Minor contradictions in rape victims' testimony may be ignored, the Indian Supreme Court has said. What is of utmost importance is that the culprit is brought to book, it stressed.
"We must remember that a rapist not only violates the victim's privacy and personal integrity but inevitably causes serious psychological as well as physical harm in the process. Rape is not merely a physical assault — it is often destructive of the whole personality of the victim. A murderer destroys the body of his victim, a rapist degrades the very soul of the helpless female," Justices Arijit Pasayat and P. Sathasivam said.
Hence the trial courts and High Courts had a greater responsibility while trying an accused on charges of rape.
"They must deal with such cases with the utmost sensitivity. The courts should examine the broader probabilities of a case and not get swayed by minor contradictions or insignificant discrepancies in the statement of the prosecutrix, which are not of a fatal nature, to throw out an otherwise reliable prosecution case."
The Bench said: "If evidence of the prosecutrix inspires confidence, it must be relied upon without seeking corroboration of her statement in material particulars. If, for some reason, the court finds it difficult to place implicit reliance on her testimony, it may look for evidence which may lend assurance to her testimony, short of corroboration required in the case of an accomplice."
The prosecutrix's testimony must be appreciated in the background of the entire case and the trial court must be alive to its responsibility while dealing with cases involving sexual molestations.
The Bench said: "A prosecutrix of a sex offence cannot be put on a par with an accomplice. She is in fact a victim of the crime. The Evidence Act nowhere says that her evidence cannot be accepted unless it is corroborated in material particulars. What is necessary is that the court must be conscious of the fact that it is dealing with the evidence of a person who is interested in the outcome of the charge levelled by her."
The judges regretted: "Of late, crime against women in general and rape in particular are on the increase. It is an irony that while we are celebrating woman's rights in all spheres, we show little or no concern for her honour. It is a sad reflection on the attitude of indifference of society towards the violation of human dignity of the victims of sex crimes."
The Bench said: "The socio-economic status, religion, race, caste or creed of the accused or the victim is irrelevant considerations in the sentencing policy. Protection of society and deterring the criminal are the avowed object of law and that is required to be achieved by imposing appropriate sentence."
The court was dismissing an appeal against a seven year sentence in a rape case in northern India.