When would sexual relations induced on a broken promise of marriage amount to rape? SC answers

When would sexual relations induced on a broken promise of marriage amount to rape? SC answers

Meera Emmanuel

The Supreme Court has ruled that all broken promises of marriage would not fasten a charge of rape. If a woman’s consent for sexual relations is obtained on the basis of a genuine promise of marriage, it would be viewed as legally valid consent. In such cases, there would be no offence of rape if the promise of marriage made in good faith is subsequently broken.

To this end, the judgment passed by a Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee states,

To summarise the legal position that emerges … the “consent” of a woman with respect to Section 375 [of the IPC] must involve an active and reasoned deliberation towards the proposed act.

To establish whether the “consent” was vitiated by a “misconception of fact” arising out of a promise to marry, two propositions must be established. The promise of marriage must have been a false promise, given in bad faith and with no intention of being adhered to at the time it was given. The false promise itself must be of immediate relevance, or bear a direct nexus to the woman’s decision to engage in the sexual act.”

Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) defines non-consensual sexual relations, forced by a man, as rape. Section 90 of the IPC lays down that consent given under fear or a misconception of fact is not consent in the eyes of law. On a combined reading of these provisions, Indian law penalises men for inducing women into entering sexual relations on a false promise of marriage.

The Bench has now clarified that there is a distinction between promises given in good faith and false promises given by the maker knowing that it will be broken. There would be no offence of rape if a genuine promise of marriage is subsequently broken. The Court noted,

Specifically in the context of a promise to marry, this Court has observed that there is a distinction between a false promise given on the understanding by the maker that it will be broken, and the breach of a promise which is made in good faith but subsequently not fulfilled.

The Court went on to explain the distinction between a false promise to marry and a promise made in good faith at the time, but which is subsequently broken.

Where the promise to marry is false and the intention of the maker at the time of making the promise itself was not to abide by it but to deceive the woman to convince her to engage in sexual relations, there is a “misconception of fact” that vitiates the woman’s “consent”.

On the other hand, a breach of a promise cannot be said to be a false promise.

To establish a false promise, the maker of the promise should have had no intention of upholding his word at the time of giving it. The “consent” of a woman under Section 375 is vitiated on the ground of a “misconception of fact” where such misconception was the basis for her choosing to engage in the said act.”

The observations were made in an appeal brought by a CRPF officer who stood accused of having induced a woman (complainant) into a sexual relationship on a promise to marry her.

The two had known each other from 1998 onwards. The complainant submitted that she was reluctant to enter into a physical relationship with him initially and that he had forced her into the sexual relationship on a promise to marry her.

The two belonged to different castes, and the complainant is said to have raised this issue as a potential obstacle for their prospective marriage. All the same, between 2008 and 2015 the two continued their relationship. In 2016 the complainant got to know that the appellant had already married another woman in May that year, leading her to file a rape case against the appellant.

The appellant was eventually granted anticipatory bail in the matter. However, the Bombay High Court rejected his plea to quash the FIR. On appeal, however, the Supreme Court opined that the promise of marriage made by the officer, in this case, was not a false promise. Further, the Bench observed that the complainant had actively consented to continue the relationship, despite being aware of the potential obstacles to their marriage.

The allegations in the FIR do not on their face indicate that the promise by the appellant was false, or that the complainant engaged in sexual relations on the basis of this promise. There is no allegation in the FIR that when the appellant promised to marry the complainant, it was done in bad faith or with the intention to deceive her.

The appellant’s failure in 2016 to fulfil his promise made in 2008 cannot be construed to mean the promise itself was false. The allegations in the FIR indicate that the complainant was aware that there existed obstacles to marrying the appellant since 2008, and that she and the appellant continued to engage in sexual relations long after their getting married had become a disputed matter.

Even thereafter, the complainant travelled to visit and reside with the appellant at his postings and allowed him to spend his weekends at her residence. The allegations in the FIR belie the case that she was deceived by the appellant’s promise of marriage. Therefore, even if the facts set out in the complainant’s statements are accepted in totality, no offence under Section 375 of the IPC has occurred.”

With these observations, the Court proceeded to set aside the Bombay High Court verdict and allowed the CRPF officer’s appeal. The Court allowed the appeal after also finding that accusations made by the complainant against the appellant, regarding offences under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, were baseless.

[Read the Judgment]

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