JUSTICE PRABHA SRIDEVAN IN THE HINDU
The state should not forget the human rights perspective while dealing with a victim of sexual violence. It should not doubly, trebly victimise her.
Women do not walk in a state of perpetual consent. But women do seem to labour under a delusion that it is safe for them to walk in public spaces, to travel in buses and trains. It obviously is not. They can be raped. It is difficult to understand rape. Rape is not about chastity or virginity. Long before these concepts were constructed, long before the institution of marriage was founded, a man raped a woman whenever he broke her sexual autonomy without her saying “yes.” It is a violation of her right to equality and her right to live with dignity which “We” promised ourselves when we gave to ourselves the Constitution. Surely women are included in the “We” of the Preamble, aren’t they?
Rape is the destruction of dignity through invasion of another person’s body without her consent. I use the word “her”, though the victim of this violence can be a child, a woman or a man. The anatomy of rape is common to all. But I will continue to use the pronoun “her”, since the majority of victims of sexual violence are female. Rape is a deliberate negation of the right over one’s body.
This right is born with us. It does not require a development of maturity or the consciousness of one’s body to acquire the right. So a girl child who is raped when she is 11 months old does not suffer less, nor is the crime less dark and bloody because the child does not know that she has the right not to be invaded. The consent that is required to make the sexual act not a rape must be understood as an active assent to the act. The consent cannot be presumed merely because a woman does not say “no”. She might not have said “no” because she was paralysed by fear, manacled by coercion or pounded by force. She might not have said no, because she was mentally damaged, incapable of making a decision in this regard; she might have been an infant, or disabled from moving because of physical incapacity. Yet it is rape. Only it is blacker if there is such a colour. It is the invasion of a woman who cannot say no.
Act of subjugation
It strips the victim of her dignity, it is intended to. It is an exertion of power, an act of subjugation, a statement that divests the victim of her right of control over herself and renders her an object. It is meant to objectify her. The dilution of the horror, by using words like “he lost control” is unjustified and is an insult to a woman. The violator does not lose control, but exerts control through the act of unspeakable violence.
In the Prosecutor v. Jean Paul Akayesu, the International Tribunal held that rape is a form of aggression, the central elements of which cannot be captured in a mechanical description of objects and body parts. It noted “the cultural sensitivities involved in public discussion of intimate matters and recalled the painful reluctance and inability of witnesses to disclose graphic anatomical details of the sexual violence they endured.” It was intended to reconstitute the law’s perception of women’s experience of sexual violence.
In a sensitisation programme for judicial officers, an exercise was given which would give a clue to the rape complainant’s feelings in court. All judicial officers were asked to close their eyes and imagine the experience of their first union with their loved one. Then they were asked to narrate it to the colleague sitting on their right. They were horrified at this intrusion of their privacy. Then the trainers asked them: “If you cannot narrate a pleasant sexual experience to a friend without inhibition, how do you expect a frightened woman in a strange court hall to narrate fluently, in the presence of a battery of hostile lawyers, her devastating experience of sexual violence?” The officers had no answer.
But what is the reality? She is broken by having to repeat the incidence of rape again and again. “Madam, what was he wearing at the time of the occurrence? Did his tee shirt have a collar or no?” Oh yes, she can surely recall in vivid freeze-frames of “the occurrence.” And who will save her if she falters just once in the witness box? “See your Honour, the accused was wearing a blue striped chaddy, but she says red … totally unreliable, Your Honour.” The Supreme Court has given strict guidelines on how her evidence should be weighed, and how her complaint should be assessed.
But a poor child who does not know an Ambassador from a Fiat was disbelieved by the trial court, until the Supreme Court came down with all its majesty to the rescue of the child and noted that the prosecutrix was a village girl studying in class 10 and her ignorance of the car brand, was irrelevant (State of Punjab v Gurmit Singh 1996 (2) SCC 384.)
In the Amnesty International publication, “Rape and sexual violence — human rights law and standards in international courts,” we read how the human rights perspective must never be forgotten while dealing with sexual violence.
