Does victim compensation empower trafficked survivors?
By Nisha Mehroon and Ayush Agrawal
There is a myth that survivors of human trafficking will spend their victim compensation money recklessly and hence the there is a mandate from SLSA (State Legal Service Authority) ordering 75% of the victim compensation amount to be put away in a 10 year long fixed deposit.
A person who has suffered a crime as cruel as being trafficked from one place to another by human traffickers in exchange for money is compensated by the government after the rescue, as an act of responsibility for the failure of having been able to ensure protection to its citizens. The compensation, however, doesn’t come to the victim easily. The period, from the date a victim compensation is filed to getting the compensation, is long-drawn. It takes months and months for the victim to get the compensation he/she deserves, and in some cases, years.
According to a rule mandated by the State Legal Service Authority (SLSA), 75% of the compensation amount awarded to the victims of human trafficking should be held in a nationalized bank as a fixed deposit, and 25% of the amount will be transferred to their bank account immediately. The underlying reason behind this rule stems from the fact that if the survivors received a hefty amount in one goes, they would end up spending it impulsively.
A short study done by Sanjog with a small group of twelve survivors on utilization patterns of the victim compensations show it otherwise. The utilization pattern of the compensation money by victims shows that they have been extremely careful with spending their money. 50% of the victims have their victim compensation amount fixed deposit in a bank as per SLSA notifications. 25% of the victims have bought a piece of land, 16% have used it to pay their loans, and the remaining 9% have used it for their general expenses and to invest in small businesses.
In no way, these strategies of using money by the victims fall in the category of ‘impulsive spending’. Any literate and responsible person is expected to do the same things. However, as per SLSA mandates, 75% of the victim compensation money is in fixed deposit in a bank for ten years, giving the victims a fixed interest rate on that sum. The victims do not favour this and want to invest the sum of money according to their preferences. Out of all the twelve victims of human trafficking, who were asked about their victim compensation, more than 50% of them faced this issue, with 75% of the sum locked in a fixed deposit. Half of them were unhappy with the decision, as they had plans of investing their money in real estate, investing in small scale businesses of their own or investing in banks paying good interest rates. With all this in mind, these victims had to abide by the rule and compromise by using only the 25% of their victim compensation money.
As seen in the case of Serina Mondal, a victim of human trafficking, who applied for a compensation of Rs 6 lakh in the year 2017 before DLSA (District Legal Service Authority), which got rejected in the context of submission of chargesheet against the offender. Another appeal was made in front of SLSA (State Legal Service Authority), which got rejected on the same grounds. A writ was filed by the victim in the high court challenging the rejection of SLSA, which got in favour of the victim. It took more than a year, and the victim received the compensation money in three instalments. The first two instalments were passed without any directive, but the third instalment of Rs 2 lakh followed the 75% fixed deposit rule. As a result, Rs 1,50,000 was locked in a fixed deposit for ten years. With the compensation money received earlier, Serina had bought a piece of land and spent a part of the sum for her treatment. Serina used a big portion of her compensation money to purchase the land, which will give her returns in increments on the land value over time.
Another victim of human trafficking, Purnima Das, filed for a victim compensation of Rs 8 lakh before DLSA (District Legal Service Authority) and later received a grant of Rs 4 lakh, which followed the fixed deposit rule. As a result, she received a lump sum amount of Rs 1 lakh, which she invested in buying cows and goats. Purnima bought the cows and goats as an investment which will further help her earn income from the dairy products. Purnima lent the leftover money, which gave her a return on investment. With only 25% compensation money in hand, Purnima tried to do the best she could have done with the money.
The way in which Serina had used her money does not exhibit any signs of impulsive or irresponsible spending, despite which she had to wait for ten years to receive the compensation she deserves. The same goes with the case of Purnima, who only got 25% of her victim compensation in hand; still, she invested that sum in getting a return on investments. After receiving the money, it would have been very easy for these victims to spend their money as they wished; however, they chose to invest or build something from that money. However, they had to compromise to get their own money due to the fixed deposit rule mandated by the state.
Moreover, the compromise doesn’t end here. The victims also opened up about the angst, envy and jealousy of the society they had to face once they received their victim compensation money. Some of the victims also kept their victim compensation a secret to refrain from false speculations and being alienated. After crossing all these hurdles and roadblocks to get the compensation they deserved, the victims expressed the independence they felt after receiving and using their victim compensation money. The important factor being the zest with which they fought for their rights, all of which proved to be worthwhile after getting justice.
Learning about all the facts and experiences that the victims of human trafficking had gone through, it is evident that a lot of effort and will is required to reach a stage of being awarded compensation by the State. And with the rule mandated by the State’s legal aid services of restraining 75% of the compensation from the victim doesn’t seem to be fair enough.
“The day I got to know that I will not be getting the entire amount right away, I felt so broken and sad. I have run from pillar to post for this amount, says Kajal Das, a survivor from North Parganas whose Victim compensation grant was fixed by SLSA order.
“I have heard all sorts of nasty things from people, I have lost my honour and dignity. I felt so broken to realise that after all that I only got Rs. 1,00,000 out of my total grant of Rs 3,00,000. It would still have been fine if I had not gotten anything,” she adds.
From their history, none of the victims exhibited any signs of reckless spending of their money, which translates to the effort they had put in to earn that. To a surprise, the victims who had gotten the compensation money had shown some intelligent investment strategies, which is truly commendable. Hence, there arises a need for the State’s legal Service Authority to restructure the rule made for the victim compensation allocation for the victims of human trafficking, considering their usage history.
About the authors: Nisha is a researcher, a specialist in how marginalised populations access entitlements and justice from the criminal justice system in India currently associated with Sanjog; Ayush is an engineer, content writer on social issues currently associated with Sanjog as a consultant.