New Delhi, March 28: The Supreme Court today said the Bengal government failed to protect the fundamental right of a girl who was gang-raped on the orders of a kangaroo court in January and laid down a series of guidelines aimed at protecting and rehabilitating victims of sexual crimes.
The court said all hospitals, irrespective of whether private or government-run, were duty bound to provide cost-free first aid to such victims.
In the specific atrocity that took place in Birbhum’s Labhpur where a 20-year-old girl was gangraped after she was found with a man from another village, the apex court ordered a compensation of 5 lakh in one month
The Bengal government, facing charges of apathy to victims of sexual assault, handed over the cheque for Rs 5 lakh to the girl this evening itself. Earlier, the government had given Rs 50,000 to the girl and built two one-roomed houses for her and her mother in another village.
The girl and her mother are still living in a government home for women, reluctant to move to the new village and live there all by themselves. Thirteen persons, including the morol (village head) who allegedly ordered the rape as punishment for the relationship, are now in jail custody.
Barring a few exceptions, most private hospitals now decline to treat rape victims on the pretext that only government hospitals can take care of medico-legal cases. Apprehensions that they would be accused of tampering with medical reports or destroying evidence also deter private hospitals from offering first aid to rape victims.
Issuing guidelines to all states and Union territories, the court said today: “All hospitals, public or private, whether run by the central Government, the state government, local bodies or any other person, are statutorily obligated under Section 357C to provide first-aid or medical treatment, free of cost, to the victims of any offence covered under Sections 326A, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C, 376D or Section 376E of the IPC.”
A three judge bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, Justices S.A. Bobde and N.V. Ramana said that right to marry in line with one’s own choice was a fundamental right under Article 21, which, in this case, the State failed to protect.
The court also addressed a question that governments often cite to shrug off responsibility: why blame an administration for crimes committed by individuals.
The court answered: “Ultimately, the question which ought to be considered and assessed by this court is whether the state police machinery could have possibly prevented the said occurrence. The response is certainly a ‘Yes’.
“The State is duty bound to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens; and an inherent aspect of Article 21 of the Constitution would be the freedom of choice in marriage. Such offences are resultant of the State’s incapacity or inability to protect the Fundamental Rights of its citizens,” said Justice Sathasivam, writing the judgment.
The apex court had on January 14 taken cognisance of the incident on its own.
On compensation, the court said that “no rigid formula can be evolved as to have a uniform amount. It should vary in facts and circumstances of each case.”
“The obligation of the State does not extinguish on payment of compensation, rehabilitation of victim is also of paramount importance. The mental trauma that the victim suffers due to the commission of such heinous crime, rehabilitation becomes a must in each and every case,” the court added.