Sexual violence apart from being a dehumanizing act is an unlawful intrusion on the right of privacy and sanctity of a female. It is a serious blow to her supreme honour and offends her self-esteem and dignity. It degrades and humiliates the victim and where the victim is a helpless innocent child or a minor, it leaves behind a traumatic experience.
A rapist not only causes physical injuries but more indelibly leaves a scar on the most cherished possession of a woman i.e. her dignity, honour, reputation and not the least her chastity. Rape is not only a crime against the person of a woman, it is a crime against the entire society.
Provisions of Punishment of Rape under Law
The offence of rape occurs in Chapter XVI of IPC. It is an offence affecting the human body. In that Chapter, there is a separate heading for “Sexual offences”, which encompass Sections 375, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C and 376D I.P.C.
“Rape” is defined in Section 375 I.P.C. Sections 375 and 376 I.P.C. have been substantially changed by Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983, and several new sections were introduced by the new Act, i.e. 376A, 376B, 376C and 376D. The fast sweeping changes introduced reflect the legislative intent to curb with iron hand, the offence of rape which affects the dignity of a woman.
The offence of rape in its simplest term is ‘the ravishment of a woman, without her consent, by force, fear or fraud’, or as ‘the carnal knowledge of a woman by force against her will’.
‘Rape or Raptus’ is when a man hath carnal knowledge of a woman by force and against her will (Co.Litt. 123 b); or, as expressed more fully, ‘rape is the carnal knowledge of any woman, above the age of particular years, against her will; or of a woman child, under that age, with or against her will’. (Hale P.C. 628)
The essential words in an indictment for rape are rapuit and carnaliter cognovit; but carnaliter cognovit, nor any other circumlocution without the word rapuit, are not sufficient in a legal sense to express rape: (1 Hen. 6, 1a, 9 Edw. 4, 26 a (Hale P.C.628).
In the crime of rape, ‘carnal knowledge’ means the penetration to any the slightest degree of the male organ of generation (Stephens Criminal Law, 9th Ed., p.262).
In “Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice” (Volume 4, page 1356), it is stated “……even slight penetration is sufficient and emission is unnecessary”.
In Halsburys’ Statutes of England and Wales (Fourth Edition) Volume 12, it is stated that even the slightest degree of penetration is sufficient to prove sexual intercourse. It is violation, with violence, of the private person of a woman, an outrage by all means. By the very nature of the offence it is an obnoxious act of the highest order. The physical scar may heal up, but the mental scar will always remain. When a woman is ravished, what is inflicted is not merely physical injury but the deep sense of some deathless shame.
Necessity of Corroborative Evidence in Rape Offences
The court in ‘Dinesh Buddha v. State of Rajhasthan (2006)’ said that,
“An accused cannot cling to a fossil formula and insist on corroborative evidence, even if taken as a whole, the case spoken to by the victim strikes a judicial mind as probable. Judicial response to human rights cannot be blunted by legal jugglery. It is to be noted that in sub-section(2) of Section 376 I.P.C. more stringent punishment can be awarded taking into account the special features indicated in the said sub-section.
In the Indian Setting refusal to act on the testimony of the victim of sexual assault in the absence of corroboration as a rule, is adding insult to injury. 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. She would be conscious of the danger of being ostracized by the society and when in the face of these factors the crime is brought to light, there is inbuilt assurance that the charge is genuine rather than fabricated.
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 sex offence is entitled to great weight, absence of corroboration notwithstanding. A woman or a girl who is raped is not an accomplice. Corroboration is not the sine qua non for conviction in a rape case.”
The observations of Vivian Bose, J. in Rameshwar v. The State of Rajasthan (AIR 1952 SC 54) were: “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 measure of Punishment
In Dinesh Buddha case (supra), the court while talking about measure of punishment on rape cases, said that,
“The measure of punishment in a case of rape cannot depend upon the social status of the victim or the accused. It must depend upon the conduct of the accused, the state and age of the sexually assaulted female and the gravity of the criminal act. Crimes of violence upon women need to be severely dealt with.
The socio-economic status, religion, race, caste or creed of the accused or the victim are irrelevant considerations in sentencing policy. Protection of society and deterring the criminal is the avowed object of law and that is required to be achieved by imposing an appropriate sentence. The sentencing Courts are expected to consider all relevant facts and circumstances bearing on the question of sentence and proceed to impose a sentence commensurate with the gravity of the offence.
Courts must hear the loud cry for justice by the society in cases of the heinous crime of rape on innocent helpless girls of tender years, as in this case, and respond by imposition of proper sentence. Public abhorrence of the crime needs reflection through imposition of appropriate sentence by the Court. There are no extenuating or mitigating circumstances available on the record which may justify imposition of any sentence less than the prescribed minimum on the respondent. To show mercy in the case of such a heinous crime would be a travesty of justice and the plea for leniency is wholly misplaced.
The legislative mandate to impose a sentence, for the offence of rape on a girl under 12 years of age, for a term which shall not be less than 10 years, but which may extend to life and also to fine reflects the intent of stringency in sentence.
The proviso to Section 376(2) IPC, of course, lays down that the court may, for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgment, impose sentence of imprisonment of either description for a term of less than 10 years. Thus, the normal sentence in a case where rape is committed on a child below 12 years of age, is not less than 10 years’ RI, though in exceptional cases “for special and adequate reasons” sentence of less than 10 years’ RI can also be awarded.
It is a fundamental rule of construction that a proviso must be considered with relation to the principal matter to which it stands as a proviso particularly in such like penal provisions. The courts are obliged to respect the legislative mandate in the matter of awarding of sentence in all such cases. Recourse to the proviso can be had only for “special and adequate reasons” and not in a casual manner.
Whether there exist any “special and adequate reasons” would depend upon a variety of factors and the peculiar facts and circumstances of each case. No hard and fast rule can be laid down in that behalf of universal application.”
Dinesh Buddha v. State of Rajhasthan (2006)