Money is ever poor compensation for the physical, mental and psychological trauma suffered by the victim of an assault, more so in cases of sexual assault. It is therefore no surprise that the apex court should see insult being added to injury by the Madhya Pradesh government’s paying a miserly compensation of Rs 6,000 or 6,500 to rape victims. “Are you doing a charity? You value rape at Rs 6,500”, Justice Madan B. Lokur admonished the state government’s Standing Counsel, when sharing the Bench with Justice Deepak Gupta and dealing with a petition on the utilisation of the Nirbhaya Fund for the welfare of victims of such assault. “For Madhya Pradesh the figures are fantastic”, the court observed, “there are 1,951 victims and you are giving Rs 6000-6500 each. Is that good, commendable”; adding that “this is total insensitiveness”.
To be fair, the court came down equally heavily on the fact that as many as 24 states and union territories had not responded to its call for affidavits on their utilisation of the Fund. “It is sad that a large number of state governments are not bothered about the safety of women, in spite of all talk about gender justice…. ” It is worth noting that the Central government claimed difficulty in securing information from the states, clearly there is only lip service paid to the safety of women. A poser for Maneka Gandhi?
Compensation payments are only a small part of the story. Inept policing is another, many victims are hesitant to go to the cops fearing additional shame and pressure. The Womens’ Commissions in several states are comatose ~ Delhi is an exception, though possibly publicity-seeking ~ and traditional misogynistic mindsets still prevail even in urban areas. Sexual harassment at the workplace remains rampant, and the attitude of most politicians is negative.
The indifference of state governments, as pointed out in the Supreme Court, testifies to criminal dereliction of a basic duty. The nation appeared “shocked” at the Nirbhaya incident in the Capital a few years back. Alas that shock was short-lived and there have been several other Nirbhayas subsequently though all have not attracted media attention.
Legal action, no matter how widespread and punitive, cannot succeed in changing traditional attitudes, social action is necessary. From where will that originate? Movies on rape victims do not arouse emotions if religion, caste or community “pride” is not impacted (the furore over ‘Padmaavat’ proves that).
Though the nation is almost permanently in election mode, gender-inequality is never a vote-catching issue: a collective failure of women politicians, regardless of party affiliation. Their non-serious attitude is reflected in the state governments’ tardiness in response to the Supreme Court’s call for information. And finally, can their Lordships “fix” a compensation level high enough to coerce the administrations into effective preventive/punitive action?