|1996 AIR 922, 1996 SCC (1) 490
|DATE OF JUDGMENT
|15th DECEMBER, 1995
|SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
|SHRI BODHITSATTWA GAUTAM
|M/S SUBHRA CHAKRABORTY
|AHMAD SAGHIR S. (J), KULDIP SINGH (J)
In the analysis below, I offer a concise summary of the case of “Shri Bodhisattwa Gautam v. Miss Subhra Chakraborty, a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court, also identified as Special Leave Petition No. 2675 of 1995. Under Article 32 of the Constitution, it establishes the authority of the Supreme Court to provide necessary compensation for any infringement of fundamental rights, specifically provisional compensation to rape victims. In this case, the Supreme Court took suo moto cognizance after an accused was dismissed from legal proceedings. The petitioner had to pay interim compensation to the respondent as mandated by the Court’s orders. After this ruling, rape was recognised as existing in violation of Article 21’s fundamental right to life and personal dignity. The judgement was transformational in the treatment of rape victims in the legal system, being critical of current procedures and advocating for much-needed reforms.
FACTS OF THE CASE
- The petitioner’s employment as a Lecturer at Baptist College, Kohima had just commenced when the respondent had enrolled in the institution as a student.
- On June 6, 1989, they had their first meeting at the respondent’s residence, where the petitioner visited her for the first time. After this initial meeting, they initiated a romantic relationship together.
- The respondent engaged in sexual intercourse with the petitioner under the false assurance that they would get married eventually, which was just the petitioner’s attempt to coerce her. Since the respondent was innocent, she was easily manipulated, but she did attempt to raise concern about the promised marriage when it did not seem to happen. The petitioner avoided discussing the topic whenever it was brought up. He reasoned that the marriage needed official consent from the family of the respondent. He also mentioned awaiting a Government job, which was another one of his excuses.
- In both September 1992 and April 1994, the respondent became pregnant. The respondent insisted firmly on marriage while the petitioner disagreed, which led to a dispute between the two. Eventually, they did get married at a clandestine marriage ceremony where the respondent’s forehead was painted in vermillion by the petitioner. However, the respondent was pressured to get an abortion anyway. He justified the abortion by expressing concern about the child’s welfare and the possible adversities it might have to face. His parents needed to accept the respondent as a proper daughter-in-law first. This never happened, and consequently, the respondent did get an abortion. The petitioner arranged both of these abortions citing his parent’s disapproval. The first one was at Putonou Clinic in Kohima in 1993. The second abortion was at Carewell Nursing Home in Dimapur.
- In the second week of February 1995, the respondent was trying to obtain copies of the consent papers for her abortion that were signed by the petitioner. It was then that she discovered that the petitioner had created a false identity – “Bikash Gautam” – for the nursing home’s convenience.
- The respondent soon learned that the petitioner was moving to Silchar to join Chachar College, a government college. They were both awaiting this moment, hence she asked him to take her along with him to be together permanently. At that moment, the petitioner stopped acknowledging the respondent as his wife, claiming that the application of vermillion on her forehead did not constitute a
- Upon learning that the petitioner was heading to Silchar to join a Government College named Cachar College, for which they had both waited, the respondent requested the petitioner to take her along permanently. However, the petitioner refused, now claiming that applying vermilion on the forehead did not mean the respondent was truly his wife. There was no marriage, and he further remarked that his parents would never agree to her being their daughter-in-law. His friends tried to intervene to stop him from abandoning the woman who had accompanied him for years. Despite their persistent efforts, he went forward with the separation.
- Why was the accused dismissed amid legal proceedings in Criminal Case No. of 1995 at the Court Judicial Magistrate, First Class, Kohima? What was the justification for the same?
- Did the Supreme Court have the authority to give any other instructions regarding the case? Is it allowed for Bodhisattwa Gautam to provide interim compensation to Subhra Chakraborty even during the ongoing criminal case against him? This was a secondary matter.
CONTENTIONS OF PETITIONER
- The petitioner’s counsel presented the argument that the case against the accused was filed with malicious intent to subject him to humiliation and public disgrace when questioned by the Supreme Court about possibly having to provide adequate compensation to the victim.
- As a result, he believed he had no obligation to pay any sort of interim compensation to the respondent. Any mandates for such needed more justifiable reasoning.
- The petitioner also lacked any source of income, since his employment was terminated at Chachar College, as stated by the counsel.
