Judicial remarks in rape cases that stoked debates in India

Critics have argued that despite the changes made to criminal law after the Nirbhaya case the legal system remains slow to hear rape cases
Last Updated : 16 December 2022, 08:38 IST
Last Updated : 16 December 2022, 08:38 IST
Last Updated : 16 December 2022, 08:38 IST
Last Updated : 16 December 2022, 08:38 IST

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On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old woman was gang-raped, tortured and killed on a moving bus in Delhi – a crime so heinous that it shook the nation, triggering massive outrage, and bringing millions to the streets demanding tougher laws on sexual assault.

Subsequently, in December 22, 2012, a judicial committee was set up to study and take public suggestions for the best ways to amend laws to provide quicker investigation and prosecution of sex offenders. In 2013, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 was promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee, several new laws were passed, and six new fast-track courts were created to hear rape cases.

However, critics have argued that despite the changes made to criminal law after the Nirbhaya case the legal system remains slow to hear rape cases and prosecute rapists.

Here we take a look at judgements and remarks in rape cases that shocked the nation:

Less than a year after the incident, in 2013, a court acquitted a man of raping a woman by making her believe that she was his legally wedded wife. The court said girls voluntarily elope with their lovers but to escape their parents’ scolding they lodge false cases.

“They (girls) voluntarily elope with their lovers to explore the greener pastures of bodily pleasure and on return to their homes, they conveniently fabricate the story of kidnap and rape in order to escape harsh treatment by parents,” the court had said.

It added that this was a "very disturbing trend". "The girls in such cases are mostly in the age group of 19-24 years, thus, mature enough to understand the consequences of their acts and not so numb to get carried away with any representations of the boy," the court said.

In 2020, the Karnataka High Court granted advance bail to a rape accused after expressing its reservations about the genuineness of the complainant's case. The court noted that "after the perpetration of the act she was tired and fell asleep [which was] unbecoming of an Indian woman."

The complainant in the case was the employer of the accused. "Nothing is mentioned by the complainant as to why she went to her office at 11 pm; she has also not objected to consuming drinks with the petitioner and allowing him to stay with her till morning; the explanation offered by the complainant that after the perpetration of the act she was tired and fell asleep, is unbecoming of an Indian woman," the court added.

"This is not the way our women react when they are ravished," it added.

In 2020, the Indore Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court granted bail to a man accused of sexual harassment on the condition that he would request the complainant to tie a ‘rakhi’ on him with a promise to protect her “to the best of his ability for all times to come”.

In addition, the judge ordered the man to pay Rs 11,000 to the complainant as a “customary ritual usually offered by brothers to sisters” on Raksha Bandhan and seek her blessings while visiting her with his wife and a box of sweets. “The applicant shall also tender Rs 5,000 to the son of the complainant for purchase of clothes and sweets,” the court had said. The Supreme Court later stepped in and quashed the Madhya Pradesh High Court order.

In another instance, in 2021, the then CJI asked a 23-year-old government servant whether he was ready to marry the woman who accused him of rape. The government servant was accused of raping a minor girl in 2014-15. He was allegedly 17-18-years-old then, and the girl was his distant relative and a student of Class 9 at the time.

“You should have thought before seducing and raping the young girl. You knew you are a government servant. We are not forcing you to marry. Let us know if you will, otherwise you will say we are forcing you to marry her,” the CJI had said. The lawyer consulted the accused and then told the court that the latter initially wanted to marry her but the girl refused. “Now I cannot as I am already married,” he had added. The bench granted him interim protection from arrest for four weeks, allowing him time to file for regular bail.

In yet another instance, in 2022, the Supreme Court remitted a man’s death sentence to life imprisonment for raping and killing a four-year-old girl in Madhya Pradesh in 2013.

Commuting his sentence to 20 years’ imprisonment, the apex court quoted Oscar Wilde and said, "The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."

The Supreme Court, at several instances, laid down guiding principles for the courts to deal with sexual offences and directed judges to "avoid reflecting stereotypical or patriarchal notions about women".

(With inputs from agencies)

Published 15 December 2022, 17:10 IST

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