Kerala High Court: In a high-profile rape case that ignited controversy in the cine industry, Bechu Kurian Thomas, J., granted anticipatory bail to the cine artist and producer Vijay Babu. The Court held that there is no restriction in law that anticipatory bail cannot be granted to a person sitting abroad.
Abstaining to examine the application meticulously on facts, the Court said that the presumptions available under section 114(a) as well as under section 53(a) of the Evidence Act, 1872 in the cases of rape cannot be given undue preference at the stage of anticipatory bail and those presumptions will arise only when substantive evidence is adduced in a court of law i.e. at the stage of the trial.
Apprehending arrest in a rape case, the cine artist cum producer Vijay Babu had approached the Court with an application for anticipatory bail.
The applicant was alleged to have committed rape on the victim with the promise of marriage, he even alleged to have caused physical injuries to her. The prosecution further alleged that on coming to know about the registration of the crime, the applicant went abroad in an attempt to flee from the law.
Noticeably, the victim is a struggling actress who was promised to have a role in the applicant’s film. The prosecution alleged that the applicant had abused the trust reposed on him by the victim and exploited her by raping her on many occasions. Moreover, even during her menstrual periods, the applicant forced himself upon her, ignoring her repeated objections. Further, even after registration of the crime, the applicant was said to have come live on Facebook, where he revealed the identity of the victim, making her a laughing stock, and even threatened to prosecute her.
The prosecution contested the application for anticipatory bail alleging that the applicant had deleted the text messages from his mobile phones for the period till 31-03-2022, and the selective deletion of WhatsApp messages was crucial, considering the victim’s statement that on 16-03-2022 she was brutally raped after being forced to consume red wine.
On the contrary, the applicant argued that the accusation was only a machination of the victim who was upset on getting information that another actress was decided to be cast as a heroine. It was also pleaded that the applicant and victim had a consensual relationship, and the victim was aware that he is a married man, therefore the offences alleged were not made out at all.
Maintainability of Anticipatory Bail Application when the Applicant is Residing Abroad
The prosecution had assailed the bail application on the ground that the same had been filed when the applicant was in Dubai and the practice of filing applications for bail while sitting outside the country should not be entertained.
Considering that with the advancement in investigative technology and communication, the various agencies of investigation could even be deployed to arrest a person outside the country, the Court opined that apprehension of arrest can arise even while the applicant is residing outside the country. Relying on Sushila Aggarwal v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2020) 5 SCC 1, and Gurbaksh Singh Sibbia v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 565, wherein it was held that courts cannot read into section 438 CrPC. a restriction, which the legislature had not thought it fit to impose, the Court stated,
“When a bonafide apprehension exists, the statute confers power on such a person to seek protection from arrest. In the absence of any restrictive clauses in S.438, restricting the right of a person residing outside the country from filing an application for pre-arrest bail, Court cannot read into the provision such a restriction which the legislature did not incorporate.”
The Court relied on Souda Beevi v. S.I. of Police, 2011 SCC OnLine Ker 4242 and Shafi S.M. v. State of Kerala, 2020 SCC OnLine Ker 2928, to hold that there is no such an absolute restriction that application for anticipatory bail should not be entertained when filed from abroad, however, the Court must be convinced that the applicant is within the jurisdiction of the Court at least before the final hearing so that the conditions if any imposed, could be effectively enforced.
“Section 438 CrPC does not contain a restrictive mandate that a person residing outside the country cannot file an application for anticipatory bail.”
Therefore, the Court concluded that an application for anticipatory bail can be filed even by a person residing outside the country. However, the only limitation is that prior to the final hearing, the applicant must be inside the country to enable the court to impose and enforce conditions contemplated under the statutory provisions.
The Court opined that the nuance of ‘consent’ under the Penal Code, 1860 or of ‘rape’ is not to be deliberated upon at the anticipatory bail stage, and the Court should only consider the competing claims of liberty of an individual guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution as against the power of investigation of the police against a person accused of a serious crime.
Therefore, the Court must not get swayed by stereotypical notions of rape myths; i.e., chastity, resistance to rape, having visible physical injuries, behaving in a certain way, reporting the offence immediately, etc. Notwithstanding the above, care must be taken to avoid consensual relationships being converted into instances of rape.
In the backdrop of above, the Court called for the case diary and made the following observations:
The survivor was aware that the applicant was a married man. Therefore, the applicant being involved in a subsisting marriage, there was no possibility of a legal marriage with the survivor.
During the period from 16-03-2022 till 14-04-2022, the survivor was not under any form of confinement.
The applicant and the survivor have been communicating with each other through WhatsApp and Instagram consistently and in plenty and the available messages (from 31-03-2022 to 17-04-2022) conveyed an intense relationship between them; further those communications did not refer to any instances of sexual assault.
While the applicant deleted the messages from 16-03-2022 till 30-03-2022 from his phones, the survivor also deleted all messages between them, for the entire period in question.
Applicant had already been questioned for 38 hours and he had handed over his mobile phones to the investigating officer.
When the other actress had been chosen as a heroine, which came to the knowledge of the survivor after 15-04-2022 and she shouted at the applicant on 17-04-2022.
The applicant’s passport has already been impounded; hence he cannot flee from the country.
Resultantly, the Court held that the applicant ought to be given the benefit of anticipatory bail, subject to the following conditions:
The applicant can be interrogated for the next seven days i.e.; from 27-06-2022 till 03-07-2022 (inclusive) from 09.00 AM till 06.00 PM every day, if required to facilitate the requirements of the investigation.
If the Investigating Officer intends to arrest the applicant, then he shall be released on bail on executing a bond for Rs.5,00,000 with two solvent sureties for the like sum.
Applicant shall not contact or interact with the victim or any of the witnesses. The applicant shall not indulge in any form of attack through social media or other modes against the victim or her family.
Applicant shall not leave the State of Kerala without prior permission of the jurisdictional court and shall co-operate with the investigation. Further, he shall surrender his passport as and when he is issued with a fresh one or if the impounding is cancelled.
[Vijay Babu v. State of Kerala, 2022 SCC OnLine Ker 3158, decided on 22-06-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
S. Rajeev, V. Vinay, M.S. Aneer and Sarath K.P., Advocates, for the Applicant;
M.R. Rajesh, Advocate, for the Victim;
Grashious Kuriakose, Addl. Director General of Prosecution, for the State.
*Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.