On 16 June, Laldula Sailo woke up to some unexpected good news. He was so overwhelmed that just recollecting the moment over the phone from Mizoram made him weep with joy. God had been kind, he said; 47 years after his sister and her friend were gangraped by soldiers of the Indian Army, the Central government had given them Rs 5 lakh each as compensation. His sister did not say much when Sailo told her the good news — both friends had gone insane after being raped — neither said very much at all anymore.
The Mizo National Army had been petitioning the Home Ministry for years when a horrific gangrape in Delhi and a wave of protest finally triggered this ‘divine intervention’ for Sailo’s sister and others like her. With the new Anti-rape Bill of 2013, an improved victim compensation scheme was declared paramount. State governments have begun to declare sums of money survivors of sexual violence will receive; Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has offered the maximum with Rs 10 lakh, while the Jammu and Kashmir government’s decision to offer Rs 2 lakh for rape and Rs 3 lakh for rape in ‘police custody’ was met with much derision this week.
While the term ‘compensation’ and the amounts promised have been hotly debated, this is not the first time the Centre and state governments have offered large sums of money to victims of sexual assault to no avail. This money has rarely found its way to survivors and their families, and certainly not when most required. A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report from 2012 shows that the Ministry of Women and Child Development failed to spend a single rupee of the Rs 239.02 crore assigned for relief to rape survivors, between the years 2009 and 2012 (in which period at least 92,698 rapes were reported according to the National Crime Records Bureau). None of the 806 rapes reported in Delhi alone, until this June, have received adequate compensation.
In three decades of activism, All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) secretary Kavita Krishnan is yet to see an instance when compensation was provided to a victim of rape. “In general, these schemes turn survivors into applicants and supplicants begging for dole. This is much worse when they belong to the lower classes or are SC/ STs. Forget the larger compensations, in almost every single case, we have organised money even for the most basic medical procedures ourselves.”
In cases that require more serious medical attention, such as those of acid attack on gangrape survivors, the money offered by way of compensation usually does not even begin to cover the actual cost of medical care. Pragya Singh, a 35-year-old survivor who was attacked with acid on the night of her wedding 10 years ago in Lucknow, is yet to receive any compensation from the UP government. “The only reason I survived and can still lead a happy life is because my husband could afford the bills for my surgery,” she said.
Even if this money were to make its way to the right hands, offering a blanket sum — as the J&K government purports to do — raises some difficult questions. Lawyer Rebecca John, who has represented several rape survivors pro bono, says that while several women could do with financial assistance, it is crucial yet problematic to quantify their needs. “In case of a motor accident, the procedure is cut and dry: the court considers the age of the victim, how much s/he earns, how many surviving members of the family remain, how many working years the victim had ahead of them and decides on the amount of compensation.” This is important for rape too. Yet, how does one compensate for the loss of dignity? John describes it as “something the survivor has lost, is losing and will continue to lose all her life”.
One way the government could conceivably help is by offering a standard amount to the survivor when first complaint is made — what the new Anti-rape Bill describes as an ‘interim damage’ — which could cover basic medical and legal procedures. The State could then follow up with a specific amount for the survivor once the peculiarities of her case have been established by the criminal courts. In the case of gangrape and acid attack survivors, the new bill decrees that the fined amount paid by perpetrators be given to the survivor or their family. But as the case of the infamous Delhi gang rape demonstrates, this is no certain source of reparation — assailants are often unable to pay the fine levied on them, and find they must serve extra time instead.
Sanjay Mishra, member of the Jharkhand State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (JSCPCR), has lost a lot of sleep this August. When the JSCPCR gave Rs 1.20 lakh each as compensation to four schoolgirls who were gangraped in Ranchi last month, local residents warned him that more schoolgirls would “show up every day”, alleging that they had been raped, and demanding money for false cases. One such schoolgirl, a 13-year-old rape survivor, decided to stay at home instead. When relatives contacted AIPWA to assist with her case, Krishnan found it was too late to ask for any kind of compensation. The girl, formerly a bright student, refused to go to school any longer, or to even step out of her home. Krishnan says that the family agreed with her decision not because of external stigma, or fear for her safety, but because each person in the house had abandoned hope of a future. Like Sailo’s sister, the family of three sat around staring blankly at the activists around them. Compensation, as one must remember, can be no substitute for justice.