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Rape accused can be convicted solely on testimony of survivor : analysis

June 11, 2022
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Image source: https://blog.ipleaders.in/concept-virtual-rape/

This article has been written by Pravind Kumar Jha, pursuing a Certificate Course in Introduction to Legal Drafting: Contracts, Petitions, Opinions & Articles from LawSikho.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.

Introduction

Rape is an all-pervasive issue in societies all over the world. For women across India condition is not any different, fear is a regular companion, and rape is the stranger they may have to face at any time, on any road, in any public place. Now the question is what contributes to rape in general – this heinous form of crime against women is linked to issues of poverty, such as a lack of education and, in many areas, poor housing, unstable marriages or female-headed households, and overcrowding, to name a few factors that contribute to an unsafe situation in both rural and urban areas.

As a result, the Supreme Court significantly changed the customary practicein criminal trials to find that a rape survivor’s lone testimony, if judged credible, would be sufficient to record the accused’s guilt without the need for corroborative evidence. Further, this basic rule will be elaborated in the paragraph before the conclusion of the article.

Thus, his article primarily focuses on case laws or judicial trends that have resulted in the current legal situation regarding the admissibility of victim statements. However, before diving into the case law, it is critical to understand the procedural aspects.

Procedural Aspects

The initial step in pursuing rape charges is to file a First Information Report (FIR) under Section 154 of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 at a police station near the place of the incident or where the victim of the crime lives. It is preferable to file the FIR as soon as possible; but, if sufficient cause can be substantiated, the delay will be allowed. Every detail about the rape should be included in the FIR. The informant must sign it, and the officer must keep track of the FIR’s filing in a book kept for this purpose. An informant has the right to acquire a free copy of the FIR.

If the police station’s S.H.O. (Station House Officer) refuses to record the information provided by the informant, then the informant may write to the Superintendent of Police (SP), who is then required to initiate the investigation himself or direct any other officer subordinate to him to do so.

If the S.P. does not take any action in response to the FIR, the victim may approach the magistrate directly under sections 156 (3) and 190 of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

Following the filing of an FIR, the complainant or informant is likely to be summoned to the police station for more statements, likely identification of persons, or clarifications. Gathering evidence is a part of the investigation under Section 157 of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

A medical examination of the survivor is also carried out as part of this process. Survivors will be provided with medical and psychiatric assistance. The survivor’s clothes, jewellery, and other pertinent belongings on her person at the moment of the rape are collected. The panchnama, a document that details every piece of evidence gathered, contains a list of everything that was collected. This document is signed by two people in whom the survivor has faith.

The police may arrest under Section 41 of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 once they have identified the accused and are aware of their whereabouts and identity. The absence of a sign does not rule out the possibility of rape.

The survivor and witness submit a thorough description of the crime from their records to a magistrate at this point.

When the investigation is over, if the case is proven to be genuine with adequate evidence, a charge sheet under Section 173 of The Code of Criminal Procedure,1973 is filed, in which the police present a full summary of the investigation to the session court, including all material acquired, including the FIR and evidence. The court receives the charge sheet, and the case proceeds to trial.

A rape case is prosecuted by the state in which the victim lives, rather than by the victim herself, the public prosecutor and the accused’s lawyer handle the trial under  Section 327 of The Code of Criminal Procedure,1973 The survivor/complainant, on the other hand, can appoint a counsel to aid the prosecution if the case goes to court. Both sides present their cases, with the survivor, witnesses, and accused all being probed.

A rape trial is always held in-camera, which means that it is not open for public viewingt. If proven guilty, the accused faces a minimum sentence of seven years in prison, with the possibility of life imprisonment, as well as a fine, depending on the nature of the assault. If the incident is classified as the “rarest of the rare,” the accused may face the death penalty.

If the accused is found guilty of rape, he will be pronounced convicted under Section 376 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Judicial trend

The Supreme Court took a strict stance on sex abuse cases 71 years ago. It defied convention during a criminal trial by holding that a rape survivor’s sole testimony, if proved credible, would suffice to convict the accused. The Supreme Court’s this notion will be examined in further depth in the following significant cases.

  1. Rameshwar versus the State of Rajasthan– This is a significant precedent-setting case that established the importance of the survivor’s solitary testimony. In this case Mst. Purani, an 8-year-old girl, was raped by Rameshwar. Mst. Purani’s mother had gone out to the field when she was raped. When her mother returned home, she discovered her daughter crying. As a result, the victim proceeded to court to seek redress.

