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Healing, empowering marginalized communities of India
It has been 66 years since India - the largest democracy in the world - attained independence. Yet, justice for all is still a far cry in the country where the caste system continues to determine political, social, and economic lives of a billion people.

Money and muscle power, together with political string-pulling, often result in denial of justice for the hapless ‘have-nots’, especially the Dalits (untouchables), ravaged by poverty and illiteracy.

Atrocities and extortion on the Dalits, fake encounters, refusal to register complaints against the well-heeled, arbitrary arrests on false charges, illegal detention and custodial deaths are in commonplace.

In the absence of a modern social audit system, the keepers of the law often unleash a ‘police raj’, especially in rural India. A crippled National Human Rights Commission and its state subsidiaries with limited recommendatory control and a dysfunctional Legal Aid System depict a gloomy picture indeed.(i)

In 2010, India ranked 119 among 192 countries across the world, with a medium level Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.52, moving one notch higher as compared to 2005. According to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) data, it is among the top 10 movers in gross domestic product (GDP) growth. However, despite this, certain sections of society [ii] remain excluded, especially in terms of improvements in human capabilities and entitlements.

The Government of India started many development schemes like the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM)[iii], The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA)[iv] and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA).[v]Recently Government has launched the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) programme to give benefits like scholarships, pensions, NREGA wages, etc. directly to the bank or post office accounts of beneficiaries. Widespread corruption and the near-impossible task of exposing it have rendered many government-sponsored schemes in rural India a failure. Neither the state government nor its agencies like the revenue department and the police have shown active interest in the problem.

The Constitution, adopted in 1950, guarantees fundamental rights, such as the right to life and personal liberty, equality before the law, procedural rights, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, cultural and educational rights, and the right to redress in courts. The Constitution prohibits caste-based discrimination, but while caste barriers have largely broken down in large cities, they persist in rural areas where 72% of India's population lives. Nevertheless, caste system, in various forms, continues to survive in modern India strengthened by a combination of social perceptions and divisive politics.

India has ratified six of the nine core human rights treaties [vi] and has signed the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) in 1997, however, it has not ratified it. In addition, prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 is pending before upper house of parliament. PVCHR sent an open letter to the Prime Minister, India[vii] and all members of the Parliament[viii] and representation before select committee of upper house, citing a comparative analysis done by PVCHR and Dignity, showing what the present bill offers and what the UNCAT desires.

The study identifies shortcomings in the present bill on two accounts; one, far less adherence in the legislative standard provided in the United Nation's Convention Against Torture, to which India is a signatory; second, strengthening the hands of perpetrator, in this case, representatives of the agencies of the state, who are already armed with several legal protections.

These serious lapses would isolate the victims, who already stand isolated. Tardy judicial processes and inherent problems in the existing social dynamics have given opportunity to non-state actors, who in turn have effectively projected the failure of institutional justice delivery mechanisms created by our law makers.

We hope, this study will be a useful resource for your organization for intervention before select committee. We would also request you to consider to demand that 'Right to Rehabilitation' so far, only provided to persons with disabilities must include 'victims of torture', while recognizing that torture includes both physical and psychological aspects as per UNCAT.[ix]

The Select Committee today literally rewrote the law to “humanise it” and conform it to the provisions of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The report included the major recommendations submitted by PVCHR in association with Dignity [x]          

International monitors [xi] report widespread violations of human rights in India, including the use of torture. Dramatic examples include torture in contested geographical areas (Jammu and Kashmir), which is ravaged by violence; torture and organized violence (TOV) by both state and non-state parties against minorities (Naxalite belt)[xii]; and torture as standard operating procedure in police investigations of crime. The perpetrators, in order of importance, include the police, military, border police, forest officials, prison staff, and railway police.

Over 6000 credible cases of police torture were documented in India within a three-year period, in states not directly affected by war or insurgency.[xiii] Data projections from this study suggest that more than 1.5 million cases of torture, ill treatment and inhuman behaviour may take place every year at the hands of the police, not including other perpetrators.[xiv] The majority of the torture takes place in rural India, where the prevailing social structure does not allow someone from a lower caste effectively to enforce their rights.

Dalits, indigenous groups, women, religious minorities and the poor are the primary victims of torture. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are overrepresented among the tortured compared to other castes. Most victims fear further persecution or retribution, and so suffer in silence.[xv]

The purpose of torture is to extract information or confession from the suspect in custody. At times, torture is also employed against political opponents of the party in power, to intimidate witnesses or deter complaints against the police, or for simple extortion of money and favours.[xvi] Police brutality and misuse of force are common, and anti-terror legislation in particular has contributed to a culture of impunity. Indian National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI)[xvii] have consistently failed to report or investigate reported cases of torture, although they have been given powers to do so.[xviii]

As already mentioned poor and socially and politically marginalized are especially vulnerable to prolonged detention and repeated ill-treatment. This is because they are unable to bribe police to secure their release and are unlikely to have connections with local political figures that can intervene.

