Flair & Square: Ship of Plenty
Whose decision is it anyway

A scheme yet to find its healing touch

AAMIR KHAN and TABASSUM BARNAGARWALA speak to all stakeholders to understand what ails its implementation on the ground.

In 2010, the Centre cleared a scheme for financial assistance and support services to victims of rape. ( Illustration: C R Sasikumar ) In 2010, the Centre cleared a scheme for financial assistance and support services to victims of rape. ( Illustration: C R Sasikumar )

It’s been eight months since the state government launched ‘Manodhairya Yojana’, a scheme to provide monetary relief and rehabilitation for rape and acid attack victims, including women and children. But with little advocacy, lack of counsellors in civic-run hospitals, poor post-trauma support as mandated by the scheme, and most importantly, policy apathy, ‘Manodhairya’ risks being a laudable scheme just on paper. AAMIR KHAN and TABASSUM BARNAGARWALA speak to all stakeholders to understand what ails its implementation on the ground.

THE SCHEME

The state government’s department of Women and Child Development (WCD) flagged off the scheme, which provides monetary relief to women and child victims of rape and acid attacks, in October last year. According to the government resolution (GR) issued by Deputy Secretary M B Hajari on October 21, 2013, the scheme covers cases registered by the police for rape under Sections 376, 376 (2) 376 (A), 376 (B), 376 (C), 376 (D) and 376 (E). All cases registered under sections 3,4,5 and 6 of of POCSO Act and for acid attacks under sections 326 (A) and 326 (B) are also covered under the scheme.

The scheme calls for swift action after a case of rape or acid attack is registered at the police station. A committee headed by the district collector and comprising a police official, district medical officer (JJ Hospital medical officer in case of Mumbai), public prosecutor, representatives from a social organisation and WCD department, will meet within seven days of the FIR being registered (FIR). The amount will be disbursed within 15 days from the date of the FIR.

Victims are entitled to receive monetary relief between Rs 2-3 lakh. Acid attacks victims, who are maimed for life, will get Rs 3 lakh and Rs 50,000 will be immediately paid to those victims who sustain bodily injuries.

While 75% of the total compensation will be deposited in the bank account of the rape victims for three years, the rest 25% will be handed over to them within the prescribed period.

For victims below 18 years of age, 75% of the compensation amount will be deposited in their “minor accounts” for three years as “fixed deposit”. They will only be entitled to avail 25% of the compensation. The rest 75% will be made available to the victims when they turn majors or after three years, whichever is earlier. Minor victims can, however, make a representation before the committee and can avail the benefit of the deposited amount at their discretion.

Also, to victims who have been raped on the pretext of marriage and false promises, the committee will provide a relief of Rs 2 lakh, half of which will be paid at the time of registration of FIR and the rest after the chargesheet against the accused is filed in the court.
Keeping in mind the such victims who cannot afford a lawyer, the state has provided legal  help by appointing a public prosecutor. The scheme also asks setting up of a “trauma team” to provide assistance to the victim’s family as soon the incident takes place. The team has a woman representative from WCD department, medical officer, support person and a police official.

THE BACKGROUND

The Supreme Court, in a directive given almost two decades ago, had asked the Union government to set up the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board to award monetary relief to victims irrespective of the prosecution securing a conviction. The apex court had asked for a scheme to be implemented within six months of its judgment.

In 2010, the Centre cleared a scheme for financial assistance and support services to victims of rape. The scheme provided financial assistance as well as restorative support services such as counselling, shelter, medical and legal aid. It required setting up of Criminal Injuries Relief and Rehabilitation Boards at the district, state and national levels.

According to Majlis, a social organisation that provides legal aid to such victims, the state government constituted the District Criminal Injuries Relief and Rehabilitation Board in 35 districts across the state in May 2011.

“However, there was a delay in the funds reaching the state. In the absence of financial assistance there was a need to at least provide other support services to help the victim-survivor overcome the trauma and also negotiate the criminal justice system. Thus, in 2013, Department of Women and Child Development collaborated with our legal centre to provide socio-legal support to victims of sexual violence,” said advocate Persis Sidhva, programme manager of Majlis’ pilot project RAHAT.

