NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's Supreme Court has directed all the country's states to formulate a uniform policy to provide compensation to victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault, saying such aid was crucial for a survivor's rehabilitation.
Conservative and patriarchal attitudes in India mean victims of sexual assault are often shunned by their families and communities and blamed for the violence perpetrated against them, say activists and lawyers.
Many are ostracised from their homes and cannot afford the legal fees to fight for justice in an under-resourced judicial system where verdicts can still take years to reach.
India's 29 states and seven union territories vary in how they provide support to sexual assault victims, with some states such as Maharashtra in the west providing no formal financial aid, while others such as Goa providing up to one million rupees (S$20,400), said the court order.
"All the states and union territories shall make all endeavours to formulate a uniform scheme for providing victim compensation in respect of rape/sexual exploitation," said an order by a division bench made up of Justices M.Y. Eqbal and Arun Mishra.
"Indisputably, no amount of money can restore the dignity and confidence that the accused took away from the victim. No amount of money can erase the trauma and grief the victim suffers. This aid can be crucial with aftermath of crime."
The top court passed the order on Thursday (Feb 11) after hearing a plea filed by a convicted man in the central state of Chhattisgarh challenging a seven-year jail term for sexually exploiting a blind girl with a false promise of marriage.
The bench dismissed the plea and ordered the Chhattisgarh government to pay the victim 8,000 rupees monthly for the rest of her life.
The number of rapes in India rose by 9 per cent to 33,707 in 2014, according to the latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau.
A wave of public protests after the fatal gang rape of a woman on a Delhi bus in December 2012 forced the government to enact stiffer penalties on gender crimes.
This included the death sentence for repeat rape offenders, criminalising stalking and voyeurism, and making acid attacks and human trafficking specific offences.
Since then, a spike in media reports, government campaigns and civil society programmes have increased public awareness of women's rights and emboldened victims to register abuses.
But women's rights groups say the figures are still gross underestimates as many victims remain reluctant due to social and financial pressures.