Sexual autonomy cannot be understood outside the umbrella of human rights. Its violation must be criminalised. The report says, “Unfortunately, however, sexual autonomy is frequently conflated with narrow views of ‘consent’ under domestic criminal law which do not capture the reality of how acts of rape and sexual violence are committed … Sexual autonomy and consent are two distinct concepts. The concept of ‘consent’ as used in domestic criminal law imports a notion of individual choice, typically without a consideration of the reality of abuse of power (whether evidenced through physical force, or other forms of coercion) and other factual conditions that may prevail before, during and perhaps after the sexual acts in question. A consideration of whether an individual was able to exercise sexual autonomy, by contrast, takes into account the overall dynamic and environment surrounding those sexual acts and how these had an impact on the victim’s ability to make a genuine choice.”
A woman who is raped goes through a variety of feelings like denial, self-hate, grief, degradation, suicidal impulse and more. She falters in her narration, oh yes, she does, but not because she is a liar, but because the act of rape not only inflicts physical harm but also incalculable emotional and psychological harm. Chemical changes take place in her brain because of the trauma. She may go into a fantasy that someone will rescue her from this nightmare. Post-rape, she lives in a smoke world of truth and untruth, denial and depression, nothing is the same any more. She is screaming on the inside “please, please put the clock back.” This is just a short, incomplete statement of what is happening on the inside.
What is happening on the outside? The whole family is devastated, it even looks at her as if she somehow brought it on herself. “Why did you go there?,” “I told you not to wear that” and so on. So the woman wonders if the first enemy is the family. It is not in every case that the woman actually lodges a complaint, because she and her family know what will follow the complaint is worse. It is hell. It is not necessary to give the details of the experience on the way to the police station and inside the precincts thereof. The world looks at her as if she carries a stain on her all the time. She may never be allowed to forget the occurrence. So will a woman lie that she was raped?
The Amnesty International report reminds us that women and girls are not “likely to make false accusations of rape and sexual violence. This is a particularly irrational stereotype as women and girl complainants usually have very little to gain and everything to lose by making allegations of rape, there is rarely an incentive for them to lie; many complainants pursue their search for truth and justice at enormous cost to themselves, in terms of stigma and rejection by their families and communities.”
In this harsh reality, society and especially the state and courts must remember that they shall not doubly and trebly victimise her, nor raise a cacophony of distrust. It will only silence the voices against this horror.
(The writer is a former judge of the Madras High Court and Chairman of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board.)
SOURCE:Dignity is her birthright
No need for corroboration and conviction can be imposed on the sole statement of the victim – Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has ruled that in rape cases there is no need for corroboration and conviction can be imposed on the sole statement of the victim. A bench of justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan said that the victims testimony cannot be looked at with suspicion. Supreme court adeed that it is a trite law that a woman, who is the victim of sexual assault, is not an accomplice to the crime but is a victim of another person’s lust. The Prosecutrix stands at a higher pedestal than an injured witness as she suffers from emotional injury. Hence, the victims evidence need not be tested with the same amount of suspicion as that of an accomplice. The bench dismissed an appeal filed by Mohd Imran Khan and Jamal Ahmed challenging their conviction for rape of a minor girl about 22 years ago. The defence had argued the victim’s statement cannot be relied upon as she had eloped with the accused.
In 2009, the court had ruled the same when awarding rigorous life imprisonment to convict Raju, a resident of east Delhi for raping his five-year-old neighbour. The apex court had ruled that the evidence of a victim of sexual assault stands almost on a par with the evidence of an injured witness and to an extent, is even more reliable. Evidence Act does not says that victims evidence cannot be accepted unless it is corroborated in material particulars. The court had also ruled that a victim is undoubtedly a competent witness under Section 118. However, courts also say that if a prosecutrix is an adult and of full understanding the court is entitled to base a conviction on her evidence unless the same is shown to be infirm and not trustworthy. If the totality of the circumstances appearing on the record of the case disclose that the prosecutrix does not have a strong motive to falsely involve the person charged, the court should ordinarily have no hesitation in accepting her evidence.
Errors in Age Verification
The medical report and the deposition of the Radiologist cannot predict the exact date of birth, rather it gives an idea with a long margin of 1 to 2 years on either side.
