- Apprentice Lawyer
A five-year delay in filing the FIR and discrepancies noted in witness testimonies recently led the Sikkim High Court to give the benefit of doubt to a man charged with rape.
While arriving at its decision, the Court ruled that the "possibility of a relationship gone sour cannot be ruled out."
.".. while it is important to be conscious about the trauma of the victim - a victim of alleged sexual assault, it is also important to be conscious about the well-settled principle of criminal jurisprudence that more serious the offence, the stricter the degree of proof", the judgment states.
While Justice Bhaskar Raj Pradhan found that there was enough evidence to give rise to a grave suspicion that the man had raped the prosecutrix, it was not enough to prudentially convict him, as the prosecutrix's statement was not sufficiently corroborated. As recorded in the order:
The judge acknowledged that a woman would not ordinarily make a false allegation of sexual assault or rape, for fear of stigma. However, the stigma is slowly receding among the educated and conscious populace, he added. He further noted that in some cases, the sole testimony of a rape victim can be relied upon, if it is safe, reliable and worthy of acceptance to convict the accused. However, it was emphasised that the burden would still remain to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.
"... it is always prudent for the court to seek corroboration when the sole testimony is the only evidence available... vital for the court to keep in mind is that like in all criminal cases, the burden is always upon the prosecution to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. Due to the fact that in the present case, the victim had not reported about the incident for five long years, it is equally important to seek corroboration of what she deposed in court", the Court opined.
In this case, the Court took note of witness testimonies that suggested that the prosecutrix had been infatuated by the accused man, that she had expressed her desire to marry him, that there was a love affair between them, and that the prosecutrix had visited the accused when he met with an accident. As such, the Court opined,
"The possibility of a relationship gone sour cannot be ruled out. Several of the prosecution witnesses had deposed hearing about their 'physical relationship' and 'sexual relationship', both of which would not amount to rape. In such circumstances, this court is also of the considered view that the appellant must be given the benefit of doubt."
The prosecutrix had alleged that she had been raped back in 2013 by an influential man, who was already married at the time. As per the prosecution version, she had become acquainted with the man after he promised to help her secure a job.
She is stated to have been raped on two occasions, with the man eventually assuring her that he would take her as a second wife. She further asserted that a pregnancy resulting from his raping her was aborted after the man gave her a pill for the same. The Court was also apprised that the prosecutrix was diagnosed with acute and transient psychotic disorder, schizophrenia like with associated stress, following the termination of the pregnancy.
The FIR over the alleged rape was filed in 2018, and the accused man was convicted for rape and sentenced to seven years' rigorous imprisonment in 2019.
Upon this verdict being challenged, the High Court opined that the trial court "may have been correct in concluding that the appellant having committed rape upon the victim could not be ruled out" given the vivid description of the rape given by the prosecutrix.
However, the judge took note that the inordinate delay of five years in lodging the FIR meant that much of the evidence in the case would have been lost.
"Rape is a violent offence. Penetration is a sine qua non. Due to the inordinate delay, medical evidence like injuries would have healed and material evidence would be lost. Yet her statement cannot be brushed under the carpet merely because she took time to come out and disclose it. The victim’s statement regarding sexual offence is a delicate evidence which must be examined closely keeping in mind various relevant factors", the Court said.
It added that "It is also equally important to keep in mind that the accused should not be put in the same pedestal as that of the victim of crime. One is the injured, the other, the predator."
All the same, in view of the discrepancies noticed by the High Court, it proceeded to acquit the accused by extending him the benefit of doubt.