India is a huge country in South Asia. It is the seventh largest in terms of land area but the second largest in terms of population. It has 1.2 billion people and the most populous democracy in the world. Owing to its diversity as a country and its societies, it has a secular image and considered to be a very inclusive society -- multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-linguistic and multi-cultural society. The country has projected a 9% development index but can be considered far worse than the Sub-Saharan countries due to its failure to address the malnutrition and starvation in many parts of the country.
Considering its vast geography and population, India remains to be divided, discriminating and intolerant even to its own citizenry and among fellow citizens. Marginalization continues to punctuate as the most significant problem in the whole of Indian society affecting major sections of the population such as caste, the Muslims, and various ethnic groups, including the vulnerable ones such as women, children, and the elderly.
The caste hierarchy has divided and separated Indian society for decades. Despite several laws and Constitutional guarantees, caste lines and caste discrimination became the defining situation in India. It is reflected across societal spectrum and so evident that it identifies the great inequalities of caste based practice in the whole society.
Caste is the final and ultimate indicator of everything that is happening in India. The caste based discrimination is reflected in both the private and public life of the Indian people. Its influence radiates in politics, administration, including the economic growth of the country. It thus affect the high percentage of the population of the country and is actually practiced in the educational system, places of work, in villages and districts and even in courts of justice. The most dehumanizing impact of the caste based discrimination is starvation and malnutrition.
The Dalit peoples continued to experience discrimination, exploitation and oppression as this is sustained by the corrupt criminal justice delivery mechanism in the country. This is very evident in the context of Uttar Pradesh where PVCHR is mainly operating its programs and projects. In this state, policing suffers from impunity and police officers enjoy the corrupt practices at the expense of the most marginalized section of the population not only in this state but in other parts of the country.
Torture and police atrocities further aggravate the already dire poverty situation and marginalization of the downtrodden people in majority of the villages in different parts of the country. Torture normally happens in the rural areas, in the far-flung villages of the country where Dalits, the lower caste and the minority people could not effectively fight for their rights. They are the primary targets and victims of torture by the police. Without awareness yet of their rights, these marginalized peoples suffer in silence and brokenness.
But injustice and exploitation of the people cannot always proceed smoothly unscathed. Small steps for justice can accumulate and result in qualitative change in due time.
In Indian context, it has acquired psycho-legal form that emphasises denunciation of human rights violation and initiates advocacy for justice. It has three elements:
Private: Psychological rehabilitation of the survivor leads to certain degree of restoration of physical and mental state. This opens the possibility of his/her participation in a community movement and ultimately becoming a human rights defender.
Legal: The testimonies provide a lot of subjective information about the plight of the victim which help the court to take into account when the bail application of the victim is considered. The human sufferings are never recorded in the court proceedings. However, these references of human sufferings often go in favour of the victim in front of the well prepared perpetrator.
Political: within testimonial therapy, public ceremonies are organized to honour the survivors of torture. These ceremonies provide an opportunity to bring back the survivor to the same community/society that has isolated him/her for being tortured. The testimonies are read out in the presence of the villagers, invited guests, local politicians, elected representatives, and local media creating debate and discussion at the local level because it contains human sufferings, institutional malpractices, and failure of constitutional guarantees. Testimonies can be used as urgent appeals and for advocacy work.
Community empowerment is a key component of model process. The Testimonial Therapy was uniquely incorporated into the unique advocacy and educational model of the targeted ‘torture free’ model villages in the covered blocks of the project. In the process, they were able to protect and expand their basic human rights and have fought against impunity of the police who were the main violators in the context of India.
The 'torture free' model villages within blocks provide the symbol and concrete expression of protective space for the community peoples to continuously and in a sustained manner raise the awareness of the local population on the prevalence of torture and organized violence (TOV) and their right to be free from TOV. Once declared as 'torture free' villages, there is likelihood of recognition from state and police authorities that the community peoples are aware of their rights and they would fight for it to its conclusion.
PVCHR has utilized the Danish concept of ‘folk school’ for the purpose of the community in terms of awareness building, capacitating the different sections of the population of the community including women, children and young people. The TT served as a bridge for the healing (psychological component) and justice (the legal component) in line with advocacy.