CONTENTIONS OF RESPONDENT
- The counsel for the respondent asserted that the accused had exploited the victim by deceiving her and claiming to be married to her while in reality, this was a false claim. His lies convinced her to go through extreme pain, as she was made to suffer through two abortions.
- The respondent mentioned furthermore that the accused had narrated a story about how his parents disapproved of their relationship and signed nursing home documents with false names. The respondent considered herself innocent. Therefore, she was manipulated by the petitioner. This manipulation had caused her a great deal of psychological and physical harm.
In the end, the Special Leave Petition (SLP) was rejected by the Supreme Court and the Petitioner was asked to provide a monthly interim compensation of ₹ 1,000/- which would be calculated from the beginning of the criminal case proceedings. When Gautam raped Subhra, her fundamental right to life and liberty was violated under Article 21, as opined by the Supreme Court. When Article 21 talks about the right to life, it includes the expansive right to live a life of dignity and meaning, where you can enjoy life with all its enrichments. Along with this, the Court was critical of women’s position as a disadvantaged group in India caused by the constraints placed upon them by society. Women should be freed of their shackles by their constitutional rights under Article 21. They deserve to live a life of respect. The court emphasised the traumatic nature of rape, asserting that rape is not only a mere violation of a person’s fundamental rights but also an attack on human rights as a whole. Rape victims deserve justice.
Primarily, this case concerns three legal provisions:
- Section 376, Indian Penal Code, 1860: In this case, the Court referred to Section 376’s stipulations, specifically awarding interim compensation to sexual assault victims. Previously, the court outlined the need to expand the legal framework for providing necessary assistance to rape victims in the “Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum v. Union of India” case. Some key points from the case were the provision of adequate legal representation, preferring anonymity in rape trials, informing the victim of their right to legal representation before police questioning takes place and the establishment of a Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. The Court mentioned that once the relevant schemes would be finalised by the Central Government and the accused would be convicted, the victim would be entitled to the court’s compensation. Since rape is an offence violating fundamental rights, it falls under the purview of interim rape compensation as per the court’s jurisdiction. Issuing necessary orders for the involved parties is paramount to the Court’s duty to ensure justice in legal proceedings.
- Article 21, Constitution of India: Drawing upon previous cases, the Court underscored that the Right to Life includes not just a person’s existence but also their right to live an enriched life filled with human dignity. According to the Constitution, women are equal to men under the law, and as such they are accorded the right to life and personal liberty just as all other citizens are. Rape is an abhorrent crime violating societal norms and human rights. Rape victims have to endure psychological trauma and social degradation in the aftermath of the crime. Women who are raped are often subject to societal humiliation and othering, struggling to assimilate into society again. Article 21, the fundament right to life, encompasses rape victims. Rape victims deserve a right to life too. They should not have to live a life of pain or one that requires exceptional levels of determination. As of now, laws about rape victims in India are not adequate to address their basic needs or the gendered dimensions of rape.
- Article 32, Constitution of India: In the absence of victim action, the Court has the right to use Public Interest Litigation (PIL) or take suo moto cognizance of rights of fundamental rights under this article. Writs can be issued against private entities and individual actors as per the Supreme Court’s authority under Article 32. Additionally, they can grant compensation to the victims. Victims do not have to approach the Court on their own feet, as the Court is obliged to initiate suo moto cognizance on their own, or if a socially conscious individual petitions the Court. Fundamental rights should be enforced.
To speak about rape as simply a personal offence would be an understatement when rape transcends the barriers of individual harm. Rape is a menace to the fabric of society in totality beyond just the raped woman. The right to life, enshrined under Article 21, is ripped apart by the occurrence of rape. The victim’s basic rights are contravened, due to which rape remains one of the most abhorred crimes. It causes immense psychological trauma and is detrimental to the victim’s well-being, shattering their self-perception and oftentimes altering their life forever.
When a woman, in particular, is raped, she is put in a situation of emotional tumult where she attempts to regain her place in society and join the crowd despite being subject to prejudice and oppression. In a patriarchal society, women are viewed in a degraded light, inferior to men and subjugated to harassment in their routine lives. Rape stands as a way to dehumanise women, stripping them of their dignity. Not only is it a sexual offence, but feminists consider rape a facet of controlling women. In the present day, the legal infrastructure surrounding rape is hardly enough, often failing to provide needed justice to victims. Unfortunately, they also do not address the socio-political and gendered dimensions of rape and consequently require severe improvements as proven by this case.
This Article is written by Eshal Zahur, student of National Law University Odisha; Intern at Legal Vidhiya.
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