The overall strategy is to sustain and deepen a strong and well organized testimonial campaign that will contribute to eliminate impunity for perpetrator of torture in India. Public opinion will be mobilized through the campaign targeting several forums  using various mediums resulting in added pressure on the Indian government, the political parties and its elected representatives both at state and national level for an all-encompassing domestic law on torture in context of UNCAT. The domestic law on torture emanates from the UNCAT and doesn’t just draw inspiration from it. The domestic law is expected to have the right to rehabilitation as a major thrust.

The strategy is based on guiding principles for building the National Alliance Testimonial Therapy and national activist knowledge center as follows:

From something to something more; from something more to something even more; and finally, to arrive for cost-effective psycho-social rehabilitation services in Indian civil society organizations and to contribute to eliminate the impunity for perpetrators of torture in India through establishing the survivors alliance against Torture and Organized Violence and sustaining the activist knowledge center on community work against TOV.

Torture victims need assistance for healing of psychological trauma. Over time PVCHR has learned the tactical value of the folk schools approach: a Danish concept as an important vehicle for psycho-social support to victims of human rights violations. People’s Participation in folk school is a rights based bottom up approach that empowers the poor and the weaker section of the society therefore strengthen their social visibility and will of expression. The project will built upon this experience of conducting Folk Schools in the target communities.

There are many unwritten rules through which people in India restrict themselves. For example, some topics may be considered taboo in some communities. It may be an unwritten rule that “lower class people” do not talk back to “higher class people”. It may also be that some unwritten rules of censorship are enforced by punishments. For example some groups of people; if they respond to the human rights violations they will be punished either physically or by other means.

In all these instances the capacity to un-censor ourselves is an essential component of seeking justice. When a small group of people begin to un-censor themselves others watch and soon begin to un-censor themselves as well. In this manner taboos invariably dissolve. The initial stages of un-censoring require:

- Location from which you can break the rules of censorship while assuring protection for yourself.

- The will to break such rules of censorship.

- Creating an audience for you, which may be small at the beginning.

- Keeping at it day in and day out until taboos such as TOV slowly begin to eliminate.

Accumulate information and protect documentation, is a very important area of where PVCHR creates a community discourse on justice and human rights issues related with TOV.

Folk school is the focal place for sharing the pain and agony, receiving the empathy, establishing the trust with mutual respect and reconciliation, education on torture prevention as learning psycho-social aid, psycho-education and demand formulation and enactment of laws against torture. The project will provide 5000 copies of posters and 10,000 pamphlets (what to do, when you are arrested, what to do when someone in village is tortured) to be used in folk school.

The folk school will be conducted in every two weeks in each model blocks; will be documented as minutes of proceedings register. The folk school will focus on torture issues and the need for redress and rehabilitation. It will be used in form of a statements, open letters and press release in Hindi. Gained information will be a very important area of creating a discourse on justice and human rights issues related to torture and organized violence. Right to Information (RTI) also discussed in their folk school. In addition, leaders are well utilizing RTI for their purpose.

The most important knowledge is what difference it matters for people ‘we should inspire people – they want to be ‘heros’ in their own life story’ through process of testimonial / honour ceremonies of testimonial therapy. With a view to create solidarity across social and economic boundaries, People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) has also been successful in organizing ceremonies with victims of different types of violence i.e. victims of bomb blast, police torture, bonded labor, domestic violence. These victims have represented different casts, gender and religion.

PVCHR is combing the empowerment bottom up rights based approach with a top down advocacy and lobby strategy to cooperate, collaborate and coordinate; an opportunity to engage various government agencies including the national human rights commission at the district and provincial levels; an opportunity to raise and represent the voices of the communities. On the other hand, it is also an opportunity for PVCHR to gather the strength of the communities in a convention where various representatives of the villages meet and learn from one another.


[i]NHRC/HRLN report

[ii]For historical reasons, Indian society is segregated into castes, and some of them are economically and socially deprived to a great extent. It is therefore essential to bridge the caste gaps and ultimately eliminate all forms of discriminating social barriers. Also, the tribal groups of central and eastern India in particular have remained deprived in multiple dimensions (a factor that cannot be ignored if the extremist violence in that region is to be addressed).

[iii] Launched in 2005 with the objective of bridging the gaps in the existing capacities of rural health infrastructure

[iv]The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing hundred days of wage-employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

[v] Government of India's flagship programme for achievement of Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) in a time bound manner, as mandated by 86th amendment to the Constitution of India making free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right.

[vi]CERD (3 December, 1968), ICCPR (10 April 1979), ICESCR (10 April 1979), CRC (11 December 1992), CEDAW (09 July 1993) and CRPD (1 October 2007): of 21 April 2010)





[xi]Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International

[xiii]National Project on Preventing Torture in India, 2006-2008, funded by the European Commission

[xiv]The projections are based upon 10 cases per month in 12,702 police stations in India (Torture in India, Torture and Impunity in India, PWTN, 2008) The UPR report also indicated that a study concluded that 1.8 million people were victims of police torture and ill treatment in India every year.

