Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN | Aug 28, 2013,
The court said no kind of compromise between rapists and rape survivors could lessen the gravity of the offence, in a clear disapproval of the tendency among some courts to impose lighter sentences on rape convicts after they offer to marry the survivor.
It warned that if a court got swayed by such a compromise to impose a sentence lesser than that prescribed in law, it would reflect “stark insensitivity to the need for proportionate punishment to be imposed in such cases”.
A bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjana P Desai and Ranjan Gogoi said, “The law on the issue can be summarized to the effect that punishment should always be proportionate and commensurate to the gravity of offence.”
The court cited two major reasons for not taking into account a compromise reached between a rape survivor and the rapist for award of lighter sentence — one, it would encourage the convicts to pressurize rape survivors to reach a compromise and two, rape was a crime against society.
Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Sathasivam said, “Religion, race, caste, economic or social status of the accused or victim or the long pendency of the criminal trial or offer of the rapist to marry the victim or the victim is married and settled in life cannot be construed as special factors for reducing the sentence prescribed in the statute.”
The bench refused to consider the request of Balu Ram and Shimbhu, who were convicted in a 1995 gang-rape case from Haryana and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, to reduce their sentence to the period already spent in prison. They cited a compromise with the rape survivor, who they said had no objection to their early release from prison.
The bench said the statute provided for a minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment to gang-rape convicts with a rider that in exceptional circumstances, the courts could reduce it. But compromise with rape survivors could not be cited as ground for leniency to those found guilty in gang-rape cases, it clarified.
“Rape is a non-compoundable offence and it is an offence against society and is not a matter to be left for the parties to compromise and settle. Since the court cannot always be assured that the consent given by the victim in compromising the case is a genuine consent, there is every chance that she might have been pressurized by the convicts or trauma undergone by her all the years might have compelled her to opt for a compromise,” the bench said.
“In fact, accepting this proposition will put an additional burden on the victim. The accused may use all his influence to pressurize her for a compromise. So, in the interest of justice and to avoid unnecessary pressure/harassment to the victim, it would not be safe in considering the compromise arrived at between the parties in rape cases to be a ground for the court to exercise discretionary power under the Indian Penal Code (to reduce sentence),” the court said.
Through this judgment, the Supreme Court sent out a loud message to all high courts and trial courts. “It is yet another opportunity to inform the subordinate courts and the HCs that despite stringent provisions for rape under Section 376 of IPC, many courts in the past have taken a softer view while awarding sentence for such a heinous crime,” it said.
“This court has in the past noticed that subordinate and high courts have reduced sentence of the accused to the period already undergone to suffice as the punishment. The above trend exhibits stark insensitivity to the need for proportionate punishment to be imposed in such cases,” the court said.