India’s criminal justice system has long relegated the victim to the periphery. But things have changed in the last 20 years. The chatter on social media over the inadequacy of the sentence to former Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is an indicator of society’s cry for justice.
While the courts are empowered to decide on punishment, statutory amendments have wrought changes in the manner in which victims may receive compensation and be rehabilitated. In 2013, Section 326A and B of the Indian Penal Code (acid attack) and Section 376D IPC (gang rape) provided for a fine for medical expenses and rehabilitation of victims. The Justice Malimath Committee (2003), which suggested that victims be assured of some rights, led to Act No. 5 of 2009, which amended the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, and conferred victims the right of appeal for the first time.
Similarly, Sections 357A to C of the Code of Criminal Procedure, also brought in 2009, introduced the Victim Compensation Scheme, directing states to provide compensation to victims or dependents, irrespective of the status of the trial and also empower the State and District Legal Services Authority to provide compensation and/or medical aid. Parliament in 2009 and 2013 and the Supreme Court have also directed states to compensate victims of rape. The SC also upheld the right to reproductive choices of a woman, who has been raped in a State-run welfare institution. This judgment was recently upheld by the SC bench in the privacy case.
In Ms. Z vs. State of Bihar (2017), the rationale of the Suchita Srivastava & Anr. Vs. Chandigarh Administration (2009) 9 SCC 1 has been pushed further by the bench. The Bench came down heavily on the State’s delay and at the HC and the insistence on the consent of the father/husband, which resulted in a lady allegedly subjected to rape having to continue with her pregnancy as the period under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act lapsed and there was danger to her life if the pregnancy was attempted to be terminated at a late stage.
Recognising her suffering and injury caused by the State negligence, the court held that a compensation of Rs 3 lakh and then Rs 10 lakh be paid. The SC also directed that medical care be provided to the child to be born. While Ms. Z vs. State of Bihar (2017) is a decision in exercise of writ jurisdiction, it sets the bar high for the determination of compensatory and rehabilitative measures. It will also go a long way in interpreting the 2009 and 2013 amendments in the CrPC and the IPC.
Sidharth Luthra is senior advocate and visiting professor Northumbria University.