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Relief, but not enough

In the last year or so, the noticeable rise in the number of rape cases in India has been met with vociferous demands for justice.

india Updated: May 15, 2006 01:34 IST

In the last year or so, the noticeable rise in the number of rape cases in India has been met with vociferous demands for justice. This seems to be finally paying off, albeit not as quickly as one would like to see. Last week, the Ministry for Women and Child Development cleared a proposal framed by the NCW to award compensation to rape victims — a maximum of Rs 2 lakh within a year of filing the application, and interim relief of Rs 20,000 within three weeks, besides medical and legal support and rehabilitative measures. These would be awarded irrespective of whether a conviction finally takes place or not. Would this then leave it open to misuse, spurring women to file false cases of rape to make a quick buck? A similar provision of Rs 50,000 in the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act has been allegedly used by several women to collect the interim relief of Rs 25,000, after which they backtracked on their statements in court.

But this still wouldn’t discount for the enormous number of women it would encourage to come out and report the crime, or aid in fighting cases that may take years to culminate, or provide help  in a situation where even families may have turned their backs on them because of the stigma attached to rape.

Yet, this very stipulation — that relief be independent of conviction — is disturbing, if only because it is most likely based on the reality that many rape cases don’t even reach the trial stage for lack of evidence, or don’t lead to conviction because of poor investigation. However well-intentioned the initiative to provide relief may be, the government must realise that nothing can compensate for the sense of loss if the accused gets away with the crime. Laws related to rape must be amended to facilitate speedy trials in fast-track courts. The 172nd report of the Law Commission had recommended changes that would make the investigative and prosecution processes more thorough. Unless the government demonstrates that it will not tolerate a crime like rape, its move to provide relief after it takes place has the danger of appearing like an eyewash.