The Supreme Court Friday said that West Bengal government failed to protect the fundamental rights of a village woman who was gang raped on the dictates of a community panchayat over her relationship with a man from another community.
"Such offences are resultant of the state's incapacity or inability to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens," said a bench of Chief Justice P.Sathasivam, Justice S.A.Bobde and Justice N.V.Ramana in their judgment.
The court's observation came as it awarded the victim compensation of Rs.5 lakh, over and above the amount of Rs. 50,000 that has already been announced by the state government.
Speaking for the bench, Chief Justice P.Sathasivam said that 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".
The court said this while answering in affirmative the question whether the state police machinery could have possibly prevented the said occurrence.
"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'", said Chief Justice Sathasivam authoring the judgment.
"The crimes", the court said, "are not only in contravention of domestic laws, but are also a direct breach of the obligations under the international law. India has ratified various international conventions and treaties, which oblige the protection of women from any kind of discrimination."
However, "women of all classes are still suffering from discrimination even in this contemporary society. It will be wrong to blame only on the attitude of the people. Such crimes can certainly be prevented if the state police machinery work in a more organized and dedicated manner".
Thus, the court said, "we implore upon the state machinery to work in harmony with each other to safeguard the rights of women in our country. As per the law enunciated - if the information discloses commission of a cognizable offence, the police officers are duty bound to register the same".
Likewise, the court said all hospitals, public or private, whether run by the central government, the state government, local bodies or any other person, are statutorily obligated to provide the first-aid or medical treatment, free of cost, to the victims of any offence
The court had taken a suo motu cognizance of the newspaper report which said that a 20-year-old woman in West Bengal's Birbhum district was gang raped on dictates of the community panchayat as punishment for having relationship with a man from a different community.
The incident on the intervening night of Jan 20/21, 2014 in of Subalpur village in Birbhum. The court took suo motu cognizance on Jan 24.
Holding that such crimes could only be curbed by longterm societal changes, education and upliftment of women and sensitisation of police force on women-related issues, the court said: "No compensation can be adequate nor can it be of any respite for the victim but as the state has failed in protecting such serious violation of a victim's fundamental right, the state is duty bound to provide compensation, which may help in the victim's rehabilitation."