The newspapers are painted red. Police case files are overflowing with murders, rapes and assaults. The capital city of Delhi is shamed by statistics of one rape every twenty-four hours, to say the least. The question of safety of women in Delhi has caught the attention of media and the common citizen once again. And it is only one of the several questions facing the society today. In such circumstances, it is very difficult to find a ray of hope. Yet, the pillars of our society continue to stand, only with the support of some noble men and women, whose work speaks for itself.
Swanchetan, an organisation started in 1998, stresses the importance of mental health for the overall well being of the society. While no entity can directly take the judiciary into its own hands, Swanchetan facilitates justice for traumatized victims by providing them the emotional support and the courage necessary for voicing their pain, anguish and suffering so as to give them adequate representation in the court of law. Thanks to the efforts of Swanchetan, nearly eight thousand survivors and their families have been provided trauma counselling. Swanchetan stands for the dignity and rights of all survivors, who are victims of or witness to trauma ranging from sexual assault, child abuse, relationship violence, trafficking, ethnic violence and terrorism.
Swanchetan has initiated four key programmes – Crisis Intervention, Research and Advocacy, Rehabilitation and Survival and Training and Workshops. What is unique about Swanchetan is that apart from giving strength to victims, it also counsels the perpetrators of crime, thus dealing with the problem in its entirety.
Swanchetan started ten years ago when the founders witnessed a family at a police station unable to hold their grief because their child had been murdered. Timely grief counseling helped them to give a coherent account of the events, take charge of their lives and helped in the identification of the offender. Dr. Rajat Mitra, Director and Co-Founder, Swanchetan discusses the motivation behind it, “We were concerned about how poor and marginalised people did not have access to immediate support and help, to be able to justify in court. We were motivated by a desire to work for the poor, to work for those suffering from deep trauma and for the community in general. A series of events at police stations and hospitals inspired us to take the cases of helpless victims forward. Victims often share things with us that become part of the police records and courts when we testify on their behalf. We also help victims, who are scared to go to the police by helping them file a complaint. This facilitates the process of justice.”
Dr. Mitra’s personal experiences have contributed greatly to the way he serves the society. During his later years in school, he spent a great deal of time with a friend whose house was open to men and women with mental illness who had no place to go. He was hence exposed to these problems early on in his life and decided to study psychology and become a doctor. He has immense passion for victim care and has even served in refugee camps of Gujarat and Kashmir, two states rife with violent disturbances.
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.
The impact of such a movement can only be felt in the way it has lent a renewed hope of a dignified life to the traumatized, who otherwise might never have recovered from the shock of a heinous crime. Amongst these is the rehabilitation of several survivors of sexual trafficking in the community. One such survivor Rita [name changed] was once working as a courier for a criminal gang and working as a child prostitute. Swanchetan fought for her rights and testified for her in the court against her perpetrators which resulted in their sentencing and Rita being entrusted to the care of the organization. Five years later, Rita is working in a garment firm having an independent income and above all, a life she can feel proud of. Is there a better way to build a better society, than by taking care of those who need our help the most, when they need it the most? I think not.
Read about the impact of Swanchetan at http://www.swanchetan.org/Default.aspx
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