Fellow Since 2006
Janasansadaya (People's Forum)
This profile was prepared when Chitral Perera was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Many victims of abuse and torture are not political prisoners or government opponents, but rather ordinary rural poor embroiled in police investigations. Chitral founded Janasansadaya (The People’s Forum) to advocate and provide counsel for torture victims throughout the legal process, ensuring that they feel safe when they speak out against abuses and have the tools and guidance to pursue a fair trial. Janasansadaya begins by organizing community clinics where citizens report unlawful police practices and document complaints to an objective body that won’t simply file them away. To encourage victims to come forth, Janasansadaya also includes a financial support structure to cover hospital bills or safe housing during a trial process. Once victims are ready to file charges, they face a slow, drawn-out legal process. Reforming the legal system is thus crucial to restoring confidence in the law. Chitral has introduced new ways for people to lodge complaints against police; programs to sensitize lawyers to the realities of victims; advocates to monitor courtroom proceedings and provide additional counsel; and independent stenographers to ensure the proceedings are properly recorded. To compliment these strategies, Chitral campaigns and works closely with media to raise awareness about the issue of torture and abuse of police power as an endemic societal problem. By encouraging dialogue on this taboo subject, Chitral is helping people to overcome their fear to speak out. Chitral stages events for victims and their families to meet the public and distribute information about torture. He has also initiated a public awards program to recognize citizens that have persevered long legal battles in human rights cases.