In Jaya Mala v. Home Secretary, Government of J & K & Ors., AIR 1982 SC 1297, this Court held:
However, it is notorious and one can take judicial notice that the margin of error in age ascertained by radiological examination is two years on either side.
(See also: Ram Suresh Singh v. Prabhat Singh @ Chhotu Singh & Anr., (2009) 6 SCC 681; and State of Uttar Pradesh v. Chhotey Lal, (2011) 2 SCC 550)
EVIDENCE OF PROSECUTRIX:
It is a trite law that a woman, who is the victim of sexual assault, is not an accomplice to the crime but is a victim of another person’s lust. The prosecutrix stands at a higher pedestal than an injured witness as she suffers from emotional injury. Therefore, her evidence need not be tested with the same amount of suspicion as that of an accomplice. The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (hereinafter called `Evidence Act’), nowhere says that her evidence cannot be accepted unless it is corroborated in material particulars. She is undoubtedly a competent witness under Section 118 of Evidence Act and her evidence must receive the same weight as is attached to an injured in cases of physical violence. The same degree of care and caution must attach in the evaluation of her evidence as in the case of an injured complainant or witness and no more. If the court keeps this in mind and feels satisfied that it can act on the evidence of the prosecutrix, there is no rule of law or practice incorporated in the Evidence Act similar to illustration (b) to Section 114 which requires it to look for corroboration. If for some reason the court is hesitant to place implicit reliance on the testimony of the prosecutrix it may look for evidence which may lend assurance to her testimony short of corroboration required in the case of an accomplice. If the totality of the circumstances appearing on the record of the case disclose that the prosecutrix does not have a strong motive to falsely involve the person charged, the court should ordinarily have no hesitation in accepting her evidence. The court must be alive to its responsibility and be sensitive while dealing with cases involving sexual molestations. Rape is not merely a physical assault, rather it often distracts the whole personality of the victim.
The rapist degrades the very soul of the helpless female and, therefore, the testimony of the prosecutrix must be appreciated in the background of the entire case and in such cases, non-examination even of other witnesses may not be a serious infirmity in the prosecution case, particularly where the witnesses had not seen the commission of the offence. (Vide: State of Maharashtra v. Chandraprakash Kewalchand Jain, AIR 1990 SC 658; State of U.P. v. Pappu @Yunus & Anr. AIR 2005 SC 1248; and Vijay @ Chinee v. State of M.P., (2010) 8 SCC 191). Thus, the law that emerges on the issue is to the effect that statement of prosecutrix, if found to be worthy of credence and reliable, requires no corroboration. The court may convict the accused on the sole testimony of the prosecutrix.
The Trial Court came to the conclusion that there was no reason to disbelieve the prosecutrix, as no self-respecting girl would level a false charge of rape against anyone by staking her own honour. The evidence of rape stood fully corroborated by the medical evidence. The MLC of the prosecutrix Ext.PW2/A was duly supported by Dr. Reeta Rastogi (PW.2). This view of the Trial Court stands fortified by the judgment of this Court in State of Punjab v. Gurmit Singh & Ors. AIR 1996 SC 1393, wherein this Court observed that the courts must, while evaluating evidence remain alive to the fact that in a case of rape, no self-respecting woman would come forward in a court just to make a humiliating statement against her honour such as is involved in the commission of rape on her.
Similarly, in Wahid Khan v. State of Madhya Pradesh, (2010) 2 SCC 9, it has been observed as under:
It is also a matter of common law that in Indian society any girl or woman would not make such allegations against a person as she is fully aware of the repercussions flowing therefrom. If she is found to be false, she would be looked at by the society with contempt throughout her life. For an unmarried girl, it will be difficult to find a suitable groom. Therefore, unless an offence has really been committed, a girl or a woman would be extremely reluctant even to admit that any such incident had taken place which is likely to reflect on her chastity. She would also be conscious of the danger of being ostracised by the society. It would indeed be difficult for her to survive in Indian society which is, of course, not as forward-looking as the western countries are.