Thus, in this case, the learned Sessions Judge held that the evidence was sufficient for moral conviction but not legitimate evidence because, in his opinion, the law requires proof of the prosecution’s story in such cases as a safeguard, and the confirmatory evidence, insofar as it sought to link the accused to the crime, was legally insufficient though morally sufficient. However, he was satisfied that the girl had been raped by someone. Consequently, he found the suspect innocent, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

The State of Sawai Jaipur and Gangapur filed an appeal in the High Court of Jaipur against the acquittal.

The distinguished High Court Judges decided that while the law needs corroboration in such circumstances, the girl’s statement to her mother was legally accepted as proof and that this was adequate, so the acquittal was rejected and the conviction and sentence were restored. Because the case involved a matter of law of general importance, the High Court granted leave to appeal under Article 134 (1) (C) of the Constitution.

Finally, the Supreme Court issued a momentous decision in this case on December 20, 1951, and Justice Vivian Bose ruled that the minor rape survivor’s account of the sex offence to her mother, her testimony in court, and also the evidence presented by her mother supported the daughter’s account were sufficient to condemn the accused. “Regarding the girl’s and her mother’s behaviour from start to finish, I am sure that no other proof is required during this case than the child’s statement to her mother.” Justice Bose stated in sustaining the conviction.

Since then, rape case proceedings in India supported this concept. “Seeking confirmation to a testimony before resting on it as a rule, in such scenarios, would be equal to adding insult to injury…” the Supreme Court stated again. The prosecutrix’s deposition must be considered in its entirety. The rape victim is not a co-conspirator, and her testimony can be used without additional evidence. She has a higher status than a witness who has been hurt.

  1. Mathura Rape Case’ of 1972 – In this case, Supreme Court’s golden scale for weighing evidence had slipped from its grasp. The alleged abduction of a minor girl (Mathura) was reported to Maharashtra police by her brother. She was taken to the police station. Two police officers sexually molested the girl after telling her relatives to sit outside. The trial court decided that the girl was used to sexual intercourse and did not raise an alert when she was raped, thus the cops were acquitted. 

The Bombay High Court upheld Justice Bose’s rulings and found the defendants guilty. Passive submission produced by serious threats could not be regarded as consent or desired sexual intercourse, according to the Court. Tukaram and Another vs State of Maharashtra [ 1979 SCR (1) 810] However Supreme Court in its final verdict agreed with the trial court and acquitted the policemen.  The Supreme court held that Mathura had raised no alarm; also, there were no visible marks of injury on her person thereby suggesting no struggle and therefore no rape. The judge reasoned, “She may have fomented the cops (who were drunken on duty) to have sexual activity with her because she was used to sex.”  Several protests and demonstrations took place in the country following this verdict, and this case is touted to be one of the cornerstones in the development of a national feminist movement in our country.

  1. Rafiq vs State of Uttar Pradesh [1981(1) SCR 402] In this landmark case Draupadi, a middle-aged Bal Sewika in a village welfare organization was sleeping in a girl’s school where she was allegedly raped by Rafiq, the petitioner and three others. The offence took place around 2:30 am. The next morning the victim related the incident to the Mukhiya Sewika of the village. The investigation that followed resulted in a charge sheet, a trial and, eventually, a conviction based substantially on the testimony of the victim. The High Court appeal was dismissed. The testimony has been accepted by two courts in this matter. Still undaunted, the petitioner has sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. A course correction was done by Justice Krishna Iyer on August 14, 1980, in this case. Thus, in this case, Justice Iyer observed, “Corroboration as a criterion for judicial reliance on prosecutrix’s testimony is not a matter of law, but a guidance of wisdom under particular circumstances.”  As a result of the prosecutrix’s testimony, the accused was found guilty in this case.
  2. Shri Bodhisattwa Gautam vs Miss Shubhra Chakraborty [1996 SCC (1) 490] – In this case according to the circumstances stated in the complaint filed against Bodhisattwa Gautam, there was an initial phase of romance during which Bodhisattwa Gautam used to visit the house of Subhra Chakraborty and on one occasion, he told her that he was in love with her and ultimately succeeded. Based on the accused’s assurances, an intimate relationship was established between them. During the relationship, the accused impregnated the victim twice and both times had an abortion. Further to deceive the victim even married her secretly but later on refused to accept the victim as his wife thus abandoning her. The victim approached the Court of the Judicial Magistrate, Ist Class, Kohima which upheld the judgment of The Gauhati High Court. The High Court by its judgment and order dismissed the petition. This compelled the petitioner to approach the Supreme Court by way of a Special Leave Petition. The Supreme Court dismissed the Special Leave Petition and further took this case through Suo moto notice.

Thus, the Supreme Court stated in this case, “…The way the accused exploited and abandoned the prosecutrix is nothing but an act of grave cruelty because it has caused serious injury and danger to the prosecutrix’s mental and physical health, as such, the accused has committed criminal offences punishable under sections 312, 420, 493, 496, and 498-A of the Indian Penal Code.”

