Bombay High Court: While deliberating upon the instant appeal challenging the conviction and sentence under Section 376, IPC [rape], the Division Bench of A.S. Gadkari and Milind N. Jadhav, JJ., observed that, once the Trial Court has concluded that the prosecution has proved the offence of rape beyond reasonable doubt, then there is no reason to deviate from the statutory position and award a lesser sentence than what is prescribed by the statute.
Facts and Legal Trajectory of the case: Victim X (deaf and dumb), her husband (blind) and the accused with his family, lived jointly in her matrimonial home. The victim came to her paternal home, wherein she narrated her ordeal before her mother via sign language and gestures. She revealed that the appellant had ravished her on 16-11-2005 and threatened her with dire consequences if she divulged the details to anyone. The mother of the victim then lodged a report with Lasalgaon Police Station.
Investigation and medical examination were conducted, and witnesses were examined. The appellant was arrested and the chargesheet was filed. The matter came up before Additional Sessions Judge, Niphad, Nashik whereby the appellant was convicted for offences punishable under Sections 376 and 503, IPC. The Trial Court had observed that appellant/accused has been facing trial for 6-7 years and is 60 years old therefore leniency has been shown while sentencing him. Via Trial Court’s order dated 13-02-2013, the appellant/accused was sentenced to 5 years’ rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 1000.
Aggrieved with the afore-stated conviction and sentence, the appellant knocked on the doors of the High Court. Meanwhile the State of Maharashtra filed an appeal to enhance the sentence given by the Trial Court. The High Court too registered a suo-motu petition issuing a notice to the Additional Sessions Judge, Niphad, Nashik concerning the quantum of sentence.
Contentions: The counsel of the appellant contended that the prosecutrix had filed a false case and that the accused/appellant was not present in the house at the time of the alleged crime. The counsel also argued that the case was a means to an end i.e., to affect a partition of the family field and property. It was also argued that there was a substantial delay of 3 days in filing the FIR.
Per contra, the respondents contended that the appellant/ accused is the brother-in-law of the victim and on the day of the crime, all the family members had gone out, except the victim, her blind husband and the accused. It was submitted that the appellant’s crime has been proved beyond reasonable doubt. The respondents thus urged the High Court to enhance the 5-year sentence given to the appellant as per Section 376 as it stood prior to the amendment in 2018.
Observations: Perusing the facts and the contentions presented, the Court made the following observations-
It was noted that the Trial Court adopted a proper procedure while recording the victim’s evidence through an expert witness- in this case, an impartial translator/ interpreter. The Court also noted that the testimony of the victim through the interpreter did not shake during the cross-examination by the appellant’s counsel. It was observed that the elaborate cross-examination, however, did not disprove the incident in favour of the appellant.
Pointing out that the defense case relied mostly on a property dispute going within the family, the Court observed that no woman would take the risk of leveling a charge such as of rape, only on the pretext of property. “No woman would put at stake her life by making such a serious allegation against her family member unless and until such a heinous act has taken place”. The Court further stated that the answers given by the victim during her cross-examination vis-a-vis the property dispute, cannot be the ground or reason to discard her evidence. Upon examining the proceedings before the Trial Court, the Division Bench was satisfied that the prosecution had proved the guilt of the accused (appellant) beyond reasonable doubt. “The victim is a helpless, deaf and dumb married woman, whose privacy has been shattered by the appellant”. It was observed that rape is not merely a physical assault but it destructs the whole personality of a helpless woman.
It was observed that the appellant’s misuse of his position of trust to commit such a horrific crime has shocked the conscience of the Court
Moving onto the issue of sentence, the Court observed that the Trial Court erred in its reasoning behind awarding 5 years’ rigorous imprisonment to the appellant. The Court pointed out that given the facts of the case and the horrific manner in which the appellant had abused the victim, the rationale applied by the Trial Court is flawed as it is against the statute.
Pointing out that prior to amendment of Section 376 in 2018, the provision had stated that “whoever commits rape shall be punished with Rigorous Imprisonment of either description for a term not less than 7 years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine”. The Court observed that the instant matter falls under Section 376(1).
Decision: With the afore-stated observations, the Court convicted the appellant in view of Section 235, CrPC for the offence punishable under Section 376. IPC. The appellant’s sentence was enhanced to 7 years’ rigorous imprisonment and fine of Rs. 25,000.
[Madhukar Makaji Mudgul v. State of Maharashtra, 2022 SCC OnLine Bom 1674, decided on 19-08-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Ashish Satpute, Advocate, for the Appellant;
H.J. Dedhia, APP, Advocate, for the Respondent.
*Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has prepared this brief.