Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Rape Reparation

Today's Indian Express has a news item about the Planning Commission proposing a financial assistance scheme for rape victims. Apparently, rape victims will get up to Rs 3 lakh as compensation (apart from official assistance) to tide over the victim's immediate and long-term needs. This, the news item says, is part of an effort to ensure "restorative justice".
Restorative justice is a legal principle (am linking it to the wikipedia definition) and I still have to understand the complexity of it. Maybe the Planning Commission has a point. But I have my extremely cynical doubts about this proposal. 
Apparently, in a note to the Women and Child Development ministry, the Commission has said that apart from punishing the perpetrators the woman's dignity and self-confidence must be restored as well.
But is a sum of Rs 3 lakh (or any financial amount) going to do that? A woman's body and spirit have been violated. What she needs is justice and a few lakhs in her bank account is not necessarily going to get her that. Of course, this does not absolve the state from ensuring speedy justice for victims.
I would rather the state spends money in setting up fast track courts for rape cases and sensitising the police and the courts about the trauma of a rape victim and to deal with them with sympathy and sensitivity. Most rape victims baulk from going to the police or to the courts because of the crude questioning they are put through.
I am also worried that this could lead to other problems. To apply for this compensation, victims have to first file a first information report (FIR). Now, we all know how difficult it is to get an FIR filed and a copy obtained even for ordinary crimes, never mind what the police keep telling us. It is even more difficult in the case of rape. Now imagine a situation where a rape victim seeks a copy of the FIR in order to apply for this compensation. Once the cops know that a couple of lakhs at least are involved, are they going to make it easier for the victims to get the FIR? Won't this involve more harassment?
I also fear a rise in false allegations of rape in order to claim compensation. Many will be shocked that such scepticism is being voiced by a woman. But, let's face it, women are prone to misuse laws meant to help them. It won't hurt us to admit that.
I am not sure if in cases where compensation is being sought, the offender has to be identified, but in many cases, the victim does not know who it is. Whether it was the Maulana Azad Medical College student rape case or that of the girl working at a call centre who was abducted from Satya Niketan, neither knew who their rapists were. The police rounded up bad characters in a particular area and zeroed in on them and they confessed. 
This increases the possibility of misuse of this provision. The proposal mentions the setting up of a District Criminal Injuries Relief and Rehabilitation Board (see the story for details), but I am not sure how effective this will be, either in providing justice and compensation to victims or in preventing rape compensation scams.

1 comment:

vivek rajagopalan said...

Brilliant. there's a comedy scene in a tamil film where the zamindar's son rapes women of the village with careless abandon becuase he only has to pay a Rs 2000 penalty. So he deposits Rs 20,000 every month with the panchayat and does rape on "advance booking" basis! And as you rightly argue, the state must spend its funds to ensure that such incidents dont happen, instead of pussilanimously trying to compensate for the loss of a woman's identity in a particular social milieu. How stupid can our policymakers get?