Finally, based on the facts and circumstances of this case Supreme Court concluded that there is a serious allegation that the accused had married prosecutrix before God and also having impregnated her twice resulting in abortion on both the occasions, we, on being satisfied, dispose of this matter by providing that accused shall pay to the victim a sum of Rs. 1,000/- would be paid every month as interim compensation during the pendency of the criminal case before the court of Judicial Magistrate, 1st Class, Kohima, Nagaland. The accused is also responsible to pay compensation arrears at the same rate from the moment the complaint was filed until this date. The Court further states that nothing in this judgement affects or prevents the Magistrate from deciding the complaint on the merits based on the evidence presented before it and in compliance with the law.  

  1. Ganesan vs StateIn this case, the victim was studying in 5th standard and aged 13 years, convicted the accused of the offence under section 7 (Sexual Assault) of the POCSO (Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences) Act and sentenced him to undergo three years rigorous imprisonment, which is the minimum sentence provided under Section 8 (Sexual Assault) of the POCSO (Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences) Act. The accused feeling aggrieved and dissatisfied with the judgment and order of conviction and sentence passed by the learned trial court, the accused preferred to appeal before the High Court. In terms of the conviction and imposition of a three-year rigorous prison sentence, the High Court denied the appeal. Feeling aggrieved and dissatisfied with the impugned judgement passed by the High Court, the original accused has preferred the present appeal with the Supreme Court.

On October 14, 2020, in this case, the Supreme Court declared that there can be a conviction when the victim/prosecutrix’s deposition is deemed to be trustworthy, immaculate, and credible, and her evidence is of pristine quality. Thus, Ganesan was convicted in this case based on the testimony of the victim. Given the sanctity of a rape survivor’s testimony, there has been an increase in occurrences in the recent decade in which the court’s sympathy has been used to falsely implicate innocent people in rape cases. As a result, the concept of the wrongful implication of people in rape cases can be demonstrated in the case laws as stated below.

  1. Raju vs State of Madhya Pradesh [2008 (15) SCC 133] The prosecutrix, in this case, was kidnapped and raped by four accused. The prosecutrix, on the other hand, was unable to substantiate her testimony, nor was she able to correctly identify the accused, and no evidence supported a rape case. Because the prosecutrix was involved in improper activity, the court acquitted all of the accused.

In this case, the Supreme court said, “It must not be forgotten that rape causes the victim the most distress and disgrace, but a blatant lie of rape can also cause the accused the same distress, embarrassment, and destruction.”

  1. Abbas Ahmed Choudhary vs Assam [2010 (12) SCC 115], In this another landmark case the accused/appellants picked up the prosecutrix, who was 13 to 15 years old and drove her in a Maruti vehicle after gagging her mouth. She was then raped by three of them, with one of them absconding with Rs 40. Based on the prosecutrix’s statement, it was also determined that one of the three accused involved was ambiguous. As a result, the court found one of the accused not guilty.

The Supreme Court said during this case, “…We are aware that during a case of rape, the prosecutrix’s testimony should tend primary consideration. At the identical time, the essential aspect that the general public prosecutor must establish its case against the accused applies to a case of rape, and there is no assumption that a prosecutrix would always reveal the reality in its entirety.”

Conclusion

Over the years, rape has been a problem that has only been addressed by the government and judiciary in response to public outcry following fresh and more brutal incidents. Despite the latest anti-rape legislation, rape cases continue to rise year after year.

Furthermore, after examining judicial developments, a few cases have been highlighted that illustrate uncertainty and inconsistency in court judgements. Judgements like the one in the Mathura Rape Case demolish years of reform efforts. However, later judgments quickly corrected the course. As times have evolved, trial judges now have the onerous responsibility of sifting through a rape survivor’s evidence to accomplish justice by punishing both the rapists and those who falsely accuse someone of rape.

References

  1. https://thewire.in/law/rape-accused-can-be-convicted-solely-on-testimony-of-survivor-sc-reaffirms
  2. https://www.womensweb.in/2018/06/filing-a-rape-case-all-you-need-to-know-jun18wk4sr/
  3. https://www.latestlaws.com/articles/critical-analysis-of-rape-laws-in-india-and-judicial-opinion-by-sakshi-rewaria
  4. https://articles.manupatra.com/article-details/An-Extensive-study-of-Rape-Laws-in-India
  5. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/sc-always-considered-rape-survivors-testimony-sacrosanct-doubts-emerged-only-in-the-last-decade/articleshow/56175680.cms
  6. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1420504/
  7. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1092711/
  8. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/915673/
  9. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/642436/
  10. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1921282/
  11. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/195453/
  12. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/84556569/

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