India's Supreme Court has directed all the country's states to formulate a uniform policy to provide compensation to survivors of rape and other forms of sexual assault, saying such aid is crucial for survivors' 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 ostracized by their families and cannot afford the legal fees to fight for justice in the country's underresourced judicial system, in which verdicts can 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 1 million rupees ($14,620), said the court order.
"All the states and union territories shall make all endeavors to formulate a uniform scheme for providing victim compensation in respect of rape/sexual exploitation," read 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 issued the order on Thursday after hearing a plea filed by a convicted man in the central state of Chhattisgarh challenging a seven-year prison 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 girl $116 monthly for the rest of her life.
A wave of public protests after the fatal gang-rape of a woman on a Delhi bus in December 2012 forced the government to take a tougher stand on gender crimes. That included imposing the death penalty for repeat rape offenders and criminalizing stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks and human trafficking.
Since then, government campaigns, civil society programs and a spike in media reports have increased public awareness of women's rights and emboldened victims to register abuses.