The 'folk school' in the Indian context has served as a forum where the marginalized peoples like Dalits, the Mushars, and the Muslims meet, where they are treated equally and could freely voice their problems and concerns. The 'folk school' helps to improve equality by improving the capacity of the marginalized peoples to speak. In the short but intense process of the school, they can speak without fear and without the threat of humiliation. In said process also, they are able to create a two-way discourse in the society wherein the so-called weak are brought to social discourse. The more silent the poor and the weak are, the less they get from society.
For example, in creating a discourse on justice and human rights issues related to caste discrimination, it is very important to accumulate information and protect the efforts in documentation.
As always, the ultimate extent of how well a project made an impact is in measuring the outcomes and impact in the lives of the partner-beneficiaries and of the communities. In the context of this partnership project between PVCHR and Dignity: Danish Institute against torture, three important words aptly captures the general outcome and changes in the lives of people brought about by the project:
Hope: the partners helped and assisted by the project spoke highly of hope that see them through amidst torture experience and prolonged imprisonment. Never was hope erased from their memory and system. Hope was always present as a longing and a yearning. It speaks of one's personal spirituality and provides strength and comfort to survive in any difficulties, trials and adversaries. It is in fact, holding on to the attitude of never giving up in a situation despite all odds. It is having the faith that the situation will change for the better at the dawning of each new day.
Honour: the ceremonies honouring the survivors after the process of testimonial therapy was such an empowering and endearing moment and milestone in the lives of the survivors. It was a real recognition of the integrity of the survivors as human beings, that they possess value in every community and in society and they have right to be honoured in his/her community. The society provides acknowledgment and understanding of the survivors' suffering and the necessity for healing and reparation. This was a celebration of their breaking of silence towards achieving empowerment.
Human Dignity: this is the connecting thread between the partners and PVCHR. They all spoke of human dignity as an important value that must be adhered to and recognized for all human beings. It is actually the measuring of treatment of human beings and his/her right to life. It is valuing his/her right to be treated with respect by any person in whatever culture s/he belongs.
This 3H (hope, honour and human dignity) rightly sums up the healing and empowerment outcome of the project in the lives of the survivors served by the project. Mohammad Aamir Khan is a classic example of a survivor, now a human rights defender who never for a while loses hope despite his 14 years imprisonment.
The model is unique in several dimensions:
1. As a holistic and comprehensive approach combining short-term and longer-term target outcomes among focus sector (survivors of torture) and its community that combines services with advocacy.
2. Covers and implements four inter-related areas of concerns for the well-being of the survivors: policy to practice -- the establishment of villages free from torture and organized violence; people's advocacy; organization building and capacity building; and NATT collaboration.
3. Promotes healing, empowerment and development of the survivors of torture, their families and communities.
4. Reaches out to the marginalized section of the population that are in dire poverty and have been victimized by state perpetrators with impunity.
The outcomes are impressive. There were several outcomes that can be attributed to the project which include:
a. Transforming private pain brought about by torture into political campaign thereby breaking the culture of silence and brokenness of the survivors and developing and transforming them as human rights defenders.
b. The survivors as human rights defenders assume the role of leading their community, encouraging their fellow community members towards building solidarity with other communities and strengthening further their unity.
c. Greater awareness and consciousness among community people and they now regularly collect information and proactively intervenes whenever news of human rights violations crop up in their communities.
d. The women folk school on neo-dalit is a great opportunity to unite the women and the community on the basis of reconciliation, democracy, secularism and non-violence. It is forging the unity of all poor from all communities against their suffering brought about by the neo-liberal policy.
e. Making the state accountable and ensuring the visibility of the torture issue at the country level and international level.
The over-all expected outcome has been achieved to a significant extent particularly the healing and transformation of the survivors of torture. Survivors of torture have been healed and transformed as human rights defenders; they are fearless and now ready to face and confront their perpetrators; they are now in a better position to reclaim and attain their rights. Such can be attributed primarily to the program. This, despite the fact that the elimination of impunity in the country is still far-fetched.
The contextual adaptation of the testimonial therapy in the country is truly effective. It has empowered the survivors' well-being (Agger, et al). As the survivors gained control after converting the traumatic event to a story of survival and share it to the public through an honour ceremony, it then provided support for the survivors' search for truth and meaning. The survivors gained empowerment when they have reclaimed their voice by becoming advocates/defenders for those who are still in pain and suffering.
Article based on evaluation report of PVCHR-Dignity project by Ms. Loreine B. dela Cruz
People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights
We are a couple for fighting against unjust caste and patriarchal system.We are living with our friendly contradiction. Now, we are partner in personal and community life, but we are two different identities in human rights struggle.