Thursday, August 25, 2011

Promoting psycho-legal framework to reduce TOV in India


Promoting psycho-legal framework to reduce TOV in India

International project in India

Country: India

Contact person: Erik Wendt

Partner: People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) works towards a democratic India in respect of human rights. The organization does advocacy work and works with campaigns to increase awareness at an international-, national- and at grass-root level.  PVCHR works to educate communities about their human rights, and focuses especially on the rights of marginalized groups. They also work to prevent police torture, and to secure the right to food and education. PVCHR has developed a special capacity as a knowledge centre promoting testimonial therapy for psycho-social rehabilitation of torture survivors.

Context: International monitors report widespread violations of human rights, including the use of torture in India, the world's second most populous country.

India has signed the United Nations Convention against Torture (on 14 October, 1997), but the country has not ratified the convention. 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. However anti-terror legislation and the cast system in particular have contributed to a culture of impunity. The caste system continues to survive in modern India, and social structure prevents someone from a lower caste to enforce their rights.

Torture is not criminalized in domestic Indian law, and security forces and police perpetrate human rights violations frequently. Despite constitutional guarantees, legal protection and reports in the media, beatings, rape and torture seem to be part of a routine continuing unabated. Police torture has been documented and torture and organized violence (TOV) by both state and non-state parties against minorities occurs in India. Torture is used as standard operating procedure in police investigations of crime. Prisoners are one of the weakest constituencies in the society. They have no voting rights, have very limited access to the outside world, and are under the complete control of the prison authority. Trials can take years, and prisoners wait in overcrowded detention centers. Often, they have no lawyers, live in miserable conditions, do not have access to adequate medical care, and are likely to be tortured or exploited. Individuals who are poor and socially and politically marginalized are especially vulnerable to prolonged detention and ill-treatment. A significant number of torture cases, ill treatment and inhuman behaviour take place every year in the hands of the police. Under Indian law, there is no enforceable right to rehabilitation for torture survivors.

In a context of impunity, limited access to justice, and limited rehabilitation services, the PVCHR and RCT introduce a psycho-legal approach. The overall objective is a strong and well organized testimonial campaign, which contributes to eliminate impunity for perpetrators of torture in India

The project will work with rehabilitation, community empowerment and sustainable organizational strategies. The rehabilitation work will focus on Testimonial Therapy (TT) and the project will eventually serve as a platform for a scientific research project for validation of the TT approach.

The aim is to increase capacity for delivery of testimonial therapy among the organizations and institutions of the newly created National Alliance of Testimonial Therapy (NATT). NATT has been organized to provide an administrative structure for TT activities in India, including training and research. Information derived from testimonial therapy narratives will constantly be used to shape and strengthen advocacy campaigns supporting the prevention and elimination of torture.

Main activities of the RCT and the PVCHR partnership:

  • Member organizations of NATT will be trained on Testimonial Therapy (TT)
  • Direct support to survivors of torture through TT.
  • Community based honor ceremonies & folk school will be organized to foster community awareness and empower of survivors of TOV.
  • Initiation of advocacy campaigns against torture through NATT.
  • Setting up of consultation meeting with organizations allied with NATT, as to share knowledge and conduct the TT campaign.
  • Prepare and publish information materials about the testimonial approach.
  • Lobby with policy makers and governmental agencies, using testimonies to create awareness of the negative impact of torture.
  • Publish regular newsletters, pamphlets and reports through the NATT.
  • Draw national and international attention to torture in India through the use of web advocacy to disseminate testimonial narratives to a wider range of stakeholders.
  • Support victims in court.

About Testimonial Therapy

Testimonial Therapy (TT) is an individual psychotherapy for survivors of torture and other types of organised violence involving the narration of survivors' traumatic experiences. The trauma stories are recorded, jointly edited by the therapist and survivor, and compiled into a document, which maybe used by the survivors to raise public and international awareness about human rights violations. Over the decades TT has been successfully adapted and used in diverse cultural and political contexts.

In 2008, the testimonial method was introduced to People's Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVCHR) - a human rights organisations providing legal assistance to torture survivors in one of the most socioeconomically marginalised regions in India Unique features of the TT version developed during this process included: (1) a brief format (three to four sessions) including psycho-education, monitoring and evaluation; (2) conducted by non-professional counselors; (3) a testimony ceremony; (4) a meditative exercise; and (5) a context-specific manual and training course for counselors. The testimony delivery ceremony is considered the 'turning point' of this brief-format TT and involves presentation of the testimony document to participants before significant others. It symbolises the transition of the survivors' private and subject pain into the public, legal and political sphere.

A preliminary study conducted in India indicated a positive effect of TT as assessed by increased well-being scores and information obtained from interviews with survivors and the trained human rights workers. Also in 2008, the brief-format TT was introduced to Sri Lanka for survivors of torture and ill-treatment. A manual was compiled and Sri Lankan human rights activists and community workers were trained in taking testimonies, as well as in monitoring and evaluation. In 2009 TT was introduced to The Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation Cambodia (TPO Cambodia)and in 2010 to Balay in the Philippines.

TT is not one, clinical counseling or rehabilitation method amongst many others, but a specific form of "political" therapy which should be conducted within the framework of a justice process, a human rights movement, or a political or feminist movement. This requires that counselors are convinced of the struggle for human rights and justice, and that some counselors are more suited to conduct TT than others.

Read more: Homepage dedicated to Testimonial Theraphy

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