Sakshi v. Union of India [2004 SC]

This writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution has been filed by way of public interest litigation, by Sakshi, which is an organisation to provide legal, medical, residential, psychological or any other help, assistance or charitable support for women, in particular those who are victims of any kind of sexual abuse or harassment or violence.

The main question which requires consideration is whether by a process of judicial interpretation the provisions of Section 375 IPC can be so altered so as to include all forms of penetration such as penile/vaginal penetration, penile/oral penetration, penile/anal penetration, finger/vaginal and finger/anal penetration and object/vaginal penetration, within its ambit. Section 375 uses the expression “sexual intercourse” but the said expression has not been defined. The dictionary meaning of the words “sexual intercourse” is heterosexual intercourse involving penetration of the vagina by the penis.

The Indian Penal Code was drafted by the First Indian Law Commission of which Lord Macaulay was the President. It was presented to the Legislative Council in 1856 and was passed on 6-10-1860. The Penal Code has undergone very few changes in the last more than 140 years. Except for clause sixthly of Section 375 regarding the age of the woman no major amendment has been made in the said provision. Sub-section (2) of Section 376 and Sections 376-A to 376-D were inserted by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983 but sub-section (2) of Section 376 merely deals with special types of situations and provides for a minimum sentence of 10 years. It does not in any manner alter the definition of “rape” as given in Section 375 IPC. Similarly, Section 354 which deals with assault or criminal force to woman with an intent to outrage her modesty and Section 377 which deals with unnatural offences have not undergone any major amendment.

An exercise to alter the definition of rape, as contained in Section 375 IPC, by a process of judicial interpretation, and that too when there is no ambiguity in the provisions of the enactment, is bound to result in a good deal of chaos and confusion, and will not be in the interest of the society at large.

The writ petition is accordingly disposed of with the following directions:

(1) The provisions of sub-section (2) of Section 327 Cr.P.C. shall, in addition to the offences mentioned in the sub-section, also apply in inquiry or trial of offences under Sections 354 and 377 IPC.

(2) In holding trial of child sex abuse or rape:

(i) a screen or some such arrangements may be made where the victim or witnesses (who may be equally vulnerable like the victim) do not see the body or face of the accused

(ii) questions put in cross-examination on behalf of the accused, insofar as they relate directly to the incident, should be given in writing to the presiding officer of the court who may put them to the victim or witnesses in a language which is clear and is not embarrassing

iii) the victim of child abuse or rape, while giving testimony in court, should be allowed sufficient breaks as and when required.