Testimony of a victim of sexual assault
In the case of Bharwada Bhoginbhai Hirjibhai vs. State of Gujarat, AIR 1983 SC 753 at pp.756-757, Supreme court pointed out that in the Indian setting, refusal to act on the testimony of a victim of sexual assault in the absence of corroboration as a rule, is adding insult to injury. Why should the evidence of the girl or the woman who complains of rape or sexual molestation be viewed with the aid of spectacles fitted with lenses tinged with doubt, disbelief or suspicion? It was further pointed out that on principle the evidence of a victim of sexual assault stands on par with evidence of an injured witness. Just as a witness who has sustained an injury (which is not shown or believed to be self inflicted) is the best witness in the sense that he is least likely to exculpate the real offender, the evidence of a victim of a sex-offence is entitled to great weight, absence of corroboration notwithstanding. The aforesaid observation was made by supreme Court because of the following factors:
(1) A girl or a woman in the tradition bound non- permissive society of India would be extremely reluctant even to admit that any incident which is likely to reflect on her chastity had ever occurred. (2) She would be conscious of the danger of being ostracized by the Society or being looked down by the society including by her own family members, relatives, friends, and neighbours. (3)She would have to brave the whole world. (4) She would face the risk of losing the love and respect of her own husband and near relatives, and of her matrimonial home and happiness being shattered. (5) If she is unmarried, she would apprehend that it would be difficult to secure an alliance with a suitable match from a respectable or as acceptable family. (6) It would almost inevitably and almost invariably result in mental torture and suffering to herself. (7) The fear of being taunted by others will always haunt her. (8) She would feel extremely embarrassed in relating the incident to others being overpowered by a feeling of shame on account of the upbringing in a tradition bound society where by and large sex is taboo. (9) The natural inclination would be to avoid giving publicity to the incident lest the family name and family honour is brought into controversy. (10) The parents of an unmarried girl as also the husband and members of the husbands’ family of a married woman, would also more often than not, want to avoid publicity on account of the fear of social stigma on the family name and family honour. (11) The fear of the victim herself being considered to be promiscuous or in some way responsible for the incident regardless of her innocence. (12) The reluctance to face interrogation by the investigating agency, to face the Court, to face the cross-examination by counsel for the culprit, and the risk of being disbelieved, act as a deterrent.
In the case of Rafiq vs. State of U.P. (1980) 4 SCC 262, V.R. Krishna Iyer, J. speaking for the Court observed at SCC p. 265 as under :-
“Corroboration as a condition for judicial reliance on the testimony of a prosecutrix is not a matter of Law, but a guidance of prudence under given circumstances. Indeed, from place to place, from age to age, from varying life-styles and behavioural complexes, inferences from a given set of facts, oral and circumstantial, may have to be drawn not with dead uniformity but realistic diversity lest rigidity in the shape of rule of Law in this area be introduced through a new type of precedential tyranny. The same observation holds good regarding the presence or absence of injuries on the person of the aggressor or the aggressed.”
In the case of Madan Gopal Kakkad vs. Naval Dubey (1992) 3 SCC 204, it was pointed out at SCC p. 218 that even in cases wherein there is lack of oral corroboration to that of a prosecutrix, a conviction can be safely recorded, provided the evidence of the victim does not suffer from any basic infirmity, and the ‘probabilities factor’ does not render it unworthy of credence, and that as a general rule, corroboration cannot be insisted upon, except from the medical evidence, where, having regard to the circumstances of the case, medical evidence can be expected to be forthcoming.
In the case of Ranjit Hazarika vs. State of Assam, (1998) 8 SCC 635, supreme Court held that non-rupture of hymen or absence of injury on victim’s private parts does not belie her testimony. The Court further held that the opinion of doctor that no rape was committed cannot throw out an otherwise cogent and trustworthy evidence of the prosecutrix. The Court held that the evidence of the prosecutrix was amply corroborated by her mother and father whom she immediately informed about the occurrence.
In the case of State of Punjab vs. Gurmit Singh (1996) 2 SCC 384, S upreme Court pointed out at SCC p. 403 :-
“Rape is not merely a physical assault – it is often destructive of the whole personality of the victim. A murderer destroys the physical body of his victim, a rapist degrades the very soul of the helpless female. The Court, therefore, shoulder a great responsibility while trying an accused on charges of rape. They must deal with such cases with utmost sensitivity. The Courts should examine the broader probabilities of a case and not get swayed by minor contradictions or insignificant discrepancies in the statement of the prosecutrix, which are not of a fatal nature, to throw out an otherwise reliable prosecution case. If evidence of the prosecutrix inspires confidence, it must be relied upon without seeking corroboration of her statement in material particulars. If for some reason the Court finds it difficult to place implicit reliance on her testimony, it may look for evidence which may lend assurance to her testimony, short of corroboration required in the case of an accomplice. The testimony of the prosecutrix must be appreciated in the background of the entire case and the trial Court must be alive to its responsibility and be sensitive while dealing with cases involving sexual molestations.”
In the case of State of Rajasthan vs. N.K. the accused, (2000) 5 SCC 30, the observation made in Gurmit Singh’s case (supra) was reiterated. The Court further observed in paragraph 9 at SCC p. 38 as under :-
“Having heard the learned counsel for the parties we are of the opinion that the High Court was not justified in reversing the conviction of the respondent and recording the order of acquittal. It is true that the golden thread which runs throughout the cobweb of criminal jurisprudence as administered in India is that nine guilty may escape but one innocent should not suffer. But at the same time no guilty should escape unpunished once the guilt has been proved to hilt. An unmerited acquittal does no good to the society. If the prosecution has succeeded in making out a convincing case for recording a finding as to the accused being guilty, the court should not lean in favour of acquittal by giving weight to irrelevant or insignificant circumstances or by resorting to technicalities or by assuming doubts and giving benefit thereof where none exists. A doubt, as understood in criminal jurisprudence, has to be a reasonable doubt and not an excuse for a finding in favour of acquittal. An unmerited acquittal encourages wolves in the society being on the prowl for easy prey, moreso when the victims of crime are helpless females. It is the spurt in the number of unmerited acquittals recorded by criminal courts which gives rise to the demand for death sentence to the rapists. The Courts have to display a greater sense of responsibility and to be more sensitive while dealing with charges of sexual assault on women”.
Refer: State of HIMACHAL PRADESH Vs Asha Ram AIR 2006 SC 381 : (2005) 5 Suppl. SCR 280 : (2005) 13 SCC 766 : JT 2005 (9) SC 574 : (2005) 9 SCALE 371 : (2006) CriLJ SC 139