State of Punjab v. Gurmit Singh [1996 SC]

Facts of the case

The prosecutrix a young girl below 16 years of age, was studying in the 10th class at the relevant time in Government High School, Pakhowal. The matriculation examinations were going on at the material time.  On 30-3- 1984 at about 12.30 p.m. after taking her test in Geography, the prosecutrix was going to the house of her maternal uncle, a blue Ambassador car came from behind. In that car Gurmit Singh, Jagjit Singh and Ranjit Singh accused were sitting. Ranjit Singh accused came out of the car and caught hold of the prosecutrix from her arm and pushed her inside the car.  All the three accused drove her to the tube well of Ranjit Singh accused. She was taken to the ‘kotha’ of the tube well.

In the said kotha Gurmit Singh compelled the prosecutrix to take liquor. Gurmit Singh then removed her salwar and also opened her shirt. She was made to lie on a cot in the kotha while his companions guarded the kotha from outside. Gurmit Singh committed rape upon her. After Gurmit Singh had committed rape upon her, the other two accused, who were earlier guarding the kotha from outside, came in on by one and committed rape upon her.  Each one of the accused committed sexual intercourse with the prosecutrix forcibly and against her will. They all subjected her to sexual intercourse once again during the night against her will.

Next morning at about 6.00 a.m. the three accused made her sit in car and left her near the place from where she had been abducted. The prosecutrix had to take her examination in the subject of Hygiene on that date. She, after taking her examination in hygiene, reached her village Nangal-Lalan, at about noon time and narrated the entire story to her mother.

The grounds on which the trial court disbelieved the version of the prosecutrix are not at all sound. The findings recorded by the trial court rebel against realism and lose their sanctity and credibility.  The testimony of the victim in such cases 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 a victim of sexual assault alone to convict an accused where her testimony inspires confidence and is found to be reliable.

Seeking corroboration of her statement before replying upon the same as a rule in such cases amounts to adding insult to injury. Why should the evidence of a girl or a woman, who complains of rape or sexual molestation, be viewed with doubt, disbelief or suspicion? The court while appreciating the evidence of a prosecutrix may look for some assurance of her statement to satisfy its judicial conscience, since she is a witness who is interested in the outcome of the charge levelled by her, but there is no requirement of law to insist upon corroboration of her statement to base conviction of an accused. The evidence of a victim of sexual assault stands almost on a par with the evidence of an injured witness and to an extent is even more reliable just as a witness who has sustained some injury in the occurrence, which is not found to be self-inflicted, is considered to be a good witness in the sense that he is least likely to shield the real culprit, the evidence of a victim of a sexual offence is entitled to great weight, absence of corroboration notwithstanding.

Corroborative evidence is not an imperative component of judicial credence in every case of rape. Corroboration as a condition for judicial reliance on the testimony of the prosecutrix is not a requirement of law but a guidance of prudence under given circumstances. It must not be overlooked that a woman or a girl subjected to sexual assault is not an accomplice to the crime but is a victim of another person’s lust and it is improper and undesirable to test her evidence with a certain amount of suspicion, treating her as if she were an accomplice. Inferences have to be drawn from a given set of facts and circumstances with realistic diversity and not dead uniformity lest that type of rigidity in the shape of rule of law is introduced through a new form of testimonial tyranny making justice a casualty. Courts cannot cling to a fossil formula and insist upon corroboration even if, taken as a whole, the case spoken of by the victim of sex crime strikes the judicial mind as probable.

In the instant case our careful analysis of the statement of the prosecutrix has created an impression on our minds that she is a reliable and truthful witness. Her testimony suffers from no infirmity or blemish whatsoever. We have no hesitation in acting upon her testimony alone without looking for any ‘corroboration’.

Moreover, the unchallenged fact that it was the prosecutrix who had led the investigating officer to the kotha of the tube well of Ranjit Singh, where she had been raped, lent a built-in assurance that the charge levied by her was ‘genuine’ rather than ‘fabricated’ because it is no one’s case that she knew Ranjit Singh earlier or had ever seen visited the kotha at his tube well. The trial court completely overlooked this aspect.