[xv]Torture and Impunity in India, PWTN, 2008


[xvii]Protection of human rights act, 1993, provides for the constitution of national human rights commission, state human rights commissions and human rights courts for better protection of human rights

[xviii]The so called ‘Malimath report’ is essential to study in order to understand the critical discourse on reforming the criminal justice system in India. The Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System, headed by Justice V.S. Malimath, submitted its report to the Ministry of Home Affairs in April 2003. Amnesty International has criticized the the Committee for having failed to take into account international human rights standards which establish a framework for human rights protection within criminal justice systems throughout the world. Secondly, it has failed to address a vast range of important concerns about the current functioning of the criminal justice system. The report fails to address adequately or in some cases at all, issues including: the problems of access to the criminal justice system for marginalized communities; lack of access to legal aid; endemic corruption, discrimination and bias within institutions of the criminal justice system; non-implementation of safeguards against police abuses; impunity for human rights violations committed by state actors, among others.

[xix]Aurora Levins Morales, 1998 Medicine Stories. Boston: South End Press

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There are so many Dalit Ministers but they do not care for their Dalit brothers. I had written the following letter to the then two Dalit Ministers but never received any reply: To Shri Ram Vilas Paswan, Minister of Chemicals Mrs. Meira Kumar, Minister of Social Justice, & Fertilizers, Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi. Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi Subject: Please check the honour killings of Dalits as well as atrocities on Dalits. Respected Sir/Madam, I want to bring to your kind attention that right here in Delhi, a Dalit boy who married a girl from so called Upper Caste was killed. This is happening right in the heart of the Capital and Manmohan Singh Govt. is sleeping. I am sorry to say that no Dalit leader came to console the family of the victim. Earlier, Khairlanji killings shocked the Dalits of Maharashta and the world over. It was not merely rape and murder. It was essentially a holocaust. About five dozen Kunbis raided Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange's house on September 28. It was a caste attack on Bhaiyyalal's family. Watched by the entire village, Surekha, 45- year-old wife of Bhaiyyalal, her 17-year-old daughter, and two sons were dragged out to the *chaupal*. Amid cheers from the Kunbi men, women and children, the mother and daughter were first stripped. While they were being raped for about an hour, the Kunbi elders stood to give the culprits a standing ovation. Did such things happen in Hitler's regime? In full public view, four people were butchered. This is India's social holocaust, where dominant Kunbis, a listed OBC caste inflicted humiliation while killing. Atrocities on Dalits follow a pattern, often of a pan-India nature. Most Dalit killings are accompanied by inflicting humiliations. For instance, if the caste society decides to rape a Dalit woman, or target her dignity, attempts are made that more and more people came to know of it. That's the reason a rape is preceded by stripping the victim. Sometimes, there will be no physical injury, only humiliation. The idea is to convey a message that, Dalits ought to know their social positioning. The Khairlanji medievalism is just one case in point. Such acts of barbarism are common all over India and it is just that this savagery caught the media attention and we are shocked. As the news of Khairlanji savagery spread, the Dalit youth in Maharashtra got restless. While Dalit politicians were not to be seen, a new churning began among the Dalit social groups. Dalits this time decided to confront. Closing down the Nagpur city will remain a landmark event in the life of all Dalit movements. The atrocities against the Dalits must stop and Dalit leaders instead of fighting each other, should see to it that such atrocities are stopped. What is the National Commission for SCs and STs doing in this regard? The Commission needs to be activated. India cannot become a super power without uplifting its below the poverty line people which constitute about 25% of its population and consist mostly of Dalits. So Dalits have to be uplifted by abolishing caste system but reservations are perpetuating the caste system. India also cannot become a superpower if about 15% of its population consisting of Muslims remains deprived. Again reservation is not the answer to their upliftment but change in their economic system can best be brought about by their leaders by modernising their religion and developing strong affinity with other Indians. I think that there should be no columns of caste and religion in any form of not only Government agencies but of private agencies also. We should not have opinion polls which give caste based or creed based predictions about the outcome of an election. When we have done that, the next step would be to bring about caste integration which would result in national integration. Here I suggest that incentives including reservations in Govt. jobs, preference in allotment of petrol pumps, preferential allotment of shares, etc. may be given to those so called upper caste boys and girls who marry so called lower caste girls and boys. I am strongly in favour of inter-caste marriages. Then there would not be so much atrocities on the Dalits also because they would be having marital and blood relationships with so called Higher Caste People. This advantage may be given to Muslim Ashraf boys and girls who marry non-Ashraf Muslim girls and boys. It may also be given to Christian non-Dalit boys and girls who marry Dalit Christian boys and girls. Let us inter-mingle and be done with caste system. However, no other caste or creed based reservations should be made. But here the question of honour killings comes and we have to do something about that. And here, the powerful leaders of the Dalits like you can play a role if they want to see India becoming a super power. Thanks & Regards, Satbir Singh Bedi, BH(Poorvi) 682, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi-110088 dated; 20.11.2006
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