Pravin Khandpasole is creating a legal, social and policy framework to recognize victims and their families as key stakeholders in the criminal justice system by making them part of a justice system and that is not only retributive, but also restorative.
The New Idea
Pravin Khandpasole is creating a field that recognizes victims of homicide attacks and their families as key stakeholders and makes them part of a justice system that is not only retributive, but also restorative. In its current state, the criminal justice system focuses on punishing the criminal. There it fails often, but it fails completely to respond to the needs of the victims and their families, leaving them to a life of trauma and poverty. Despite having rehabilitation rights and being covered under the law, these victims and their families have been invisible within the justice delivery system, even though it depends upon hem to activate it by filing charges.
To empower the victims and their families, Pravin engages various stakeholders in the system to create the political will and social acceptance of the rarely invoked Victim’s Compensation Act. He works with the police, judiciary, village-based governance structures, government schools and youth volunteers to ensure that victims and their family are accorded rights under the law: economic compensation, emotional support, access to livelihood opportunities and re-integration into society irrespective of caste, class or gender. By uncovering the gaps that prevent this Act from being executed at the district, state and national level, Pravin is creating a new structural blueprint to improve justice-delivery mechanisms for these victims. This structure enables new roles for institutional stakeholders like the police and medical fraternity, and rather than creating parallel systems of redressal, Pravin is layering these existing “leverage points” with both knowledge and capacities to implement the law. For instance, Pravin has stationed “Victim Help Desks” outside police stations to both act as a point of reference for victims who seek rehabilitation, and also sensitize the officers towards their dire socio-economic condition. In this manner, he has built a support network across various levels of law-enforcement agencies, and through a collaborative approach, is helping them re-define their roles within the justice system to become an ally for the poor and vulnerable.Through this collaborative approach, Pravin has constructed a new model of the implementation of the Act at a national level, across all states. Beginning with the state of Maharashtra, this multi-dimensional model is creating incentives for other bodies (eg: CSOs) who work in this space to use the law as a tool for tackling the apathy in the legal system. Additionally, by engaging new graduates in criminal justice system, be they students or young police recruits through fellowships and training programmes, he is creating a space for new professionals in the field. Through coalitions and joint efforts with these institutions, Pravin is laying a solid foundation for the field by directing essential funding, resources and expertise to address victim’s rights and rehabilitation.
In Pravin’s holistic, long-term vision for his work, the empowerment of these victims and their families does not stop at rehabilitation. By identifying them as equal stakeholders, Pravin is changing the dynamic of the justice-system by placing victims at the crux of a restorative model of justice. By improving the focus on a victim’s identity and on their right to redressal, Pravin is sensitizing these communities towards the suffering and disempowerment that results from violence, thus preventing further conflict.
In a retributive model of justice delivery, the focus of the police, prosecution and court are only on the offender, crime, trial and punishment. This is even apparent in the manner judgments are named in the Indian legal system (“State V/s Defendant”). The family of the victim, their identities and their particular form of victimization slip through the cracks.A victim’s role is limited to filing a First Information Report (FIR) or bearing witness in the trial proceedings, beyond which they have no stake in the legal process. With limited knowledge and economic resources, it is extremely challenging for these victims to navigate complex trial proceedings. In most cases, they receive no information about where and when the trial is being held. The aggressor’s family or lawyer can employ red tape and bribery to ensure the victim-family doesn’t receive court summons. . Lack of information leads to a lack of agency and hence a lack of recourse for the victims.Pravin’s extensive mapping of the criminal space in India indicates a basic apathy and ignorance about victims. This state, he explains, is built into institutions like the police and the judiciary that are unaware of a victim’s right to be compensated according to the Victim’s Compensation Act. Thus, instead of being points of reference for the victims to mobilize these rehabilitation schemes, they become blockages in the system, without the capacity to provide support.
However, a homicide or grievous attack has a devastating impact on the family of the victim. The sudden death of the sole bread winner leaves the victim’s family in a hand-to-mouth existence. The women of the family often take up the victim’s job at lower wages, or are driven into prostitution. Unable to deal with the brutality and resulting stigmatization, the children also drop out of school, thus adding to India’s huge tally of unemployable youth. Institutional and judicial apathy, compounded by absence of trauma counselling or psychological support, exacerbates pereptions of alienation and injustice and often results in retributive action by the victim’s family. Thus, a legal system that is meant to curb crime, perpetuates a vicious cycle of violence within communities.