The trial court found that the relations between the family of Gurmit Singh and of the prosecutrix were strained on account of civil litigation pending between the parties and that was also the reason to falsely implicate Gurmit Singh. Even if it be assumed for the sake of argument that there was some such litigation, it could hardly be a ground for a father to put forth his daughter to make a wild allegation of rape against the son of the opposite party, with a view to take revenge. It defies human probabilities. No father could stoop so low as to bring forth a false charge of rape on his unmarried minor daughter with a view to take revenge from the father of an accused on account of pending civil litigation. In any case, there is no proof of the existence of such enmity.

What has shocked our judicial conscience all the more is the inference drawn by the court, based on no evidence and not even on a denied suggestion, to the effect: The more probability is that (prosecutrix) was a girl of loose character. She wanted to dupe her parents that she resided for one night at the house of her maternal uncle, but for reasons best known to her, she did not do so and she preferred to give company to some persons.

We must express our strong disapproval of the approach of the trial court and its casting a stigma on the character of the prosecutrix. The courts are expected to use self-restraint while recording such findings. Even if the prosecutrix, in a given case, has been promiscuous in her sexual behaviour earlier, 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. No stigma, like the one as cast in the present case should be cast against such a witness by the courts, for after all it is the accused and not the victim of sex crime who is on trial in the court.

We find that the prosecutrix has made a truthful statement and the prosecution has established the case against the respondents beyond every reasonable doubt.  We accordingly convict all the three respondents for offences under Sections 363/366/368 and 376 IPC.

So far as the sentence is concerned, the court has to strike a just balance. In this case the occurrence took place on 30-3-1984 (more than 11 years ago). The respondents were aged between 21-24 years of age at the time when the offence was committed. We are informed that the respondents have not been involved in any other offence after they were acquitted by the trial court on 1-6-1985, more than a decade ago. All the respondents as well as the prosecutrix must have by now got married and settled down in life. These are some of the factors which we need to take into consideration while imposing an appropriate sentence on the respondents. We accordingly sentence the respondents for the offence under Section 376 IPC to undergo five years’ R.I. each.

We must remember that a rapist not only violates the victim’s privacy and personal integrity, but inevitably causes serious psychological as well as physical harm in the process. Rape is not merely a physical assault, it is often destructive of the whole personality of the victim. A murderer destroys the physical body of his victim; a rapist degrades the very soul of the helpless female. If evidence of the prosecutrix inspires confidence, it must be relied upon without seeking corroboration of her statement in material particulars. If for some reason the court finds it difficult to place implicit reliance on her testimony, it may look for evidence which may lend assurance to her testimony, short of corroboration required in the case of an accomplice.

Instructions to courts

  1. There has been lately lot of criticism of the treatment of the victims of sexual assault in the court during their cross-examination. The court, therefore, should not sit as a silent spectator while the victim of crime is being cross-examined by the defence. It must effectively control the recording of evidence in the court.
  2. Recently, section 327 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which deals with the right of an accused to an open trial was amended. In spite of the amendment, however, hardly does one come across a case where the inquiry and trial of a rape case has been conducted by the court in camera. The expression that the inquiry into and trial of rape “shall be conducted in camera” as occurring in Section 327(2) Cr.P.C is not only significant but very important. It casts a duty on the court to conduct the trial of rape cases etc. invariably “in camera”.

It would enable the victim of crime to be a little comfortable and answer the questions with greater ease in not too familiar surroundings. Trial in camera would not only be in keeping with the self-respect of the victim of crime and in tune with the legislative intent but is also likely to improve the quality of the evidence of a prosecutrix because she would not be so hesitant or bashful to depose frankly as she may be in an open court, under the gaze of public. The improved quality of her evidence would assist the courts in arriving at the truth and sifting truth from falsehood.

  • It may also be worth considering whether it would not be more desirable that the cases of sexual assaults on the females are tried by lady Judges, wherever available, so that the prosecutrix can make her statement with greater ease and assist the courts to properly discharge their duties, without allowing the truth to be sacrificed at the altar of rigid technicalities while appreciating evidence in such cases.
  • The courts should, as far as possible, avoid disclosing the name of the prosecutrix in their order to save further embarrassment to the victim of sex crime. We hope that trial courts would take recourse to provisions of Sections 327(2) and (3) CrPC liberally. Trial of rape cases in camera should be the rule and an open trial in such cases, an exception.