“On paper we are perfect. But the reality is different.” The lament of scribe-turned-activist S Balakrishnan about the gulf between the law book and its actual application is backed with good reason.
The legislation for protecting women from sex crimes is robust, as are the proposed changes within the legal framework. The Scheme for Relief and Rehabilitation of Victims of Rape, 2005 envisions a board to decide compensation for victims and psychological and medical aid.
The Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2006 replaces the term ‘rape’ as defined in the current penal code with the more inclusive ‘sexual assault’, with explicit text on what this would constitute. But neither has been brought into force.
Balakrishnan, who works for the NGO Desh Seva Samiti, says, “The rehabilitation scheme has been on paper for years. But reality is different.”
The social activist is trying to register his organisation under the state government’s Mahila Samopadeshan Scheme, which awards grants to NGOs working for women empowerment. “Maharashtra has not had a women’s commission chairman for the last four years. The chairperson can intervene and bring pressure on the police,” he says. He cites the case of Odisha, which has announced setting up a State Criminal Injuries Relief and Rehabilitation Board to provide compensation, counselling, education and vocational training to rape victims. State has nothing along these lines.
The prescriptions of relief schemes for rape victims in the country appear to emphasise more on compensation, in stark contrast to other countries, which boast of 24-hour help lines and extensive support networks for victims.
Even the Democratic Republic of Congo, a small war-torn African country, boasts of a rehab centre for victims of sexual violence, which began operating in February last year. South Africa, which has one of the highest crime (rape) rates in the world, has a rape crisis centre with a round-the-clock hotline for immediate counseling. Similar centers exist in the US and the UK. The US also has a free help line for sexual assault cases, a confidential hotline where victims can seek medical advice, and psychological guidance from trained experts.