A reparative justice

For the rape victim, compensation is a right, not mercy shown by the state

While directing the government of Madhya Pradesh to pay Rs 10 lakh as compensation to the victims of gangrape, the Supreme Court observed that the "trauma of rape victims continues throughout their life and such victims cannot be compensated by any amount". Lately, the SC has reiterated that the trial courts must award compensation to the victims while sentencing convicts in criminal cases. Earlier, the parliamentary committee on the empowerment of women also expressed its concern about poor implementation of the compensation and rehabilitation scheme for sexual exploitation and human trafficking cases.

The Delhi gangrape case generated much anger against the rapists, and there was a widespread demand for the death penalty for those found guilty. Giving in to public pressure, Parliament amended the law to broaden the definition of "rape" and included provisions for the death penalty in certain cases. There is, however, scant evidence to suggest that death for rapists can be a deterrent. And in this clamour for punishment, the plight of the victims has largely been forgotten.

Our criminal justice system is based on the premise that the accused must be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Over time, this presumption has given rise to a range of rights for the accused, from free legal aid to a diligent, speedy trial. But the rights of the victim have not been paid much attention, either by the legislature or by the judiciary. The victim is generally left to the mercy of the state. The tasks of counselling and rehabilitation often fade into the background.

Ruling on Delhi Domestic Working Women's Forum versus Union of India, 1985, which dealt with the rape of domestic workers by army personnel in a running train, the SC had held that rape transgressed the fundamental right enshrined in Article 21: the right to live with dignity. If the state could not protect this right, it was liable to paying compensation. The Court also directed the National Commission for Women to help set up a "criminal injury compensation board", in keeping with the directive principles of state policy. Compensation, the SC said, must be awarded quickly, without waiting for the courts to convict the accused.

... contd.

Please read our terms of use before posting comments
TERMS OF USE: The views expressed in comments published on indianexpress.com are those of the comment writer's alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of The Indian Express Group or its staff. Comments are automatically posted live; however, indianexpress.com reserves the right to take it down at any time. We also reserve the right not to publish comments that are abusive, obscene, inflammatory, derogatory or defamatory.