In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot, the characters who laugh their heads off are not the ones who have a great sense of humour. Usually, they are the ones who have no sense of humour at all. The government’s response to rape with ‘reparation’ schemes, ‘compensation’ packages, say activists, are similarly funny without being comical.
Will the government’s new scheme of compensation — the Scheme for Restorative Justice — change that, especially in the light of rising cases of rape all over the country?
The recent spurt in rape cases in Uttar Pradesh is, however, no reason to believe that the situation in the rest of the country is much better. India’s overall rape and sexual assault statistics show that UP is hardly an exception. In 2009, cases of reported rape were 21,397, and cases of sexual harassment were 11,009, according to the National Crime Bureau.
Rape compensation in India is tied up in processes that assume the impartiality of authorities dealing with the crime — the police and the district boards tasked with determining injuries. Compensation demands ‘proof’ of injury for which the victim has to undergo medical examination under police supervision. If medical examination is delayed, the evidence of rape is gone.
It is in this background of inequity that the government is working on a package for rape victims under which compensation could go up to R3 lakh, ie R2.5 lakh more than the present compensation structure (R50,000 minimum), most commonly availed by scheduled caste/scheduled tribe rape victims through the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. The new scheme is supposed to cater to all irrespective of caste.
In 2010, the findings of a National Study on Sexual Assault suggested that the rape of Dalit women are “more traumatic than non-Dalits”, as for them it’s a trans-generational thing and not a one-time event. Dalits welcome the new compensation package but say that without social justice and punishment of rape and sexual assault as acts of crime, money will not buy them lasting security.
The statistics on sexual assault on women certainly demand government action. But a ‘scheme’ without the force of law is just an ad hoc measure that can be withdrawn with a change of government, say activists. The scheme initiated by the ministry of women and child development has taken in many of the activists’ recommendations. But it hasn’t recognised the parallel process of reforming the Indian Penal Code to make a comprehensive law on sexual assault, made support services — post-rape — a matter of recommendation, not included any independent member in district committees or fixed compensation as the central assessment of the victim’s needs, they say.
Compensation is also a bit of political gimmickry — whether the dole is sponsored by the state government or the Centre. If a rape happens in the capital, for instance, like it did with a girl from Nagaland, the issue of compensation gets more pertinent and political. It attacks the notion of Delhi as a safe city.
Rape compensation is also a complicated issue because in India it turns into a ‘case of the missing crime’. If it can be ‘proved’ that there has been no crime, it follows there will be no compensation. What is also shocking is that the new scheme has also made allowances for the ‘cause’ for rape, points out Madhu Mehra, executive director of Partners for Law in Development, in which case there will be no compensation. The present scheme thus throws up more questions than it answers.
Section 12 of the new scheme, for instance, says that the claim will be rejected “in a case involving solicitation”. So does it mean sex workers, for instance, whose livelihood depends on solicitation, can be raped and it is not a crime and, hence, will not be compensated? Section 9 says the interim or final financial assistance shall be “remitted into the bank account provided in the application”. Majority of women in rural families have no bank account, so will this serve only urban women?