P.-Shell Helen Keller awards, 2003. Instituted in 1999, the N.C.P.E.D.P.-Shell Helen Keller awards symbolise an equal playing field for people with disabilities.[10]
  • Winner of the 2004 International Human Rights Award of the American Bar Association in public recognition of his contribution to the area of human rights.[11]
  • Honoured by IIT, Bombay with Distinguished Alumnus Award on its 51st Foundation Day function for his outstanding contribution to society and bringing honour to his alma mater with his path-defining works and achievements.[12]
  • Winner of the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice 2010 for legal aid in addressing human rights[13].
  • Presented with the award of Doctor of the University, honoris causa, by the University of Middlesex, UK. for for his outstanding contribution to society and path-defining works and achievements in the field of humanitarian laws[6].
  • Presented with the Honour for “Pioneering and Exemplary Leadership in Advancing Women’s Reproductive Rights and Social Justice in India” by the Centre for Reproductive Rights [14].

Important Public Interest Litigations brought by Colin Gonsalves[edit]

  • In response to a case argued by Colin Gonsalves, the Supreme Court directed unions and state governments to implement several food security schemes.[15]
  • In a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India filed by child rights group Bachpan Bachao Andolan on child labour and trafficking of children for forced labour, the Supreme Court directed the government to ensure the implementation of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. Gonsalves appeared on behalf of Bachpan Bachao Andolan.[16]
  • In Shabman Hashmi vs. Union of India and Others, argued by Colin Gonsalves, the Supreme Court extended the right to adopt a child to Muslims, Christians, Jews, Parsis and all other communities. This right had been till the judgment been restricted to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. The court ruled that any person can adopt a child under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 irrespective of religion he or she follows and even if the personal laws of the particular religion does not permit it[17].
  • In Occupational Health and Safety Association v. Union of India, 2005, argued by Colin Gonsalves on the behalf of Occupational Health and Safety Association, the Supreme Court delivered a judgment that the right to health and medical care, while in service or post-retirement, is a fundamental right of a worker, and that Right to health is a right flowing from Article 21: the right to protection of life and personal liberty[18].
  • In the National Association of the Deaf v. Union of India, 2009, argued by Colin Gonsalves, the Delhi High Court opened the doors for deaf people to take driving tests, and if they pass, get a driving licence for the first time in India. Prior to this the Motor Vehicles Act and Rules automatically disqualify a deaf person from obtaining a licence on the presumption that deaf persons would be a danger to the public[19][20].
  • Colin Gonsalves is currently arguing against the deportation of Rohingya Muslims who have been driven out from Myanmar in a bloody crackdown by the Myanmar army[21][22].


  1. ^ a b c Boustany, Nora (2003-10-24). "India's Pioneer of Public Interest Law". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  2. ^ a b "The People’s Lawyer: In Conversation with Colin Gonsalves". P U L S E. 2010-10-08. Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  3. ^ "Gender Justice and Criminal Law Reform Conference Participants | South Asia Institute". South Asia Institute. Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  4. ^ "Human Rights and Courts | NALSAR UNIVERSITY OF LAW". Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  5. ^ "Fake encounters: Panel to collect data, move SC". Tribune India. Apr 2, 2017. Archived from the original on Apr 2, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b "Advisory board - ECCHR - EUROPEAN CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS (en)". Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  7. ^ "Social Justice Lawyering and the Possibilities of Change | The Brecht Forum Archive". Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  8. ^ "Speakers | Institute for South Asia Studies". 2016-05-24. Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  9. ^ "Colin Gonsalves Speaks to Suas Trinity and Trinity FLAC". Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  10. ^ "THE SIXTH NCPEDP-SHELL HELLEN KELLER AWARDS" (PDF). National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP). Archived from the original (PDF) on December 4, 2004. Retrieved September 19, 2017. 
  11. ^ "International Human Rights Award: Past Recipients | International Litigation | ABA Section of Litigation". Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  12. ^ "Distinguished Alumnus Award conferred on Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa". Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  13. ^ "SHRI COLIN GONSALVES - Mother Teresa Memorial Awards". Mother Teresa Memorial Awards. Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  14. ^ "In A Broken Health Care System, This Initiative Is Working Hard To Prevent Maternal Deaths". Youth Ki Awaaz. 2017-03-28. Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  17. ^ "Supreme Court gives adoption rights to Muslims". Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  18. ^ "Occupational Health & Safety ... vs Union Of India & Ors on 31 January, 2014". Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  19. ^ The National Association of the Deaf v. Union of India
  20. ^ "Deaf Can Now Legally Drive in India". Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  21. ^ "Rohingya issue govt’s domain, not court’s: Centre to SC - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 2017-09-19. 
  22. ^ "Nariman, Sibal,Dhavan, Bhushan Among Top Legal Eagles Who Will Defend Rohingyas In SC | Live Law". Live Law. 2017-09-18. Retrieved 2017-09-19. 

External links[edit]