In the Supreme Court of India 1996 AIR 1393, 1996 SCC (2) 384 Petitioner State of Punjab Respondents Gurmit Singh and Ors. Date of Judgement 16.01.1996 Bench Hon’ble Justice Dr. A.S. Anand; SaiyedSaghir Ahmad, JJ.
The case in question deals with rape committed 11 years prior to 2020 and effectively answers if corroborative evidence is an imperative component of judicial credence as stated in Section 8 of the Indian Evidence Act. This Act was enacted in 1872 to filter out the ambiguities in the process of acquiring evidence and tried to find measures to effectively lay the groundwork for legislation.
Background of Study- Crime against women
Since the past few decades, the frequency of crime being committed has increased alarmingly. This was the reason which led the Parliament to enact the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983 (Act 43 of 1983) to make the laws stiffer and the crime of rape more realistic. Subsequently, Sections 375 and 376 firstname.lastname@example.org added by an amendment Act and more penal provisions were incorporated for punishing such people who molested a woman or abused her modestly even if she was under their custody or care.
The evidence Act also played an important role in this amendment as it went hand in hand with it and was used to corroborate evidence and substantiate claims. Section 114A was also then added in the Evidence Act to draw a conclusive presumption for the absence of consent in certain prosecutions for rape.
To best aide, the amendment, Section 327 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (which deals with the right of an accused to an open trial) was also amended by the addition of Sub-sections 2 and 3 after re-numbering the old Section as Sub-sections (1). Sub-section 2 and 3 of Section 327 Cr. P.C.
Constitutional and Statutory Provisions discussed:
- Section 118 of The Evidence Act 1872
- The prosecutrix was a young girl below 16 years of age who was studying in the 10th class at the relevant time. On 30th March 1984, she was going to the house of her maternal uncle, and when she had covered a distance of about 100 km. from the school, a car driven by a Sikh youth aged 20/25 years came from behind. This car contained all the accused people-Gurmit Singh, Jagjit Singh Bawa, and Ranjit Singh (accused) were sitting. The car stopped near her and Ranjit Singh came out of the car and caught hold of the prosecutrix and pushed her inside the car. Jagjit Singh allegedly put his hand on the mouth of the victim while Gurmit Singh threatened the prosecutrix with death and drove her to the tubewell owned by Ranjit Singh. The driver then left the prosecutrix after dropping them off when the prosecutrix was then compelled to consume liquor.
- Gurmit Singh then stripped her and she was made to lie on a cot in the kotha while his companions guarded the kotha against the outside. He then raped her after again threatening to kill her. Thereafter the other two accused individually raped her and subjected her to sexual intercourse once again during the night.
- The next morning the same car arrived at the tubewell and the three accused made her sit in that car and left her near the Boys High School, Pakhowal near the place from where she had been abducted.
- After the prosecutrix took her examination narrated the entire story to her mother, (Smt. Gurdev Kaur, and her father Trilok Singh was not present in the house at that time.) However, when he returned late in the evening she narrated the episode to her husband.
- Her father then straightaway contacted the SarpanchJoginder Singh of the village and a panchayat was later convened where it tried to effect a compromise.
- No relief was given and the prosecutrix along with her father proceeded to file a complaint with the police station where she was taken to a primary health center in or medical examination She was medically examined by lady doctor Dr. Sukhwinder Kaurwho found that the hymen of the prosecutrix was lacerated with fine radiate tears, swollen and painful. Her pubic hair was also found mated. According to her intercourse with the prosecutrix could be “one of the reasons for laceration which found in her hymen”.
- She also gave the police a sample containing the salwar of the prosecutrix along with 5 slides of vaginal smears and one sealed vial containing pubic hair of the prosecutrix as evidence under The Evidence Act.
- When the accused were found the doctor opined that both the accused were fit to perform sexual intercourse and the sealed parcels containing the slides of vaginal smears, the pubic hair, and the salwar of the prosecutrix, were sent to the chemical examiner. The report of the chemical examiner revealed that semen was found on the slides of virginal smear though no spermatozoa were found either on the pubic hair or the salwar of the prosecutrix. On completion of the investigation, respondents were challenged and were charged for offenses Under Sections 363, 366, 368, and 376 IPC.
- The trial court carelessly acquitted the accused which is under challenge here.
- Whether the prosecution’s story stands fortified by any cogent or reliable evidence or not and if there’s any need for corroborating evidence to be brought in court as per The Evidence Act 1872?
- The judge opined that according to the evidence act Corroborative evidence is not an essential component in every case of rape and is only as used as a guidance paradigm and not as substantiate law in judicial proceedings.
- A prosecutrix of a sexual offense cannot be put on par with an accomplice and should remain as a victim of the crime (the evidence of a victim of sexual assault stands almost at par with the evidence of an injured witness, if not more )The evidence act does not state that a victim’s evidence cannot be accepted unless it is corroborated in material particulars and according to the same act it can be stated that the prosecutrix is a competent witness Under Section 118 and hence her evidence must receive the same credibility.
Additionally, extra care and caution must be provided to evaluate her evidence.
The bench stated that the court needs to be conscious of the fact that if it chooses to not rely on the testimony of the prosecutrix it can look for evidence that may lend testimony’s assurance. The nature of this evidence, however, must depend on the necessary facts and prerequisites.
At the same time if the prosecutrix does not have a strong motive to falsely involve the person charged then the court must not hesitate in accepting her evidence.[i]
There cannot be a dead uniformity in the rule of law and it is to be made flexible based on different facts and circumstances. Courts cannot cling to a fossil formula (in this case- insist upon corroboration of evidence) even if the court thinks that the victim is credible and trustworthy.
- If the court is confident at the prosecutrix’s evidence it must not ask for anything else and if the person is guilty of having committed the offense of rape, the victim will be given compensation[ii]
- The court needs to be very sensitive in cases involving sexual assault and the testimony of the victim must always be appreciated in the background.
- The high courts will be advised to invariably hold the trial of rape cases in the camera, rather than in the open court as envisaged by Section 327(2) Cr. P.C. and would be required to ask the presiding officers to do so as well.
- It is also advised that these kinds of cases will be tried by lady judges as much as possible so that the victim is granted the ease and can make her statement effectively. This will also enable courts to opine and effectively discharge their duties.
It should also be noted that the court heavily reprimanded the adherence to rigid technicalities in these sensitive cases and stated that they should henceforth avoid disclosing the name of the victim to save her the embarrassment.
This case marks an important distinction with respect to the evidence needed and the credibility which needs to be given to rape victims. They shoulder a great responsibility while trying an accused on charges of rape and rightly so this court, aware of its burden delineated that courts often make the mistake of sitting through repeated inquiries about the incident from the victim.
The fact that it observed that this is often used to discredit a victim and harass and humiliate her is appreciated in the judgment and it acts as a stepping stone in the fight for women’s rights.
However, India still has a long way to go as it has a large number of fractions when it concerns rape laws and as history has it many victims are never met with justice.
“The views of the authors are personal“
[i]State of Maharashtra v. Chandraprakash Kewalchand Jain MANU/SC/0122/1990: 1990CriLJ889.
[ii]Women’s Forum v. Union of India MANU/SC/0519/1995: (1995)1SCC14.