RAJAT MITRA

India,

Dr. Rajat Mitra is changing the core of the criminal justice system in India by institutionalizing the concept of victimology. He aims both to establish legal recognition of victims' rights and to develop standard services to promote the emotional health and physical recovery of victims who suffer psychological trauma.

This profile below was prepared when Rajat Mitra was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.

INTRODUCTION

Dr. Rajat Mitra is changing the core of the criminal justice system in India by institutionalizing the concept of victimology. He aims both to establish legal recognition of victims' rights and to develop standard services to promote the emotional health and physical recovery of victims who suffer psychological trauma.




THE NEW IDEA

With an ambitious goal of collectively shifting the mindset of Indian citizens and law enforcement officials, Dr. Mitra's victims' rights movement is seeking a cultural change. Where victims of crime have lacked avenues of recourse and have often been neglected, if not harassed, by the law enforcement personnel to whom they have turned for help, Dr. Mitra sees hope in the future of justice. By tackling the issue of victims' rights protection from three angles–community, law enforcement, and policy–Dr. Mitra's approach challenges stale thinking and creates opportunities for collective action toward developing a new understanding of humane and just treatment for victims.

By working with police departments and other adjuncts of the justice system, Dr. Mitra's program looks to change the attitudes and actions of those in authority. Revamping traditional methods will create new policies to protect the rights of victims and help solidify changes in the agencies responsible for their care.




THE PROBLEM

Victimologists around the world have been working toward advancing victims' rights and victims' assistance since the early 1970s. This global movement has led to the establishment of victim-care facilities and protection of victims within criminal procedural laws in all developed, and many developing, countries. In parallel to the movement toward providing greater services and legal protections for victims, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists around the world have developed many methods of helping victims cope with and overcome posttraumatic stress and the other psychological ailments associated with victimization.

But in India, many victims have yet to reap the benefits of this progress. Throughout history, Indian people across castes, classes, regions, and religions have endured violations of humanity–ranging from colonial subjugation, politically charged violence, and oppression of the marginalized poor. Victimization is seen as intrinsic to the people and is accepted under any number of rationalizations and defenses. This acceptance has resulted in few supports for those victimized. While the concept of "rights" is enshrined in the Indian Constitution, and police are trained to abide by a national charter for the rights of the accused, no such charter exists yet to protect the victims. Similarly, while programs ensuring adequate training and skills for those making initial victim contacts can help protect victim rights and prevent miscarriages of justice, the police, prison, and criminal justice systems in India perpetuate the legacies of the past that minimize accountability by allowing inhumane and insensitive methods of dealing with victims. This lack of professionalism breeds corruption and abuse. As victim-care services are wholly absent, victims are often no better off following the primary contact. This leaves victims to struggle alone to overcome countless hurdles as they battle their way to recovery.




THE STRATEGY

Dr. Mitra is renovating the existing system at three levels. At the community level, he educates victims and their families on their rights, various avenues for recourse, and available resources for help and healing. At the law enforcement level, he trains police to use humane methods when questioning victims of crime. At the policy level, Dr. Mitra is advocating for legal recognition for the rights of victims in India.

Dr. Mitra has established services aimed to empower and heal victims of crime. Psychological services help victims cope with the trauma of emotional and physical violation. Victims learn about their rights as victims and are introduced to the institutions with which they must interact to protect these rights. Dr. Mitra guides victims through the appropriate processes, providing a clear path toward healing and legal resolution.

Many crimes, like physical assault, rape, and extortion harm not only the victim but also their families. Victims' families and communities feel the burden of victims' emotional and physical scars, which often result in severe depression or violent behaviors. Dr. Mitra imparts methods of coping to families, while sensitizing the communities to victims' rights as a way to fight the stigmatization and social alienation that victims and their families frequently face.

With the lack of current professional guidelines, law enforcement officials often contribute to a victim's personal violation. Dr. Mitra is creating awareness among police and changing justice procedures. He trains police to respect the rights of victims and teaches effective, psychologically sensitive interview techniques. In addition to training certified police personnel, Dr. Mitra has successfully built a victimology component into the police-training curriculum. Improved police attitude and victim care have directly benefited from this specialized instruction. As a result, victims of trauma can often more easily remember their experiences, enabling police to expedite necessary proceedings while also preventing potential miscarriages of justice. The importance and effectiveness of Dr. Mitra's work was recognized recently when the government issued a legal order for all police stations in Delhi and the surrounding region to contact Dr. Mitra's team within 24 hours for every trauma-related case.

In order to bring about changes in the criminal justice system, Dr. Mitra is educating policymakers to recognize the benefits of care services throughout the multistage process of rendering justice. Rather than donning the mantle of an activist, he has adopted a pacific, inclusive approach to solve this systemic problem. Dr. Mitra is also working with the National Human Rights Commission to establish a charter for victims' rights in India that is similar to the one for the accused. The charter delineates victims' rights, modeled on those established by the United Nations in 1985 and outlines the duties of police and other justice agencies in protecting those rights.

By creating policies to protect the rights of victims, Dr. Mitra hopes his model will create enough awareness to become firmly entrenched in government departments.




THE PERSON

Rajat Mitra was born in Delhi to an academically minded father–a schoolteacher. The peaceful, studious home environment nurtured him to be an introverted, book-loving child. During his later years in school, he spent a great deal of time with a friend whose unusual father left an indelible mark on his life. The friend's house was open to men and women with mental illness–strangers who roamed the streets, former patients of mental institutions who had no place to go. Rajat became involved in taking care of these guests, and when it came to choosing a career path, Rajat decided to study psychology and become a doctor.

In Dr. Mitra's first counseling job, he helped jailed offenders with violence management. While working at a police station, he witnessed a policeman's angry reaction to a victim's hysteria. Dr. Mitra intervened, helping the victim to calm down and communicate with the police more coherently. This incident opened his eyes to the tremendous gap in the justice system, one that resulted in injustice for victims.

Dr. Mitra's passion for victim care and his renown in the field have taken him to Gujarat and Kashmir–two states rife with violent disturbances–where he works in refugee camps with victims of communal disturbances.

Away from his stressful work, Dr. Mitra spends time listening to classical music–both eastern and western–and meditating.