Around 8.30 pm on October 9, 2012, Mansi (name changed), while walking home, was pulled into a machine room, tied up, and raped twice. The following morning, the crime was reported and an application for compensation was filed. A year later, criminal proceedings commenced.
Another nine months after that, the rapist was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. Today, three years after the rape, despite the completion of the trial, Mansi’s application for victim compensation is still pending at the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA).
In response to the public outrage over rape, Section 357A was inserted into the Code of Criminal Procedure in 2009. This requires all state governments to enact a scheme to provide compensation to victims of various crimes. The Karnataka Victim Compensation Scheme came into force in 2012. However, the state and district legal services authorities have rendered the scheme meaningless.
This, by way of their failure to grant interim compensation, allowing for cases to pend endlessly, limiting the amounts given to victims, and neglecting to establish a systematic application of the scheme. We received information through the Right to Information requests that of the 203 rape victims who have applied since 2012, only 26 have received compensation till date. The rest, like Mansi, wait.
While the Supreme Court held that compensation should not depend on the outcome of the case, interim compensation has been given only once and most applications (77 per cent) are left pending for this very reason. In the Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum (1994) case, the court emphasised that victim compensation should be given “whether or not a conviction has taken place.” It was recognised that in the immediate aftermath of sexual assault, victims struggle to regain control over their lives while simultaneously embarking on lengthy court proceedings.
The very purpose of the scheme is to provide support not just when the case is finalised, but also during court proceedings to minimise the trauma thereof. With the scheme, the power to grant compensation has been moved outside the court room; the DLSA need only verify the validity of the FIR, and the statements of the station house and medical officers to grant compensation (recoverable with interest if the Court later finds it was issued wrongly).
Despite this simplified procedure, DLSAs have succeeded neither in granting interim compensation nor in finalising cases in a timely fashion. With 158 of the 203 applications still pending today, the non-implementation of the scheme is evident. A sum of Rs 1 crore is released annually for distribution under the scheme. Nevertheless, when the DLSAs finally grant compensation, they give too little. While some states like Delhi list minimum and maximum amounts, the Karnataka Scheme only lists maximum amounts, causing great variance in its implementation.
Of the 25 victims who have received final compensation in the last three years, only eight were given substantial amounts (two-third or more of the maximum) while 13 received less than one-third of the mandated maximum. The scheme needs to be reformed to include minimum amounts and ensure that victims are provided adequate compensation.
Even if DLSAs rapidly approved interim and final compensation, and provided sufficient amounts when doing so, there is a third problem: too few applications are being filed. While 203 applications were filed at DLSAs over the last three years, in 2013 alone, 1,061 rape cases were reported in Karnataka—around 1 in 17 victims of reported rapes pursue compensation. A circular dated 04.09.2014 requires police stations to file for compensation automatically within 24 hours of the registration of the rape. This circular has not been implemented.
Of the 203 applications filed, 26 were filed at the police station, 11 were filed by the court and the rest by the victims. The right to compensation should not be dependent on the victim’s awareness of the scheme. Rather, the scheme should be implemented systematically; an application for compensation should be filed the day the crime is registered at the station.
It is a simple fact that the criminal justice system fails to provide justice to victims of rape. Primarily focused on prosecuting the offender, neither the trial nor its outcome seeks to secure victim’s recovery. The Victim Compensation Scheme is founded on the principle that victims deserve more from the legal system than prosecution. Rape causes a ripple effect on a victim’s life, effecting immense emotional, physical, economic, and social harm.
Compensation was introduced as a mitigating factor. Rather than inflicting more harm on the victim, the legal response to rape should aim to prevent the acute trauma of the assault from triggering a long term, downward economic and social spiral, and to preserve the integrity of the victim’s personal well-being.
(The writer is with the Centre for Law and Policy Research, Bengaluru)