Aug 4, 2023

What are the Rights of Victims of Communal Violence?

The communal violence that has erupted in Gurugram recently has claimed over 6 lives and left over 100 injured. The latest reports suggest that at least 14 shops along Gurugram’s Sohna Road have been torched and over 200 Muslim families have been forced to flee their homes. In this Weekly, let’s understand what constitutes communal violence and what are some legal remedies that survivors of communal violence can access. 

What is communal violence?

Communal violence refers to incidents of planned violence, manslaughter, arson, vandalism and rioting between two or more groups from different communities on the grounds of religious differences. 

Who is a victim of communal violence?

Although Indian laws don’t specifically define ‘victims of communal violence’, the definition of ‘victim’ under Section 2(wa) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) can be extended to victims of communal violence. Under this section, “victim” means a person who has suffered any loss or injury due to an act or omission by someone for which the latter has been  charged.The expression “victim” also includes their  guardian or legal heir. 

What are the types of offences under communal violence?

Communal violence can manifest in many forms causing damage to life and property. It is commonly in the form of vandalism or rioting, among other offences like murder, criminal trespass, arson, rape etc. All these are criminal offences and punishable with a fine as well as imprisonment. 

What are the legal rights guaranteed to victims of communal violence?

Principles of natural justice assert that victims must be provided with access to restitution and compensation. Likewise, the victims have the right to register complaints before the appropriate authority as well as claim compensation. 

The Supreme Court of India, in several judgments has interpreted the right to compensation of victims as a fundamental right under the purview of Article 14 ( Right to Equality) and Article 21 (Right to Life).  In Rudul Shah vs. State of Bihar and Anr (1983), the court emphasised on the importance of the right to compensation as a way to secure any violation of Article 21.

Moreover, Section 357 and 357(3) of the CrPC states that the courts can award compensation to the victims as a part of the sentence. Section 357A necessitates that the Central and State Governments coordinate to come up with a scheme to provide funds for rehabilitation and compensation of victims who have suffered loss and injury. This must be read with Section 357B, which clarifies that the compensation disbursed under this Section must be over and above any monetary award that the act relevant to that case at hand provides. Section 357 C obligates all hospitals, private as well as public to provide immediate medical treatment to any victims of violence, free of cost. Failure to do so is punishable under Section 166 B of the Indian Penal Code. 

In 2009, the Central Government instituted the revised guidelines for central scheme for assistance to civilians victims/ family of victims of terrorist, communal and naxal violence. The guidelines list down the eligibility and procedure for claiming compensation. Besides, every State also has framed State Compensation schemes which are available to victims of communal violence in the respective states. 

What can the victims of communal violence do in case of any damage to life or property?

It is the duty  of the state to protect the lives and property of the citizens. The Supreme Court reiterated this in Sunil Saini vs. the State of Haryana, 2023 so at the outset, victims can approach the local police station to seek protection or lodge complaints regarding damage to their lives or property. 

Once the criminal proceedings on such complaints get initiated, the trial court can award an interim or a final compensation to the victims. 

For claiming compensation, the victims may also directly approach the State Legal Services Authority or the District Legal Services Authority. 

The quantum of compensation depends on the nature of the offence but must adhere to the minimum amount prescribed in the Central or the State schemes. Victims may also approach the court challenging the amount of compensation awarded if they are not satisfied. 

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