Case Analysis: Om Prakash vs. Dil Bahar; Conviction of Rape Accused Without Corroboration.

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A rape accused could now be convicted on the sole evidence of the victim, even if medical evidence did not prove rape.

Facts 

The victim was a woman who was 6 months pregnant and had been called to the court along with her husband who was arrested for challan proceedings. The accused was a relative of the parents of the victim who had come to attend the same. In this case, the accused was also a relative of the husband of the victim. During the pendency of the proceedings, the accused asked the brother of the husband of the victim to inquire about the release of the challan. Taking advantage of this opportunity the accused pulled the victim to the verandah of the Zila Parishad near the court and tried to rape her.

The victim raised an alarm which was followed by the accused being assaulted and taken to the police station and an FIR was lodged. The trial and the High Court convicted the accused based on the statement of the victim and the eye-witnesses and awarded a punishment of 10 years in prison under Section 376 (2) of the Indian Penal Code 1860 for raping a pregnant woman. The accused’s appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court[1]. Due to the absence of any positive evidence of the crime, the sentence was reduced from 10 years to 7 years.

Issues Raised

In the instant case, the main issue was the validity of the applicability of Section 376 (2), the Supreme Court solely based its decision on the point that whether there was a full possibility of the accused knowing about the pregnancy of the victim.

Judgement

It is an existing law that the victim cannot be considered an accomplice to the crime of sexual assault and in addition to that, her statement does not require corroboration from any other evidence even the evidence of a doctor. In such a case even if the doctor declares that the evidence doesn’t prove an attempt to rape, the testimony of the victim cannot be disbelieved. In a normal course, it takes a lot of courage for a victim of sexual assault to come forth and talk about the crim to her family, let alone the public.

According to the judges, the Indian women tend to conceal such a crime because it is attached to her and her family’s prestige and she will forever be known as the woman who was raped or assaulted. Only sometimes the victim and her family dare to go before the police station and file a complaint against the wrong-doer. In the given case the argument given on behalf of the victim was that falsely accusing the accused does not appeal to any reasoning. There can’t logically exist a reason for a married woman to falsely implicate the accused after having affected her image and reputation.

Analysis

The most similar precedent is that of Bharwada Bhoginbhai Hirjibhai v. State of Gujarat[2]. It was felt by the court that demanding corroboration in sex offences was like inflicting more pain and adding to the injury of the victim. There existed no good reason for corroboration considering the nature of the crime i.e. of sex offences where gathering evidence from independent witnesses is very difficult. Nonetheless, it was laid down that medical evidence was a mandate in certain circumstances of the said crime.

However, over the years the need for medical evidence noticeably reduced. The principle is based on the fact that the victim of the rape is not an accomplice to the crime and her statement should be relied upon and the need for corroboration arises only in cases where the court cannot place implicit reliance on the statement of the prosecutrix.[3]

In another case of State of Maharashtra v. Chandra Prakash Kewalchand Jain[4], it was decided by the court that considering the totality of the circumstances of the case on record, there appears no fact that can disclose any sort of motive that the victim might have to falsely charge the person of rap. In such cases, the court shall not hesitate in accepting her evidence. It was held in various high courts that convicting a person solely based on the evidence of the prosecutrix can be valid only if her evidence is worth the credence. It is advisable to insist on corroboration but it is not compulsory in the eye of law. Subsequently, several tests to determine the need for corroboration was made clear.

In the case of Sher Singh alias Shera v. State, it was decided by the court that the uncorroborated statement of a single witness could be accepted and acted upon given that the evidence must be clear and convincing and should be of impeachable character. Several other considerations were also brought into picture like the statement of the prosecutrix, the consistency in the testimony, and an increase in the number of improvements. Finally, it can be concluded that these factors will vary from case to case.

Comparison with English Law

The position under English law is similar. Under the English law, the corroboration may not necessarily consist of direct evidence that the accused had committed the crime. Even circumstantial evidence and there exists no requirement for it to amount to a confirmation of the whole testimony given by the witness. Looking into the principles laid done in such rape cases it is clear and evident the need for corroboration was always given relaxation. In the case of R v. Sanders[5], it was held by the court that the jury must convict the accused based on the uncorroborated evidence of the supposed victim. But the jury must be warned by the judge about the danger it upholds.

Conclusion 

There is always a positive and a negative side to a judgement. It exists in the current case as well. Rapists deserve the worst kind of punishment possible and this judgement has made their escape much more difficult. The ruling is based on the principle that the victim is not an accomplice to the crime and that her statement or testimony should be relied upon. Only in cases where the court is unable to rely upon the sole statement of the prosecutrix does the need for corroboration arise. [6]

While the above point may stand true, it should also be seen that this rule could be misused with terrible consequences for the accused. The rule where a person can be convicted even with the existence of medical evidence stating the non-occurrence of such a crime makes it much easier for false rape cases to be lodged. Also, it is being assumed by the judges of the Supreme Court that all Indian women are pure and noble and are capable of doing no wrong.

However, this judgement can be considered a necessary and progressive step in a nation where women have constantly had to bear the pain of victimization. Sometimes even if the victim was able to open up to her family, the members of the family stopped her from lodging a complaint fearing the consequences it will have on their image and reputation in the society. Besides which, it’s clear rapists in this country (and plenty of educated people too) need their thinking on this issue rewired.

[1] https://www.dailyo.in/variety/40-landmark-judgments-supreme-court-indian-judiciary-26-11-mumbai-attacks-afzal-guru-arushi-talwar-gujarat-riots/story/1/7798.html

[2] Bharwada Bhoginbhai Hirjibhai v. State of Gujarat, 1983 3 SCC 217

[3] http://www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/stel.htm

[4] State of Maharashtra v. Chandra Prakash Kewalchand Jain, [1983] 3 SCR 280

[5] R v. Sanders, (1991) 93 Cr App R 245

[5] https://www.sarkaariadmi.com/2018/05/landmark-decisions-om-prakash-vs-dil.html

This post has been written by Deyashini Mondal, a first-year student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune

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