Nearly one month after a 19-year old Dalit woman was gang-raped by five men in Rajasthan’s Alwar, she said, “When I go to sleep, the assault comes back to trouble me.” She was not able to stop thinking about what had happened. The trauma that followed the sexual assault on April 26 continued to haunt her. She was not provided any psychological counselling to deal with it and left to fend for herself.
In fact, there is no institutional mechanism to provide psychological counselling for rape survivors in India. Most of the Indian laws like IPC, POCSO Act, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, etc., have provisions only for awarding monetary compensation to the victims of criminal offence. After the 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape, the IPC was amended to the effect that all hospitals, public or private, whether run by the Union government, the state government, local bodies or any other person, are now required to provide first aid or medical treatment free of cost to rape and acid attack victims. However, these provisions still fall short of providing counselling support which at times becomes more crucial than awarding monetary compensation or even providing medical treatment to the rape survivor.
The One Stop Centre (also known as Sakhi Centre) Scheme, launched in April 2015, does provide for psycho-social counselling services “on call” basis, but such services are meant only for cases which require “emergency response and rescue services”. These centres have limited infrastructure and so are not capable of catering to all cases of violent sexual assault where counselling may be required.
In May 2018, the Supreme Court directed all states and union territories to implement the Compensation Scheme for Women Victims/Survivors of Sexual Assault/other Crimes-2018 (a sub-scheme within the existing Victim Compensation Scheme) without taking away anything from the scheme or diluting it.
This sub-scheme was prepared by a Committee constituted by NALSA in pursuance of the court’s order in a writ petition titled Nipun Saxena vs Union of India (2012). One of the factors required to be considered while awarding compensation under this scheme includes ‘expenditure incurred or likely to be incurred on the medical treatment for physical and/ or mental health including counselling of the victim’. Thus, even this novel scheme talks only of providing compensation and does not elaborate on the mechanism of providing counselling to rape victims.
In 1994, it was for the first time that the SC, while hearing a petition on behalf of the Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum, in a case where six tribal domestic servants were subjected to indecent sexual assault by Army personnel while travelling in a train, directed the National Commission for Women “to evolve such (compensation) scheme as to wipe out the tears of such unfortunate victims”. While writing this judgement, the court made special reference to a passage from ‘The Oxford handbook of Criminology’ that not only delineated historical developments of making compensation in London but also highlighted “a major shift in penological thinking, reflecting the growing importance attached to restitution and reparation over more narrowly retributive aims of conventional punishment”. However, the procedural law was amended only in December 2009 and a special provision (Section 357-A) was added to incorporate Victim Compensation Scheme.
It is now 25 years that India need to emulate again a much desired counselling program on the lines of British Columbia’s Crime Victim Assistance Program Counselling Guidelines 2018. It is quite a comprehensive programme that includes establishment of counselling services (to respond to the psychological, or counselling needs) or expenses as a benefit that may be available not only to victims but also to their immediate family members and some witnesses. It provides for maximum number of hours of counselling up to 48 hours for victims, 36 hours for immediate family members and 12 hours for witnesses. However, if the claimant is a minor, the maximum limit of hours of counselling may exceed on approval. In most cases, the provision is to make payment of fees for counselling directly to the service provider and the fee rate payment is determined on the basis of counsellor’s work experience, academic and professional accreditation. Further, the choice of counsellor is entirely that of the claimant but the hourly maximum fee rate is fixed under the programme.
There are many rape survivors who need immediate psychological counselling to handle emotional distress and adversities. The 1993 ‘UN Declaration on the Elimination of violence against Women’ also stipulates creating support structures to promote safety, physical and psychological rehabilitation of women. It is, therefore, high time that India, taking cue from British Columbia, evolves a comprehensive counselling support system for the victims of violent crime. Only monetary compensation may not always be sufficient to ensure rehabilitation of such victims. The state is duty bound to provide compensation if it fails to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens. In furtherance of this duty the state also has a duty to ensure true rehabilitation of survivors by providing them institutional support and counselling.
R K Vij
The author is a senior IPS officer in Chhattisgarh. Views expressed are personal