The Supreme Court of India considered this question thoroughly in the case of ‘Bharwada Bhoginbhai Hirjibhai v. State of Gujrat (1983)’. In this case, a public servant tried to rape a girl of his daughter’s age and who was the daughter of his friend. He took the opportunity when parents of that girl was out of station, and she was alone in her house with her another sister. The accused entered the house, shut the door and exposed himself before the girls. A girl was successful to run out, but second girl couldn’t get the opportunity, the accused tried to push her on cot and attempted rape.
The parents of the girl tried to suppress this matter, but, neighbors found out about this incident, a female social worker with the group of women collected and asked the accused to publically apologize but he denied, the social worker filed a FIR in the Police station. In medical examination it was found out that there was attempt to rape on girl few days back.
The Session Court and High Court found him guilty for sexual misbehavior against the girls. Therefore, he reached the Supreme Court against the judgment.
The Supreme Court’s Analysis
Supreme Court, in Rameshwar v. The State of Rajasthan,(1951) has declared that corroboration is not the sine que-non for a conviction in a rape case. The utterance of the Court in Rameshwar may be replayed, across the time-gap of three decades which have whistled past, in the inimitable voice of Vivian Bose, J. who spoke for the Court.
The rule, which according to the cases has hardened into one of law, is not that corroboration is essential before there can be a conviction but that the necessity of corroboration, as a matter of prudence, except where the circumstances make it safe to dispense with it, must be present to the mind of the judge …….
The only rule of law is that this rule of prudence must be present to the mind of the Judge or the jury as the case may be and be understood and appreciated by him or them. There is no rule of practice that there must, in every case, be corroboration before a conviction can be allowed to stand.”
And whilst the sands were running out in the time glass, the crime graph of offences against women in India has been scaling new peaks from day to day. That is why an elaborate rescanning of the jurisprudential sky through the lenses of ‘logos’ and ‘ethos’, has been necessitated.
There are many reasons to trust rape victim’s testimony alone for conviction
In the Indian setting, refusal to act on the testimony of a victim of sexual assault in the absence of corroboration as a rule, is adding insult to injury. Why should the evidence of the girl or the woman who complains of rape or sexual molestation be viewed with the aid of spectacles fitted with lenses tinged with doubt, disbelief or suspicion?
To do so is to justify the charge of male chauvinism in a male dominated society. We must analyze the argument in support of the need for corroboration and subject it to relentless and remorseless cross-examination. And we must do so with a logical, and not an opiniated, eye in the light of probabilities with our feet firmly planted on the soil of India and with our eyes focussed on the Indian horizon.
We must not be swept off the feet by the approach made in the Western World which has its own social mileu, its own social mores, its own permissive values, and its own code of life. Corroboration may be considered essential to establish a sexual offence in the backdrop of the social ecology of the Western World.
It is wholly unnecessary to import the said concept on a turn-key basis and to transplate it on the Indian soil regardless of the altogether different atmosphere, attitudes, mores, responses of the Indian Society and its profile. The identities of the two worlds are different. The solution of problems cannot therefore be identical. It is conceivable in the Western Society that a female may level false accusation as regards sexual molestation against a male for several reasons such as:
(1) The female may be a ‘gold digger’ and may well have an economic motive to extract money by holding out the gun of prosecution or public exposure.
(2) She may be suffering from psychological neurosis and may seek an escape from the neurotic prison by phantasizing or imagining a situation where she is desired, wanted, and chased by males.
(3) She may want to wreak vengeance on the male for real or imaginary wrongs. She may have a grudge against a particular male, or males in general, and may have the design to square the account.
(4) She may have been induced to do so in consideration of economic rewards, by a person interested in placing the accused in a compromising or embarrassing position, on account of personal or political vendetta.
(5) She may do so to gain notoriety or publicity or to appease her own ego or to satisfy her feeling of self-importance in the context of her inferiority complex.
(6) She may do so on account of jealousy.
(7) She may do so to win sympathy of others.
(8) She may do so upon being repulsed.
By and large these factors are not relevant to India, and the Indian conditions. Without the fear of making too wide a statements or of overstating the case, it can be said that rarely will a girl or a woman in India make false allegations of sexual assault on account of any such factor as has been just enlisted. The statement is generally true in the context of the urban as also rural Society. It is also by and large true in the context of the sophisticated, not so sophisticated, and unsophisticated society.
Only very rarely can one conceivably come across an exception or two and that too possibly from amongst the urban elites. Because:
(1) A girl or a woman in the tradition bound non-permissive Society of India would be extremely reluctant even to admit that any incident which is likely to reflect on her chastity had ever occurred.
(2) She would be conscious of the danger of being ostracised by the Society or being looked down by the Society including by her own family members, relatives, friends and neighbours.
(3) She would have to brave the whole world.
(4) She would face the risk of losing the love and respect of her own husband and near relatives, and of her matrimonial home and happiness being shattered.
(5) If she is unmarried, she would apprehend that it would be difficult to secure an alliance with a suitable match from a respectable or an acceptable family.
(6) It would almost inevitably and almost invariably result in mental torture and suffering to herself.
(7) The fear of being taunted by others will always haunt her.
(8) She would feel extremely embarrassed in relating the incident to others being over powered by a feeling of shame on account of the upbringing in a tradition bound society where by and large sex is taboo.
(9) The natural inclination would be to avoid giving publicity to the incident lest the family name and family honour is brought into controversy.
(10) The parents of an unmarried girl as also the husband and members of the husband’s family of a married woman would also more often than not, want to avoid publicity on account of the fear of social stigma on the family name and family honour.
(11) The fear of the victim herself being considered to be promiscuous or in some way responsible for the incident regardless of her innocence.
(12) The reluctance to face interrogation by the investigating agency, to face the court, to face the cross examination by Counsel for the culprit, and the risk of being disbelieved, acts as a deterrent.
In view of these factors the victims and their relatives are not too keen to bring the culprit to books. And when in the face of these factors the crime is brought to light there is a built-in assurance that the charge is genuine rather than fabricated..
On principle the evidence of a victim of sexual assault stands on par with evidence of an injured witness. Just as a witness who has sustained an injury (which is not shown or believed to be self inflicted) is the best witness in the sense that he is least likely to exculpate the real offender, the evidence of a victim of a sex-offence is entitled to great weight, absence of corroboration notwithstanding.
And while corroboration in the form of eye witness account of an independent witness may often be forthcoming in physical assault cases, such evidence cannot be expected in sex offences, having regard to the very nature of the offence. It would therefore be adding insult to injury to insist on corroboration drawing inspiration from the rules devised by the courts in the Western World. Obeisance to which has perhaps become a habit presumably on account of the colonial hangover.
We are therefore of the opinion that if the evidence of the victim does not suffer from any basic infirmity, and the probabilities-factors does not render it unworthy of credence, as a general rule, there is no reason to insist on corroboration except from the medical evidence, where, having regard to the circumstances of the case, medical evidence can be expected to be forthcoming, subject to the following qualification:
Corroboration may be insisted upon when a woman having attained majority is found in a compromising position and there is a likelihood of her having levelled such an accusation on account of the instinct of self-preservation. Or when the ‘probabilities-factor’ is found to be out of tune.
Bharwada Bhoginbhai Hirjibhai v. State of Gujrat (1983)