As the spat between Uttar Pradesh Congress Chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi and Chief Minister Mayawati continues, it is worthwhile to focus on the real contentious issue: that of financial compensation for rape victims. The 2007 National Crime Records Bureau states that Uttar Pradesh recorded 21,215 cases of violence against women, including 2,066 cases of dowry death, 1,532 cases of rape and 3,819 cases of kidnapping. According to the National Commission for Women (NCW), 50 per cent of the complaints registered with it are from UP. While Mayawati has said that compensation for rape is humiliating and erodes the self-esteem of Dalits, in government circles there have been moves to widen the compensation net. In 2008, the NCW recommended Rs 2 lakh compensation for rape victims, starting from the time an FIR is filed. Under the 11th Five Year Plan, the Planning Commission, too, has allocated funds for a similar scheme.
But is such compensation a solution? Poor victims most definitely could do with all the monetary support they can get after suffering a traumatic crime like rape. But how does one quantify this trauma in financial terms? The Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, mentions Rs 25,000 to each victim of ‘insult, humiliation and intimidation’ and Rs 50,000 to victims whose ‘modesty has been outraged’ and have been sexually exploited. Then there is the tricky issue of quantifying workdays lost in the case of working victims. Many are of the view that the compensation money helps victims to fund the legal process. True. But this is a damning indictment of the State whose duty it is to represent victims and fight their cases in courts.
In India, the conviction rate for rape is a dismal 27 per cent. Instead of theological calculations about how much the cost of rape is in compensatory terms, the appropriate compensation would be to have speedy trials and a far better conviction rate. Instead of using the issue to wage a political war that will benefit no one beyond those hoping to score some quick ‘identity politics’ brownie points, let the Bahujan Samaj Party government provide real justice by ensuring that rapists are brought to dock and rape is not treated as any old ailment that needs a quick-fix treatment, but a preventive as well as a more nuanced, long-term one.