Author: Nishi Gupta, III year of LL.B. from Asian Law College
The definition of the word Victim, in accordance to the layman, can be different in an individual's perspective but the essence of why the person is called a victim is the same, i.e., the individual must have been suffered or traumatized by something or the other in his/her life. In simple words, the Victim is any person or individual who has been through some harm or an unpleasant event or has fallen prey to hardships. Even though the victim can be of any adversity or trauma but the most common scenario or state of affairs when the word victim is said or heard is a crime, why?. No doubt that in today’s era, crime has already taken a height and is still accelerating day by day at a good speed. There is no halt in the number of crimes nor the number of victims. But, is it only the crime happening with an individual which makes that individual a victim or happening of any suffering from any traumatizing event or any hardship that makes a person a victim, in general? Why is the number of victims increasing day by day if only the occurrence of a crime with an individual result in a victim? Does the concept of mental health or mental health victims hold no importance in an educated nation?
I choose to write on this topic because I was intrigued by the idea or fact that is a well-educated country, only the happening of a crime makes a person a victim and there is no importance given to the concept of mental health and the toxicity of mental health making a person the victim.
This paper tries to make an effort to understand the importance of inculcating the definition of ‘Victim’ under the Mental Healthcare Act (MHA), 2017. The reason being two folds: first, to introduce the concept and importance of mental health & its victims; second, to normalize this concept so that better laws can be framed in this reference.
Keywords: Victim; Mental Health; Mental Healthcare Act, 2017.
Historical Background on ‘VICTIM’
The roots of the word ‘Victim’ is deeply seated in ancient culture and civilizations. The original meaning of the term was rooted in the exercise of sacrifice, i.e., taking the life of a person or animal to accomplish or satisfy a duty. But, over the period, the meaning of the term underwent several amendments with the dynamism of the society and included any person, who has suffered injury, loss or hardship due to any act committed by a person.[i][ii]
Therefore, it can be said that the victim is any person or individual who suffers or has suffered some of the other hardships mentally, emotionally or physically, either all or a combination or any one of them. Therefore, the victim is not only a person with whom a crime has taken place; it is a person/individual who has been tortured or had any hardship mentally, emotionally, physically, psychologically relative to any aspect of his/her life. For instance, if a person does not adhere or comply with the narrow societal norms then the person becomes the victim of ill-mentality or narrow mindedness or if a person is not treated fair within the judicial system then the person is a victim of an ill-justice system or if an individual is taken punished without any reasonable reason by authority than the person becomes the victim of abuse of power. Henceforth, it can be said that the victim is an individual/person/association (individually or collectively) who has been treated unfairly, suffered hardship/s, physical or mental or emotional injury, economic loss...in one or any aspect of life.
But, over some time, India as a nation has curbed the ambit, meaning and the idea of the term victim only to the happening or suffering of a crime by an individual expressly defined, specified and illustrated under Indian Penal Code, 1860 or the occurrence of those acts the effect of which are visible and has worked towards the disruption of the literal notion of the ‘General Victim’ term by associating it only with the criminal system.
Importance of incorporating ‘VICTIM’ under section 2 of MHA, 2017
● Psychological importance
Psychology is the scientific study of the behaviour and mind of an individual. The understanding of the meaning of a word taken by a person to some extent depends upon the psychology of the person since the experiences of an individual also plays a significant role in framing the person’s mentality and psychology. It has a magnificent role in structuring the psychology of an individual because we associate the words and their meanings with experiences (first-hand/direct or second-hand/indirect) and vice-versa.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, ‘Victim’ is a person who has been attacked, injured, robbed, or killed by someone else or someone who has been harmed by an unpleasant event.[iii] In general, Victim is not a bad word but the association of the feelings of a victimized person with the narrow mentality like one should disguise the real emotional traumatic feelings with the non-existence of it. In other words, people are forced to be optimistic without being emotionally agile and real with themselves.
Under me, it is important to incorporate the terminology of Victim under section 2 of the MHA, 2017, because it is vital to create awareness among the people that mental health is also one of the most significant aspects of one’s life just like physical health and that individual, do become the victim of ill-mental health. Mental health is the well-being of an individual in terms of cognitive, behavioural as well as emotional aspect. MHA, 2017 has covered the aspect of cognitive and behavioural but not emotional as under section 2 clause (s) “‘Mental illness' is defined as a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but does not include mental retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, especially characterised by sub-normality of intelligence”.
It is necessary to create awareness about mental health in true meaning among the masses so that people understand the concept and vitality of it simultaneously the inculcation of the concept of Victim under section 2 of MHA, 2017 so that people just like any other crime- victim (a person who has been physically, financially or emotionally injured and/or had their property taken or damaged by someone committing a crime) can also report the hampering done to their mental health and significant steps can be taken for it. Therefore, it becomes utterly significant to incorporate the Victim terminology in the concerned Act so that the well-being of a person can be secured in a proper sense and health is wealth can be understood in its true and wholesome sense.
● Legal importance
The legal fraternity is one of the main pillars to run the country hence it becomes important as well as necessary to introduce the concept of Victim under MHA, 2017. It is because the literal notion of the term victim is restrained within the criminal system and incorporating and recognizing the terminology into the non-criminal system will enhance the importance and awareness of the concept in society. To understand it better, let’s draw an analogy with the help of the recognition of corporations by law.
As corporations in our nation hold a separate status, importance and existence only because the adoption of this concept by law has made the people aware and alert about the management of and within the corporations, likewise, the recognition of the Victim terminology in mental healthcare ambit will not only make the people aware about the concept of Mental Health in wholesome but will also enhance the protection of the people from any emotional harassment or torture by other people or associations. The introduction of this concept under MHA, 2017 will also prevent not only the majors but also the minors from mental and emotional harassment. As JOHN AUSTIN opined that law is the command of the sovereign and has to be backed up by sanction, the punishment becomes the part and parcel of this concept too. The inculcation of punishment for hampering the mental health of a person by making the person a victim of one’s ill-mental health is as significant as any other punishment of the violation of the law. Therefore, the concept needs to be made aware in the form of legal provision so that people have to fear that if they violate it like any other law they will be needed to face the consequences of it.
From the above structure of statements, it is evident and lucid that the literal notion of the victim is curbed and restricted within the ambit of the criminal system. Additionally, there need to be clear and wholesome understanding and awareness with the education of mental health concepts so that people can treat this concept as important and significant as any crime and victims of it without any stigma or wrong notion. One of the best ways to achieve this is by incorporating the terminology and concept of Mental Health and Victim under the MHA, 2017 and backing up the provisions with sanctions so that the dire intent behind the introduction of these concepts can be achieved.
Therefore, in my opinion, it is not only the happening of a crime with an individual that makes the individual a victim but the happening of any kind of suffering or traumatizing also makes an individual a victim. Indeed it is of immense importance and necessity to inculcate the terminologies under the Mental Health Act, 2017.
[i] Nirmal Chopra, ‘A Study of Emerging Role of Victimology in Indian Criminal Justice System’ ch 2 paras (I), 13 (DLaw thesis, Maharshi Dayanand University 2012)
[ii] Supra http://hdl.handle.net/10603/132448