WOMEN'S DIGNITY ON SALE

WOMEN'S DIGNITY ON SALE

A Scheme To Promote Insurance For Rape Victims

Newsletter July 1999

General Insurance Corporation (GIC), one of the public sector undertakings, had introduced a Bhagyashree child welfare policy and Rajrajeshwari Mahila Kalyan Bima Yojana in late 1998. The first one was to take care of the child if the mother dies after childbirth and the second, to offer monetary compensation to the rape victims. The Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee chose to dedicate these insurance schemes for the welfare of the women of this country on completion of one year of his government in March 1999.

The news about the 'rape insurance scheme', as it was dubbed instead of Rajrajeshwari Mahila Kalyan Bima Yojana as GIC had called it, it came as a rude shock to many women's organisations like Saheli especially when the details of the scheme were looked into. After a lot of protest by many women's organisations, and with an immediate strong action initiated by All India Democratic Women's Association within hours of the Prime Minister endorsing the scheme, the scheme has been withdrawn. However, it would be enlightening to understand the details of the scheme as was proposed by the GIC and the mindset behind the introduction of such a scheme.

The scheme was offering an insurance to women in the age group of 10-75 years, for an annual payment of Rs.15/-. The proposed compensation was a maximum of Rs. 12,500/- for loss of an eye or limb, or a maximum of Rs. 25,000/- if the disability was of a permanent nature. As a corollary to that, if there was no physical injury there will be no compensation, as is true for most of the insurance schemes.

The GIC has treated rape as any other accident, compared it with natural disasters, road accidents etc. where if you have insured yourself against it you are entitled for compensation appropriate with the loss. Most such episodes- unlike rape- cannot be socially controlled or avoided and equating such episodes with rape indicates a total diregard for women's self respect and a peculiar anti-woman attitude on the part of the government. Increase inthe occurence of rape is a 'social' and not 'natural' phenomenon indicative of social and political mismanagement and failure on the part of the government to provide security to it's citizens. Hence this cover against rape is meant to compensate for -- or to put it more bluntly -- provide a cover for the govt's inability to deal with the ever increasing crimes against women.

The actuarial calculations that might have gone into preparing this scheme are evidently based on one major underlying factor; that the risk of rape is very high and therefore the compensation for any disability (physical only) should be kept low. If the victim's pride is trampled due to rape, the company is not responsible to offer compensation. In many cases of accidents like car crash, house damage, personal physical injury due to accidents, etc. the physical verification of the damage and the injury can be reliably measured and the victim can be reasonably rehabilitate using the monetary compensation offered. However, in case of a rape victim, the trauma is quite often more mental and psychological than physical, barring the possibility of the victim ever getting even the paltry compensation offered in the scheme.

Additionally, if a woman files a case against the culprit, the GIC is unlikely to offer any compensation until the court gives it's verdict and the case can drag on for many years to higher courts resulting in refusal of the GIC to pay anything until then. Thus, if the victim is even remotely interested in getting any monetary compensation from the GIC, she will resist filing the case, and the culprit will never be punished. Thus, declaring the Bima Yojana may actually help in creating the impression that the rapist needs to worry less about the consequences.

WHY ARE WE SO ANGRY?

The reasons for our anger is manifold. First and foremost, we feel that an active and intentional assault on a woman cannot be treated as an inevitable happening, an accident to be compensated only by money, but has to be treated as a serious crimeagainst the woman.Facts and evidence tell us that rape gets used by men as a show of strength, to take revenge on the menfolk based on class or caste and so on, in addition to other reasons. Rape on Anjana Mishra from Orissa, the Jehanabad incidents, rape on Bhanwari Devi from Rajasthan are some stark examples supporting the argument. In our opinion, rape victims cannot be compensated by money alone.

The second important point is even if it is assumed that monitory compensation scheme will not benefit any rape victim as it talks only about the permanent physical injury to the victim and not about the psychological damage. Additionally, the 'attractive' notion of having an out-of-court settlement with money might discourage even those few women would want to file the case in the court, thus letting more criminals go scot free.

Thirdly, the human factor does not figure at any stage in this scheme.The glaring insensitivity to the whole issue of rape is a cause for great concern.

Fourthly, a maximum compensation of Rs.15,000/- also makes a mockery of the notion of compensation. Even this amount she will get only if there is a permanent physical injury. By getting back her own hard-earned money as compensation from the insurance company, how the victim of rape could really get justice and how she would come out of the psychological and physical damage done to her, is a moot question. The most disturbing aspect is that such a scheme, by its very nature, does not have a provision for punishing the rapist for this gruesome act.

WHAT IS TO BE GAINED OUT OF THIS?

We feel that the government, by supporting this scheme, was seeking quick publicity for adding to their list of achievements as they were completing one year in power. At one time the goverment was promoting capital punishment for rape, stating that such a punishment would act as a deterrent to committing the crime (Refer Saheli Newsletter Feb.1999). From crying 'capital punishment for the rapist', the government has now tried to promote an insurance scheme which not only fails to ensure punitive action against the rapist, but in fact, turns him into a virtual 'beneficiary' of the scheme.

Such schemes are not just ill-conceived and biased, they are positively damaging for women. Such rhetoric is more dangerous in today's context of increasing violence against women, in the backdrop of increasing caste and religious tensions. The need of the hour, is for a serious and renewed commitment to the implementation of law and justice to ensure the safety of women.