Delhi to compensate victims under a new scheme, but will it buy them dignity?
If Delhi won't stop being the rape capital anytime soon, it should at least come as some comfort to the city's residents that those who are raped or assaulted will be compensated fairly and promptly from now on.
On 10 November, the Home Ministry approved the Delhi government's revised Victim Compensation Scheme (VCS). Delhi was the first state that had a VCS in place in 2011 that compensated victims of rape, acid attack, burning, sexual abuse, child abuse, human trafficking and kidnapping.
Prior to 2011, the only compensation a victim could hope to get was from her offender. This often meant waiting for years together for a fair trial and conviction before the offender would be slapped with compensation charges. This too, would vary depending on the financial ability of the offender to pay. So if a poor boy committed a heinous crime he would get away with paying the little he could.
It was in 2011 that Delhi drafted its first Victim Compensation Scheme getting the State Government to directly pay the victim compensation directly in a bank account created for the victim itself.
Today it has only made that stronger.
The mental trauma of sexual assault
Last October, Neha (name changed) was sexually assaulted by her own uncle. She was only 16. Her father and mother had separated and the incident had happened soon after when she was alone at her father's home.
While the incident left no visible external physical injuries, she suffered emotional trauma. Counsel to Secure Justice (CSJ) an Indian NGO working on child sexual abuse cases helped Neha apply for compensation. It took five months after which she was given an interim compensation of Rs 25,000.
"When a victim faces no physical injuries, such cases are always dealt with much slower and fare lower in the priority of our justice system," says Deborah Patel, a social worker who helped Neha cope.
Things would look different today. The new VCS guarantees interim compensation in 60 days.
The most progressive part is that a victim can now get compensated for the mental trauma of sexual abuse, not physical alone. Finally, there is a scheme that recognises the importance of mental health and the need to psychologically heal from abuse of rape and stigma from society.
"Most of our clients' parents are daily-wage labourers who must forgo their wages and often employment when they report the crime and are involved in the investigation. It is only fair that compensation should account for all the costs, physical, mental and economic, inflicted on the victim," says Michelle Mendonca, Project Director at Counsel to Secure Justice.
Dissecting the VCS
The new VCS is a welcome move. All cases will now be dealt with within 60 days ensuring interim compensation in that period. Acid attack and brutal cases of assault will be dealt with more immediately ranging from a response time of 7 to 20 days.
The decision on how much compensation to release to the victims will be made by the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) depending on the gravity of the crime and the medical expenses that are likely to be incurred by the family, loss of educational opportunity as a consequence of the offence, loss of employment as a result of the offence, whether it was recurring and whether the victim is pregnant, whether she contacted a sexual transmitted disease or whether she died as a result of the assault.
DSLSA may take suo motu action or on an application by the victims or dependents as may be required in the circumstance.
The budgetary allocation to the VCS will be through grants-in-aid to DSLSA for which provisions will be made in the annual budget by the government. The VCF will also be beefed up with fines collected under section 357 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and donations, contributions from philanthropists, charitable institutions and individuals.
The compensation for victims ranges from Rs 20,000 for loss of any limb or part of body or a below 20% disability to a maximum of Rs 10 lakh for loss of life.
Here are some compensations that are part of the scheme:
Gang rape: Rs 3 lakh to Rs 7 lakh
Rape: Rs 2 lakh to Rs 5 lakh
Victims of human trafficking or child abuse: Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh
Victims of burning: Rs 1 lakh to 7 lakh
Victims of acid attack: Rs 3 lakh to 7 lakh
Three fourth of the money is given as a fixed deposit that will mature in a few years. Only a fourth of the amount can be used right away by withdrawing it in cash. While this is good when the compensation is high, for small time compensation, there is very little that can be put to use right away.
Also if the victim is below 18 the compensation rates mentioned automatically are hiked by 50%.
Recent news reports also confirm that the Home Ministry has also tweaked the Delhi government's proposal increasing minimum compensation for victims of sexual assault further.
Compensation: a double-edged sword
But the biggest issue remains is aiming for a timely disbursal during dire times.
"Usually the process of creating an account in the case of a minor takes a long time. This causes huge delays often up to several weeks," says Patel.
But the real discomfiting question lies elsewhere in what you make a victim go through to get her compensation.
Social workers will often tell you about the slight smirk and disbelief on the faces of those in the courtroom. They might ask victims slandering questions or silently make the assumption that the victim is falsely implicating the offender to make a quick buck. When we are a country where less than 10% of the cases of sexual abuse are reported in the first place because of the stigma of talking about sex and abuse, such implicit accusations provide ground for grave delays in justice.
"To expect them to be sophisticated enough to fool a well-governed DLSA system and burden their children with the stigma that sex abuse victims face is unrealistic, there may be stray cases where there is false reporting but generalising these and viewing all victims with skepticism places the victim on trial. Scepticism may be warranted after a full examination of the facts in some cases, but it should never be the starting point," says Mendonca.
Can the new VCS compensate for a lack of dignity? Unfortunately, dignity is not something compensation can buy.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu