[Case Brief] State of Punjab v/s Ramdev Singh, 2004

This judgment was delivered on 17th December 2003 by a two-judge bench consisting of Justice Doraiswamy Raju and Justice Arijit Pasayat. In the present petition, the State of Punjab has appealed against the accused, Ramdev Singh, before the Honourable Supreme Court of India through a special leave. This judgment thus deals with following act/sections:

1) Constitution of India- Article 136, Article 21

2) Indian Penal Code, 1860- Section 376

Brief facts and procedural history

The mother of the victim lodged information with the police that 17-18 days back the accused had committed rape on her daughter. According to the information lodged, the victim had told her mother after coming from the house of the accused that she was forcibly dragged away by the accused while she was cleaning utensils and was raped. At the time of occurrence wife of the accused was absent and taking advantage of her absence, the accused committed the lustful act. As the father of the victim was lying ill seriously they did not think it proper to inform him and when he recovered from illness, and the police had come to the village for investigating into some other case, information was lodged. The victim-girl was sent for medical examination. After completion of the investigation, charge sheet was placed and accused faced trial. He denied the accusations and pleaded false implication.

It was stated that the mother of the victim had taken some money as an advance for serving as a maidservant and as she did not work and refused to refund the money, a suit was filed for recovery of the amount and, therefore, with a view to avoiding payment false accusation has been made. The trial Court placed reliance on the evidence of the prosecution witnesses and convicted the accused of the offense punishable under Section 376 IPC and sentenced him to 7 years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.1,000/- with default stipulation. Being aggrieved by the judgment accused filed Criminal Appeal in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. By the impugned judgment dated 2.12.1994 the High Court allowed the appeal and set aside the conviction and consequently the sentence.

According to High Court primarily four factors render the prosecution version vulnerable. Firstly, there was an unexplained delay in lodging FIR. Secondly, the victim’s evidence did not inspire confidence as there were exaggerations, and a friend to whom she claimed to have told about the incidence was not examined. Thirdly, the medical evidence indicated that the victim was habituated to sexual intercourse and, therefore, her version that she was raped by the accused is not believable. Fourthly, there was no evidence to show that the victim was employed as a maidservant in the house of the accused. Aggrieved by this the state has approached the Supreme Court of India.

Issue before the Court

Whether, on the basis of facts and circumstances, the High Court was correct in holding that the accused was not responsible for rape?

Ratio of the court (as authored by Justice Arijit Pasayat)

Delay in lodging the FIR cannot be used as a ritualistic formula for doubting the prosecution case. If the prosecution fails to satisfactorily explain the delay and there is the possibility of embellishment in prosecution version on account of such delay, the same would be fatal to the prosecution. However, if the delay is explained to the satisfaction of the Court, same cannot by itself be a ground for disbelieving and discarding the entire prosecution version, as done by the High Court in the present case. The evidence of mother and father read with that of the victim clearly explained as to why the first information report was lodged after 17-18 days.

Further, the victim’s evidence has been discarded by holding that it is at variance with the medical evidence. The High Court has not indicated as to in what way it is at variance with the medical evidence. A mere statement that according to the doctor, she could on earlier occasions have had sexual intercourse five, ten or fifteen times rules out rape by accused once as alleged in no way casts doubt on victim’s evidence.

Merely because the friend of the victim was not examined that also cannot be a suspicious circumstance to throw suspicion on the victim’s evidence.  Even if it is hypothetically accepted that the victim had lost her virginity earlier, it did not and cannot in law give license to any person to rape her. It is the accused who was on trial and not the victim.

Finally, the High Court’s reasoning was erroneous about lack of evidence relating to the employment of the victim as a maid servant. The High Court completely overlooked the fact that the suggestions given to witnesses that the accused or his wife had threatened to put an end to the victim’s service as a maid servant because of her immoral character, or refusal to refund the amount taken as advance for her employment as a maid servant.

Sexual violence apart from being a dehumanizing act is an unlawful intrusion on the right of privacy and sanctity of a female. It is a serious blow to her supreme honor and offends her self-esteem and dignity. It degrades and humiliates the victim and where the victim is a helpless innocent child or a minor, it leaves behind a traumatic experience. It is a crime against basic human rights and is also violative of the victim’s most cherished of the Fundamental Rights, namely, the Right to Life contained in Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950. The Courts are, therefore, expected to deal with cases of sexual crime against women with utmost sensitivity. A socially sensitized judge is a better statutory armor in cases of crime against women than long clauses of penal provisions, containing complex exceptions and provisos.

Decision Held:

The conviction as recorded by the trial Court and the sentence imposed by it are restored. The accused shall surrender forthwith to serve the remainder of the sentence if any. The appeal is allowed to the extent indicated.

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