Raped in matrimonial home; disbelieved; beaten up! SC believes woman’s sole testimony; finds act of female members of the family “unfortunate”

Supreme Court: In a case where a relative committed rape on the prosecuterix and none of the family members believed her and in fact beat her up when she narrated the incident, the bench of MR Shah* and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ found it unfortunate that even the sister-in-law (Jethani) and mother-in-law though being women did not support the prosecutrix. The Court said,

“Being women at least the sister-in-law and mother-in-law ought to have supported the prosecutrix, rather than beating her and not believing the prosecutrix.”

Factual Matrix

In the intervening night of 9th August, 1999, when the husband of the victim/prosecutrix was away, the accused, a relative, jumped the wall and entered into the room of the prosecutrix, pressed her mouth, committed rape and thereafter fled away by jumping the wall.

When the prosecuterix narrated the incident to her sister-in-law and mother-in-law, they did not believe her. On the contrary, she was beaten. When none of the other family members of her matrimonial house took any action, she sent the information to her parental house. An FIR was lodged on 12.08.1999 after she was taken to her parental house.

The accused took the plea of alibi and according to him he had gone to Indore on the day of incident and he was not in the village on that day. However, the trial Court did not believe the plea of alibi and by an order dated 31.07.2000, convicted the accused for the offence under Section 376 IPC and sentenced him to undergo 7 years rigorous imprisonment with fine of Rs.500/- with default stipulation.

Interestingly, the prosecution had argued before the Supreme Court that on one hand the accused took the plea that it was a case of consent and on the other hand accused took the plea of alibi and that he was not in the village on the date/night of the incident.

It was submitted on behalf of the accused that the doctor in her deposition specifically stated that on examination it was found that there were no external or internal injuries found in the person of the prosecutrix. Therefore, the prosecution case rests solely on the deposition of the prosecutrix only. It was also argued that there was a delay in filing of the FIR.

Analysis

Prosecuterix’s testimony

The Court noticed that the prosecutrix has fully supported the case of the prosecution and has been consistent right from the very beginning. Nothing has been specifically pointed out why the sole testimony of the prosecutrix should not be believed. Even after thorough cross-examination, she has stood by what she has stated and has fully supported the case of the prosecution.

The Court, hence, found no reason to doubt the credibility and/or trustworthiness of the prosecutrix.

The Court took note of the following rulings:

  • There can be a conviction on the sole testimony of the victim/prosecutrix when the deposition of the prosecutrix is found to be trustworthy, unblemished, credible and her evidence is of sterling quality. [Ganesan v. State, (2020) 10 SCC 573]
  • As a general rule, if credible, conviction of accused can be based on sole testimony, without corroboration. It is further observed and held that sole testimony of prosecutrix should not be doubted by court merely on basis of assumptions and surmises. [State (NCT of Delhi) v. Pankaj Chaudhary, (2019) 11 SCC 575]
  • If the evidence of the victim does not suffer from any basic infirmity and the “probabilities factor” does not render it unworthy of credence, as a general rule, there is no reason to insist on corroboration except from medical evidence, where, having regard to the circumstances of the case, medical evidence can be expected to be forthcoming.  [State of Rajasthan v. N.K., (2000) 5 SCC 30]
  • Testimony of the victim is vital and unless there are compelling reasons which necessitate looking for corroboration of her statement, the courts should find no difficulty to act on the testimony of the victim of sexual assault alone to convict an accused where her testimony inspires confidence and is found to be reliable. [Sham Singh v. State of Haryana, (2018) 18 SCC 34]

Medical Evidence

It was submitted on behalf of the accused that as there were no external or internal injuries found on the body of the prosecutrix and therefore it may be a case of consent. The Court, however, held that the submission had no substance at all as such question was asked, even remotely, to the prosecutrix in her cross-examination.

Plea of alibi

It was the case on behalf of the accused and the defence that as one Babulal had met with an accident, the accused had gone to Indore taking Babulal and had stayed at Indore on that night. However, it was found that Babulal had an injury before two months. Defence had not produced the record of the hospital or examined doctor or employee of the hospital where the said Babulal was taken for treatment. According to the defence, they had stayed in the house of one Tulsiram at Indore but the said Tulsiram has not been examined. Even the Babulal has also not been examined.

Hence, the trial Court has rightly disbelieved the plea of alibi raised by the accused.

Delay of three days in lodging the FIR

In a situation, where the prosecuterix was not only disbelieved but beaten up at her matrimonial home after she narrated the incident and had to wait to be taken to her parental home, the Court found that the benefit of such delay cannot be given to the accused who as such was the relative.

Reduction of sentence

As per section 376 IPC pre-amendment, the minimum punishment shall be seven years. However, as per the proviso, the court may, for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgment, impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than seven years.

In the present case, no exceptional and/or special reasons were made out to impose the sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than seven years. On the contrary and in the facts and circumstances of the case, the Court said that the accused has been dealt with lightly by imposing the minimum sentence of seven years rigorous imprisonment only.

“The victim was the relative. Nobody in the family at matrimonial home supported her and she suffered the trauma. She was compelled to go to her parental house and thereafter she was able to lodge the FIR. The accused has come out with a false case/plea of alibi, which is not accepted by the courts below. Under the circumstances, the prayer of the appellant to reduce the sentence and/or to convert the sentence from seven years rigorous imprisonment to seven years simple imprisonment is not accepted and it is rejected.”

[Phool Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1153, decided on 01.12.2021]


Counsels

For accused: Advocate Aditya Gaggar

For State:  Additional Advocate General Abhay Prakash Sahay


*Judgment by: Justice MR Shah

Know Thy Judge | Justice M. R. Shah

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