Much reliance has been placed by learned counsel for the appellants on the judgment of this Court in Javed Masood & Anr. v. State of Rajasthan, (2010) 3 SCC 538, wherein it had been held that in case the prosecution witness makes a statement and is not declared hostile, he is supposed to speak the truth and his statement is to be believed.
It is in view of this fact in the instant case that Puran Singh, I.O. (PW.15) has deposed in the court that the birth certificate of the prosecutrix did not relate to the prosecutrix. I did not verify about the birth certificate from the NDMC. I do not remember if at the time of bail application I had submitted that the birth certificate is genuine but does not relate to prosecutrix.
Thus, the question does arise as to what extent the court is under an obligation to accept the statement of Puran Singh, I.O. (PW.15) particularly in view of the birth certificate available on the record. In view of our finding in respect of the date of birth we are of the view that Puran Singh, I.O. (PW.15) unfortunately made an attempt to help the accused/appellants, though in the examination-in- chief the witness has deposed that the Birth Certificate providing the date of birth as 2.9.1974 was genuine.
Be that as it may, by now Puran Singh (PW.15) might have retired as the incident itself occurred 22 years ago. Therefore, we do not want to say anything further in respect of his conduct.
In State of Karnataka v. K. Yarappa Reddy, AIR 2000 SC 185, this Court while dealing with a similar issue held:It is well-nigh settled that even if the investigation is illegal or even suspicious the rest of the evidence must be scrutinized independently of the impact of it. Otherwise the criminal trial will plummet to the level of the investigating officers ruling the roost. The court must have predominance and pre-eminence in criminal trials over the action taken by investigating officers. Criminal justice should not be made a casualty for the wrongs committed by the investigating officers in the case. In other words, if the court is convinced that the testimony of a witness to the occurrence is true the court is free to act on it albeit the investigating officer’s suspicious role in the case.
The investigation into a criminal offence must be free from all objectionable features or infirmities which may legitimately lead to a grievance to either of the parties that the investigation was unfair or had been carried out with an ulterior motive which had an adverse impact on the case of either of the parties. Investigating Officer is supposed to investigate an offence avoiding any kind of mischief or harassment to either of the party. He has to be fair and conscious so as to rule out any possibility of bias or impartial conduct so that any kind of suspicion to his conduct may be dispelled and the ethical conduct is absolutely essential for investigative professionalism. The investigating officer "is not merely to bolster up a prosecution case with such evidence as may enable the court to record a conviction but to bring out the real unvarnished truth. (Vide: Jamuna Chaudhary & Ors. v. State of Bihar, AIR 1974 SC 1822; State of Bihar & Anr. etc. etc. v. P.P. Sharma & Anr., AIR 1991 SC 1 1260; and Babubhai v. State of Gujarat & Ors., (2010) 12 SCC 254)
Shri Amrendra Sharan, learned senior counsel has placed reliance on the judgment of this Court in Baldev Singh & Ors. v. State of Punjab, AIR 2011 SC 1231, wherein the convicts of gang rape had been sentenced to 10 years RI and a fine of Rs.1000/- each had been imposed and served about more than 3 years imprisonment and incident had been very old, this Court in the facts and circumstances of the case reduced the sentence as undergone, directing the appellants therein to pay a sum of Rs.50,000/- of fine to be paid to the victim and prayed for some relief.
The High Court after taking into consideration all the circumstances including that the incident took place in 1989; the appeal before it was pending for more than 10 years; the prosecutrix had willingly accompanied the appellants to Meerut and stayed with them in the hotel; and she was more than 15 years of age when she eloped with the appellants and the appellants were young boys, reduced the sentence to 5 years which was less than the minimum prescribed sentence for the offence. As the High Court itself has awarded the sentence less than the minimum sentence prescribed for the offence recording special reasons, we do not think it to be a fit case to reduce the sentence further in a proved case of rape of a minor. The appeals lack merit and are, accordingly, dismissed.
- Court slams handing over of rape victim to alleged rapist (traffickingnews.wordpress.com)
- Evidence of relatives can’t be discarded: Supreme Court (indialawyers.wordpress.com)