While the state was in midst of drafting the scheme, there were major amendments in the law concerning sexual violence after the Delhi gangrape incident on December 16, 2012. Acid attacks were made a specific crime under the Indian Penal Code while sexual offences on children were placed under a separate statute of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. It was only on September 11, 2013, that the state Cabinet approved the Manodhairya Yojana after several rounds of meetings. On October 2, 2013, the scheme finally saw light of day.

THE APATHY: POLICE, HOSPITAL

Statistics provided by the state’s Women and Child Development (WCD) department pertaining to the scheme reveals only 31% of the total victims of rape and acid attacks in Mumbai were extended monetary benefit in between October 2, 2013 and April 24, 2014. While in Mumbai, 50% cases were sanctioned and 12 of the 38 victims were paid, an overall 48% of the total women and child victims from across 35 districts in the state were sanctioned the monetary benefit under the scheme. Doctors and activists say that though the scheme came into existence six months ago, there has no publicity to spread awareness among medical officers, the police department and more importantly, general public. Significant aspects of the scheme like providing medical assistance and guidance to the victims and their families have been ignored by the state, they add.

The state government even faced the High Court’s ire for not coming up with the policy for compensating victims of rape after Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW) filed a public interest litigation last year.

Doctors and social activists say the awareness on Manodhairya is almost negligible.

The so-called “trauma-team” has still not been properly set up to handle cases of rape and child abuse, says Trupti Panchal, a member of special cell formed under Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).  “The scheme rings a bell, but in the absence of substantial groundwork, it is currently just on papers,” she said.

“When a case is reported, is the victim informed?” asked Sandhya Gothosker from FAOW. Sandhya Gokhale and other members from FAOW say monetary relief is only one aspect. “There other underlying issues relating to the scheme’s implementation. A year ago, the police forced the rape victim to marry the accused. Most times, the victim is blamed and the police sweep the matter under carpet,” say FAOW members.

“One should not forget that victims are the prime witnesses and their testimony can nail the accused. The scheme, however, does not have any provision for their protection. In many cases, the victims turn hostile because of familial pressure,” says Gokhale.

Mahesh Patil, DCP and spokesperson of Mumbai police, conceded that the scheme needs to be publicised more. He says all investigating officers (IO) need to be made aware as they are the ones filing FIRs and submitting reports to the Collector’s office.

“On May 6, we had a training programme for the child welfare officers in police stations from across the city. They were informed about the POCSO Act and new amendments in laws concerning rape. So, it is not like there is complete ignorance,” he says.

Patil says workshops for sensitisation of police while dealing with such cases are also being organised.

Several doctors say they have not been notified by police or state authorities about such a scheme or what role a medical officer has to play in it. Dr Sailesh Mohite, head of forensic department at civic-run Nair hospital, says, “I have given expert opinion in several rape cases. I am in close contact with such victims, but at least I have not seen a trauma team that has come to any victim’s aid in the last few months. Also, if such a scheme wants to hit success, responsibilities need to be fixed by a nodal authority.”

A major setback for rape victims under this scheme is absence of counsellors in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) hospitals. Mohite conceded that civic hospitals have several psychiatrists but no counsellors. “When a sexual assault victim comes, a psychiatrist provides trauma or mental counselling. However, such cases need altogether different type of counselling, which only a specialised counsellor can give. For example, motivation, determination to pursue the criminal case and guidance are aspects that a psychiatrist does not focus on,” Mohite says.

When it comes to collection of medical evidence in a rape case, doctors in public hospitals follow their own methods. For example, while a one-point-crisis centre was set up for victims in the three tertiary hospitals – KEM, Sion and Nair – three other civic peripheral hospitals – Rajawadi, R N Cooper, and Bhabha (Bandra) – follow their own procedures.

Under the one-point-crisis centre, a rape victim does not need to visit several departments like gynaecology, forensic and radiology for undergoing tests. Instead, all doctors would approach her at one department and conduct the required tests. While the initiative was announced months ago, no such centre has been set up so far. Instead, a contact person has been appointed in the three tertiary-care hospitals to coordinate with the victims. So, in case any tests are needed, the victim still has to visit various departments.

Peripheral hospitals are plagued with altogether different set of issues – absence of prompt and trained staff for handling sexual assault cases. “Medical students are just taught in theory about the procedure to handle a rape victim. But this alone does not help until they are trained practically. Many of them are indifferent to the victim’s mental condition,” says a doctor.