Contemplating some of these issues, the Victims Compensation Act (1973) as amended in 2009, provides compensation to the victim and her family (irrespective of the final verdict and the economic capacity of the defendant to pay this compensation.) However, this amended law has never been invoked because of a widespread lack of awareness about its tenets and the capacity to implement it within the judiciary, law enforcement agencies and community-level governance structures. Under the amended law, the State Legal Services Authorities, with support from the central government, are mandated to ensure the Victim’s Compensation Scheme (under the Victim’s Compensation Act), is implemented in every district to provide economic and medical relief to victims and their families. Despite this directive, there have been no efforts at the state level to create a corpus of funds to pay out this compensation through the District Legal Services Authorities, and neither has the political will and awareness about the Act been built within the executive bodies. As a result, the mechanisms to implement this improved law have not materialized. Pravin’s work thus focuses on addressing this structural flaw in the system, which when implemented will make the law accountable to the victims it was created for.
Pravin is creating a replicable system that DISHA can then codify for redressal systems across the nation. Towards this he is focusing on: a) Creating a sense of responsibility within the police and judiciary vis-à-vis the victim and building capacities of different stakeholders to comprehend and deliver victim-related schemes; b) Petitioning the State government for the proper implementation of the amended Section 357 A of the Victim’s Compensation Act - for victim’s rehabilitation; and c) Providing immediate relief and support to the victim and the family.
Pravin realizes that while it’s imperative to build long-term change and political will for the rights of a victim, it is equally important to meet the immediate needs of the family like emergency funds, food grains, medical aid and trauma counselling to protect them from further victimization. In high-intensity pilot work in Amravati District, DISHA (Developing Intervention for Social Human Action-the organization founded by Pravin) field operatives supply uniforms and stationery to the children to avoid a break in their school year which reduces chances of them dropping out. They empower the family of the victims with information on their rights and State-sponsored schemes that they’re eligible for. DISHA systematically connects families to existing rehabilitation infrastructure like schemes for widow compensation, child welfare under the Women and Child Development Department. By tying up with equipped hospitals in the vicinity, DISHA connects families to mandated free medical aid and trauma counseling. To spread awareness about the cause of victims’ rights, DISHA recruits student and corporate volunteers from neighbouring districts and cities and channels a wide range of support these volunteers bring, from money to assisting in schools these victims study in.
Having forged institutional links with influential seniors in the police force, Pravin conducts workshops that build the capacity of junior officers to act on the tenets of the Victim Compensation Act. Pravin’s creative approach incentivizes these young recruits to develop better performance and job satisfaction matrices for themselves vis-à-vis their justice delivery methods, and links the empowerment of victims to their own professional growth. These officers thus form a critical part of Pravin’s sensitization model as they develop an insight into the problem early in their careers, and become potential mavens for victims’ rights within their own jurisdictions.
The police in the district have adopted Pravin’s strategy of stationing “Victim Help Desks” outside police stations. Operated by DISHA, these provide a platform for victims to register their grievances and seek information on victim-related rehabilitation schemes. Instead of being a point of critique against the police, Pravin’s non-confrontational strategy turns these desks into channels of support which help the police officers understand the victim’s plight better. Also, by positioning the desk within police premises, he helps victims visualize the police force as an ally instead of an adversary.
To streamline the process of referrals of victims and their families, Pravin has collaborated with 29 police stations across Amravati district to provide DISHA with information about victim families in their vicinity. This information not only helps DISHA to direct state-sponsored support services to these victims, but the collective numbers gathered also help build a case for the state-wide implementation of the law. This data is a crucial lever to ensuring that there is a basis to demand the implementation of the Scheme as per the Victim’s Compensation Act. It creates pressure and puts into motion the District Legal Services Authority to draft a compensation scheme as per the provisions of Section 357A and furthers Pravin’s objective to institutionalize the compensation and rehabilitation of the victims.
Pravin also leverages village-level governing structures like the Tanta Mukta Samitis (Alternate Redressal Committees) to build their awareness and capacity about the Victim’s Compensation Act. They act as DISHA’s eyes and ears on the ground and not only provide information about victims but also, under their guidance, mitigate conflict within the village.
