The West Bengal government on September 6 cleared the decks for compensation packages to women who were raped or molested, igniting a fresh controversy in the state.
Women over the age of 18 would receive Rs 20,000, those under 18 would receive Rs 30,000 and in case of death, the next of kin would receive Rs 2 lakh. Monetary compensation starting from Rs 10,000 has also been earmarked for physical injuries sustained during rape, the amount of which will vary depending on the degree of disability it causes.
“We will offer compensation for all kind of atrocities, whether it is rape, eve-teasing or molestation. But the complaint has to be correct and it must be proved,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee was quoted as saying by The Times of India Friday.
The announcement has sparked an outrage in the state which tops the list of crime against women in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Bengal amounted to nearly 12.7 per cent of the total number of reported crimes against women in India in 2011, which included 2363 cases of rape, The Telegraph reported on July 3, 2012.
The 37-year-old victim of the infamous Park Street rape case, said in a telephone interview that the compensation is like “adding insult to injury”. “My life has completely changed after the incident,” said the single mother of two daughters who lives with her mother. “I am desperately looking for a job, but nobody is willing to employ me. People look down upon me as if I am to blame for the incident. I am kind of ostracised in the society. This announcement of compensation for victims like me is just like a slap on the face. It means nothing when my body has been violated and the perpetrators are still evading the law while I suffer every single day.”
She was raped at gunpoint in a moving car by a man, helped by his two other friends, who had offered to drop her home from Park Street, Kolkata’s most happening address, on February 5 this year. When the incident was reported, Chief Minister Banerjee was prompt to say that the case was fabricated to malign her government. Transport minister Madan Mitra went to the extent of questioning the integrity of the lady, asking reporters what business the single woman had at a night-club so late in the night. On February 18, the police proved chief minister wrong by arresting two of the accused and stating that a rape had indeed taken place. The main culprit Kader Khan is still absconding. Neither Ms. Banerjee nor Mr. Mitra apologised.
Ms. Banerjee did not stop at that. In another incident in the same month, she accused the victim of staging an act because “her husband is a CPM supporter”, oblivious to the fact that the Burdwan woman’s husband had died 11 years ago.
“With so much insensitivity around, at times I really wonder if I did the right thing by approaching the police, by reporting the incident. Should I have borne the pain secretly and let things go on as if nothing has happened? At least I’d have enjoyed some respectability in the society. Would that have been better than being raped several times over and over again after the incident? I am sick and tired of having to prove my innocence, trying to explain people that it was not my fault, I did not ask to be raped,” the Park Street victim said. “The least they can do is ensuring speedy justice for rape victims, exemplary punishment for the rapists. Do something so that the victims are not victimized for the rest of their lives.”
Compensation announcement has also seen sharp criticism on social networking sites. “WB declared monetary rewards for raped women. Many poor women will now be happy to be raped. Any rewards for the rapists?,” tweeted controversial Bangladeshi author, Taslima Nasreen (@taslimanasreen), who spent three years (2004-2007) of her exile in Kolkata, the city she calls home. In reply to her tweet, author and columnist Tushar A. Gandhi (@TusharG, great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi), tweeted: “Rapists will be given Udyog Ratna Award for creating income opportunities.”
“Raped women shld refuse govt’s rape money. Women shld shout out loud.Make authority’s life hell until women are safe & secure everywhere,” Ms. Nasreen said in another tweet.
“Money is no way of giving justice to rape victim,” rights activist Anuradha Talwar said. “This is demeaning. Speedy legal system and early convictions could help.”