SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 20 OCTOBER, 2019
Can Compensation Replace Justice in Rape?
A powerful editorial in a leading Bengali newspaper raised relevant questions on the issue of how logical and justified it is to compensate a rape victim in monetary terms when her rapists have gone scot free for “lack of sufficient evidence”.
This relates to the recent news that the West Midnapur rape victim who belongs to the poorest of the poor has rejected the monetary compensation offered to her instead of giving justice by punishing the rapists. She demands that the rapists be punished for destroying her body, her mind, her social status and her dignity which is a precise and fair demand.
The victim has said that she will not accept any monetary compensation until her rapists are punished because mere money cannot be equated with the torture, humiliation and insult she has suffered and more importantly, is a denial of justice to the five rapists who raped her repeatedly when she was in a mental hospital.
Medical tests have not only proved that rape has been committed but has also been produced as evidence in court. Proper police investigation and its presentation in the court would have taken care of “lack of evidence.”
Recent studies have proved that in only one of four rape cases is the rapist punished. The victim in question has reportedly informed the media that monetary compensation alone cannot rehabilitate the victim’s life in the present and future in any way.
The entire concept of “monetary compensation” is based on patriarchy that dominates our social, legal and administrative systems. Patriarchy dictates that handing some money to the victim and her family is the right evaluation of the physical torture, the mental trauma and the social ostracism.
In other words, this reasserts the patriarchal theory that the female of the species, like any object or service, be equated to an object that has exchange value and can be bought and sold in exchange for money. In the meantime, the rapists go scot-free and in all probability, rape again.
Can a rape victim be ‘compensated’ with money? Should she be compensated with money? Will that remedy the violation of her soul and body and restore her dignity? Will it punish the rapist and be a deterrent? These questions arise in the wake of the West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s public announcement about the State organizing monetary compensations to rape victims for having been raped!
On September 6, 2012 the CM of West Bengal, in response to the rising rate of rape across the state, said that ‘genuine’ rape victims would be paid Rs.30, 000 as compensation if they were minor, Rs.20, 000 if they were adult, Rs.50, 000 if the victim suffered from 80% disability, Rs.20, 000 for 40% to 80% disability. In case the victim died during the assault, her family would be paid a compensation of Rs.2 lakh!
How will the infra-structure be set up? When? How long will the process take till the victim can lay hands on the money? No one knows.
Mamata Banerjee is not the first CM to have made this humiliating ‘proclamation.’ On August 26, 1983, PTI published a news report in the Times of India that stated that the Andhra Pradesh Government had announced a monetary compensation of Rs.5000 over and above the already-in-practice compensation of Rs.1000 to rape victims belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes within A.P. District Collectors would sanction this ‘relief.’
The rape victim would need the certification of a government doctor below the rank of a civil servant. It was as if, by announcing this monetary compensation, the A.P. State Government was not only admitting rape as a frequent occurrence among women of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes but also legalizing it with compensation so that the victims did not file their complaints or approach the legal machinery for justice! In the mid-1980s, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, London, proposed a reasonably ‘handsome’ compensation to each rape victim. Women’s organisations in the country rose up in arms. They insisted that not only was the amount small but it was also insulting to the dignity of women.
Measuring ‘rape’ in monetary terms is tantamount to equating the rape victim with a sex worker who sells her services for money. It is like putting a monetary value on the act of rape and rationalizing it by remaining silent about what steps will be taken to book the rapist. The sex worker does it by force of circumstance – poverty, lack of education, trafficking, etc. The element of ‘force’ is present here. But the rape victim has sex forced on her person without her consent and mostly, by physical force when she tries to resist. Rape is an attack, not forced sex alone. The rape victim is often killed by the rapists so that she cannot identify them in court.
Rape cannot be separated from the larger spectrum of violence against women that could range from ‘simple’ harassment to murder. It is just another weapon in the arsenal that keeps patriarchy alive and thriving. It is the attitude of misogyny central to the institutional structures responsible for maintaining individual violence, including rape.
This misogyny results in the blaming and the shaming of the victim, two accepted modes of treatment. Such treatment creates and sustains a deadly conspiracy of silence around rape. It punishes the victim and makes her bear the burden of violation in isolation, thereby allowing the perpetrator undeserved freedom. The four rapists of Mathura, the 14-year-old girl who was raped in Chandrapur district by four men including two police constables, Ganpat and Tukaram way back in 1972 is an example.
All men are socialized by their own economic, social and political oppression, as well as by the overall level of social violence in the country in which they live to inflict social violence on their women, which includes rape. Rape, therefore, is not a simple by-product of maleness. Nor is it, as is commonly portrayed, the result of man's anatomical construction. Neither does it result from an immutable male psychological constitution.
For, if this were true, then sexual violence would not flow directly from official policy. Arlene Eisen in Women in Vietnam points out that US soldiers received instructions for their search-and-destroy missions which included the raping of Vietnamese women phrased in political terms, Rape, as is common knowledge today, is frequently a component of the torture inflicted on women political prisoners by fascist governments and counter-revolutionary forces. The Ku Klux Klan in the USA has used rape as a weapon of political terror.
Political leaders who offer humiliating solutions to grave problems, leaders who surrender to acceptable responses defined by a patriarchal culture can never understand the extent of female oppression and the tenacity of patriarchy. Nor can they offer real solutions to complex social, historical and political problems arising out of the very gender-bias patriarchy thrives on.
Can monetary compensation restore the lost dignity and self-esteem of the victim?