Pravin is currently working on the rehabilitation of 543 families in his district of Amravati. Through the mentorship of senior magistrates in the Amravati District and Mumbai High Courts, Pravin has obtained the mandate to train and sensitize the lower judiciary of 11 districts in Maharashtra towards the role of the victim in the legal system. Through such collaborations with the judiciary, Pravin is now planning to station a dedicated operative in courts to act as a point of reference to help de-mystify the complex legal procedure for victims, thus minimizing their exploitation.
Pravin is the first in India to seize the amended Victim’s Compensation Act as an opportunity to scale his work by creating political will for its widespread implementation. Additionally, Pravin also leverages India’s ratification of the UN Declaration on Victim’s Right (1985), to emphasize the State’s existing mandate to adhere to an international decree.
DISHA has been instrumental in advocating for change in policy at the state level to create mass awareness about the Act (and victims’ rights) across the police, judiciary and community-level structures of law-enforcement. As a result of Pravin’s continuous advocacy, the Mumbai High Court recently passed an interim order directing the Maharashtra Legal Services Authority to coordinate these awareness and data collection efforts across all District Legal Services Authorities in Maharashtra. This awareness creation exercise, in combination with the pressure on the various State Authorities to create a corpus of funds to pay out the compensation to victims, is addressing the crucial systematic gap which has thus far prevented any Indian state to implement the Act in full. Instead of petitioning each state separately, Pravin is creating a framework for justice-delivery, which can be adopted by other state and non-state agencies to ensure victims’ compensation. By building a multi-disciplinary coalition of lawyers, police officials, student volunteers and NGOs in one region, Pravin is creating a pattern for spreading this work across various geographies, ultimately aimed at the national paradigm. Additionally, by equipping himself with an intricate knowledge of how the legal system works and what the victim’s needs are, Pravin has also carved a role for himself and for other professionals like him, to draft the terms of implementation of the amended law in association with the legal authorities. By covering these various facets of replicability of his idea, and by aligning judicial mandates to reflect his work on the ground, Pravin is building a new national paradigm for empowering victims of crime on a national scale.
Pravin grew up in a joint family of eight in the Amravati district of Maharashtra. His father was a clerk and the sole bread winner, which made Pravin disciplined and resourceful from an early age. He began to support his own education by doing odd jobs in his adolescence to ease the pressure on his father. Pravin started his career early after he failed to clear his 12th Board exams, and was appointed an office boy in a chartered accountants office. He worked hard to rise up the ranks and in due course, was able to graduate from high school and seek admission to a college of his choice. Having learnt from his failure in school, Pravin took every opportunity in college to develop his intellect and was heavily engaged with the National Social Service in their work for communities.
In his time as a medical representative, a job he took up to support his family, Pravin was acquainted with struggles of the trade unions and learned for the first time about a worker’s rights. Pravin’s epiphany came in the form of his close friend, who was wrongly imprisoned on the charges of murder. While the imprisonment lasted for two months, the case went on for ten long years, during which time, his friend and the family were exploited regularly by the law-enforcement agencies. Watching such grave injustice unfold prompted him to quit his job despite the steady income it was bringing in, and register a NGO called Varhad with his friend to work for prisoner’s rights and rehabilitation.
While working for the rights of prisoners at the Amravati jail, Pravin was struck by how the families of the victim of an attack were treated by the legal process, and unlike the prisoner’s family, they had almost no recourse to justice or rehabilitation. He witnessed their continuous victimisation at the hands of complex and mystified legal system and an apathetic police force. Committed to learn more about the rights of a victim in the Indian justice system, Pravin took a difficult decision to quit his work with Vardhan and study at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). Pravin continued to re-invent himself at TISS as a research officer and devoted his time there to doing a judicious literature review of victim related policies in various legal systems. Here, he enhanced his understanding on the issue and refined his idea on victim rehabilitation.
Pravin met his wife Jyoti at TISS, and with her returned to Amravati to register a different NGO devoted solely to establishing a rights-based frame work of justice delivery in favour of the victim. Initially supported though PRAYAS, a Field Action Project of Center for criminology and Justice at TISS through a grant, Pravin set up DISHA in 2009.