If a woman of “easy virtue” accuses a person of rape, then courts must not discard her evidence but it must be “cautiously appreciated”, the Supreme Court ruled while acquitting a Delhi resident concurrently held guilty of rape by a trial court and the Delhi high court.
“Merely because a woman is of easy virtue, her evidence cannot be discarded on that ground alone rather it is to be cautiously appreciated,” said a bench of Justices B S Chauhan and Dipak Misra on Friday.
It is common for accused facing rape charges to term the victim as a woman of easy virtue to lessen their guilt during the trial. The apex court asked the courts to be wary of such arguments.
Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Chauhan said: “Even in cases where there is some material to show that the victim was habituated to sexual intercourse, no inference of the victim being a woman of ‘easy virtue’ or a woman of ‘loose moral character’ can be drawn.”
“Such a woman has a right to protect her dignity and cannot be subjected to rape only for that reason. She has a right to refuse to submit herself to sexual intercourse to anyone and everyone because she is not a vulnerable object or prey for being sexually assaulted by anyone and everyone,” the bench added.
The ruling came in the case where a woman had accused Narender Kumar of sexually assaulting her on September 16, 1998, near village Khirki in south Delhi by dragging her to the road-side bushes at 8pm. The trial court convicted Kumar on December 7, 1999, under Section 376 of the IPC and sentenced him to seven years of imprisonment. The high court on March 25, 2009, upheld the trial court verdict.
But, amicus curiae Yakesh Anand pointed out to theSuptreme court that the trial court as well as the HC did not consider the evidence placed by the defense that the accused and the alleged victim were having intimate relationship much to the dislike of her husband. Anand said there were defense witnesses who corroborated Kumar’s version that only after he refused to live with her that the rape complaint was filed.
The SC said that though the complainant’s version in a rape case had been traditionally given weight by the courts, but even in such cases the onus was always on the prosecution to prove affirmatively each ingredient of the offence it sought to establish and “such onus never shifts” to the accused.
“However great the suspicion against the accused and however strong the moral belief and conviction of the court, unless the offence of the accused is established beyond reasonable doubt on the basis of legal evidence and material on the record, he cannot be convicted of an offence,” the bench said.
Acquitting Narender Kumar, the bench said: “The given facts and circumstances make it crystal clear that if the evidence of the prosecutrix is read and considered in totality of circumstances along with the other evidence on record, in which the offence is alleged to have been committed, we are of the view that her deposition does not inspire confidence.”