The rights of the victims are one of those few necessary rights which have evolved at a slow pace since independence. Over the years, the Indian Judiciary, and specifically the Supreme Court of India, has clarified and granted various rights to the victims through its judgments. Such cases are now considered a landmark in terms of shifting the shape of victim jurisprudence, and this article discusses those judgments in brief, giving a timeline of how these rights have developed.
The very first issue with the victims’ rights was the compensation to the victims for the harm caused to them. This was taken up for the first time in Maru Ram & ors. v. Union of India and ors. (1981) 1 SCC 107, where the Court stated that it was the social responsibility of the criminal to repair the harm caused by them to the victim, and it was an integral component of the punitive process. This issue came up again in Hari Singh v. Sukhbir Singh & ors. (1988) 4 SCC 551, where the Supreme Court observed that the lower courts were generally ignorant of the purpose of the compensatory provisions under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC). In Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa 1993 SCR (2) 581, the Apex Court held that the State has to compensate the victims for the harm caused by its officers.
The Supreme Court has emphasized on the use of the provisions of CrPC to grant compensation to the victims in various cases. In Balraj v. State of U.P. (1994) 4 SCC 29 and Dillip S. Dhanukar v. Kotak Mahindra Co. Ltd. & Anr. (2006) 6 SCC 528, the Court has explicitly stated that the provisions under section 357 of CrPC must be given their full effect in order to grant the necessary compensation to the victims. The power under this provision was not “ancillary, but in addition thereof.” This point was further explained in Ankush Shivaji Gaikwad v. State of Maharashtra (2013) 6 SCC 770, where the Supreme Court reassured that victims have not been forgotten in the Indian criminal justice system, and the provisions under s. 357 were brought into force for the same task. The Court also iterated that while it is the discretion of the Court as to how much compensation is to be awarded, care must be taken regarding awarding compensation in every criminal case.
Other than compensatory rights, the Supreme Court has also focused on making the criminal trials more transparent and victim-centric. In Sakshi v. Union Of India 2004 Supp (2) SCR 723, the Court ordered for the trials to be held in-camera, especially in the case concerning a child or rape (or both) victim. The Apex Court in Nirmal Kahlon v. State of Punjab 2009 1 SCC 441 held that a fair investigation and trial is the right of both the accused and the victim, citing Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution of India. In Shri Bodhisattwa Gautam v. Miss Subhra Chakraborty AIR 1996 SC 922, the Supreme Court stated “the Court trying an offence of rape can award compensation at the final stage of the trial, it also has the power to award interim compensation to the victim."
Victim compensation in cases of rape is a much-debated topic and prior to 2018 there was no uniform scheme that defined the basis on which the victim would receive compensation. In the same year the Supreme Court ruled in Nupun Saxena vs Union of India that victims of rape will mandatorily be awarded 4 lakh rupees and in cases of gang rape, a minimum of 5 lakh rupees. The compensation varied from state to state. It was 10 lakh rupees in Goa whereas Orissa offered 10 thousand rupees. Now, under Section 357 A of CrPC, the compensation offered to victims is governed by the Central Victim Compensation Fund scheme (CVCF).
Even after the compensation scheme was defined, have the victims really been served justice? Rape is a heinous offence, can it ever be compensated? To measure the compensation for rape victims in monetary terms is understating the seriousness of the offence. Rape takes away the virtue of the victim when they have done nothing wrong and one has to consider the conditions of the society. To say that a certain amount of money is enough to make them feel just, is unfair. The shame should be carried by the wrong doers and not the victim, hence compensation is the minimal thing that they should be entitled to.
To conclude, one should keep in mind that compensation is awarded to the victims who have suffered some loss. Compensation might not fully redress the kind of loss suffered, especially in the cases of rape, where a victim has gone through a heinous ordeal and hence deserves to be compensated. The compensation also signifies that no matter what the society says, the victims are not at fault. Hence, a monetary amount may never bring back what they have lost, but it is also the minimal method which ensures that their sufferings are recognised.
The article has been written by Aastha Singh (5th Year) & Vashisht Marwaha (5th Year) of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law