Dr Nikhil Datar, senior gynaecologist at civic-run R N Cooper Hospital who is involved in creating and implementing the protocol-based examination, says: “ We have implemented this gender-sensitive protocol successfully at Cooper, Rajawadi and Bandra Bhabha hospitals. This has tremendously helped the victims as well as doctors and ensured complete and methodical collection of evidence and treatment to all the victims. It has completely done away with unscientific age old methods such as two-finger test etc.”

Another doctor at KEM hospital says that while a protocol is in place, a proper infrastructure still needs to be set up for conducting medical examination of these victims. “In a gynaecology ward, there are hundreds of women who undergo examination. If a rape victim is tested on the same examination table, chances of forensic evidence getting mixed up are high. You need a different environment for these victims as far as tests are concerned,” the doctor says.

WHAT STATE HAS TO SAY

The state government has allotted Rs 15 crore in its budget for the scheme in the current year. However, it is yet to fine-tune the details on setting up “trauma-teams” or for sensitising the police department about the scheme beyond distributing copies of the October 2013 GR to the various Superintendents of Police.

Women and Child Development minister Varsha Gaikwad admitted that loose ends, such as setting up of the teams, creating awareness among cops and defining the extent of compensation instead of leaving it to the discretion of the collectors, have to be tied up at the earliest.

Collector of Mumbai city Shaila A told Newsline that it was as far as quantum of compensation goes, it was the policy decision of the state. The city Collector refused to comment on the quantum of monetary relief if a cases where the victims required more than Rs 3 lakh for treatment comes before the committee. “It is a policy decision of the state and we are following whatever is laid down in the GR,” she said. Shaila added, “The There are so many committees headed by the collector that it is difficult to keep a track. Additionally, there are several members in the committee set up under the Manodhairya scheme and a decision on compensation is arrived at only after discussion with all members.”

When Shekhar Channe, Collector of suburban Mumbai, was asked why compensation for only 15 of 30 victims from the suburbs was sanctioned as per the data, he said, “All cases were taken into consideration and I have sanctioned monetary relief in all cases that came before the committee.” According to the suburban Collector, the committee did not receive any cases of acid attacks.

A senior official from the state Women and Child Welfare department said that last month department officials held a meeting with the two other concerned departments namely Home and Public Health to chalk out details of the functions and constitution of the trauma team. According to the draft proposal, as far as Home department is concerned, the trauma team will have to ensure that a FIR is lodged on time, the offence is registered under the correct sections of law, the arrests are made at the earliest, witness parade is carried out properly, the victim’s statement is taken accurately, the charge-sheet is filed on time and the victim is provided police protection if required. Similarly the team will coordinate with the public health department to ensure that medical and emergency care is provided expeditiously to the victim, if need be even through private hospitals, that the medical check-up is done as per law and that the victim receives proper counselling.

WAY FORWARD

Dr Suhasini Nagda, director of medical education and major hospitals, said, “BMC officials will soon conduct meetings for outlining work required under the Manodhairya scheme. Till now we were not able to do so due to elections.” According to her, the one-point-crises centre will now be expanded to cover all peripheral hospitals in the city.

FAOW members feel all concerned departments need to work in tandem for the success of the scheme. “There has to be quick action on the part of the police where they inform the victim about the scheme at at the time of FIR. In other countries, there are rape crises centres. The state government needs to seriously look into setting up such centres. Even the budget for giving monetary relief needs to be expanded as there are cases in which a victim requires surgery, which costs 8-10 lakh,” the members said.

According to Divya Paneja, coordinator of special cell for women and children in TISS, the scheme requires more advocacy. “There have been training sessions in Mumbai to sensitise policemen, but more work needs to be done. It is essentially the WCD’s responsibility to form a trauma team,” she said.

Most social activist feel that the scheme needs to properly advertised as merely putting up posters at police station is not going to suffice. “The state government should advertise and publicise the scheme through radio and television programmes,” they said.

A proposal by RAHAT, wherein the organisation has volunteered to set up ‘district trauma teams’. In addition to the above functions, RAHAT has offered to provide free legal aid, vocational training and provide more financial assistance to the victims through a network of NGOs. The trauma team, would act as the first point of contact for victims of rape and acid attacks through a 24 hour helpline.

tabassum.barnagarwala@expressindia.com

aamir.khan@expressindia.com

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