The Supreme Court has upheld the conviction and sentence of life imprisonment to man who committed rape of a blind woman while stating that the nature and gravity of the offence is serious enough from the fact that an offence of rape is committed over visually disabled woman belonging to Scheduled Caste. The imposition of a sentence of imprisonment for life cannot be faulted, said the Top Court.
However, Court set aside the conviction & sentence of the appellant for an offence under Section 3(2)(v) of the SC and ST Act. In respect of the same the Court had held that when there is no evidence to prove that accused has performed the alleged offence with a specific intention of committing that act against the person belongs to the SC or ST category, accused can’t be held liable under Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989.
The Bench of Justice D. Y. Chandrachud and Justice M R Shah while hearing an appeal of the accused who is convicted for committing Rape of a blind girl belonging from a schedule caste has held that, “The nature and gravity of the offence is serious enough from the fact that an offence of rape is committed over visually disabled woman belonging to Scheduled Caste. The imposition of a sentence of imprisonment for life cannot be faulted.”
The Bench has upheld the punishment of Life Imprisonment with a fine of Rupees 1,000 under section 376(1) of Indian Penal Code but set aside the same punishment under section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989.
Through this appeal, accused has challenged the judgement and order passed by the Division Bench of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh dated 3 August 2019. The High Court has affirmed the conviction of the appellant for offences punishable under Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 19891 and Section 376(1) of the Indian Penal Code.
The Accused was a friend of the brothers of the victim and also works with them. He used to live in the same village and regularly visits the house of the victim due to his acquaintance with her brothers. On the day of incident the accused came to the house and asked about the brothers of the victim to victim’s mother. She was attending to her household chores at a public tap which was within a distance of fifty feet asks him to wait for a while as they were out for collecting the fire wood. After half an hour, she heard her daughter’s voice in distress and rushed to the house. Upon raising alarm the father and brothers of the victim came and when they reach to the house seen accused opening the door and trying to escape. They caught him and handed over him to the police. The victim was found nude and was bleeding from her genitals. She told her mother about the incident that how he enquired about her brothers then locked the door and fell on her, gagged and raped her.
The Apex Court after going through all the facts and arguments made by the parties has observed that, “the experience of rape induces trauma and horror for any woman regardless of her social position in the society. But the experiences of assault are different in the case of a woman who belongs to a Scheduled Caste community and has a disability because the assault is a result of the interlocking of different relationships of power at play. When the identity of a woman intersects with, inter alia, her caste, class, religion, disability and sexual orientation, she may face violence and discrimination due to two or more grounds. Transwomen may face violence on account of their heterodox gender identity. In such a situation, it becomes imperative to use an intersectional lens to evaluate how multiple sources of oppression operate cumulatively to produce a specific experience of subordination for a blind Scheduled Caste woman.”
The Bench has further talked about the term “intersectionality” which was coined by Kimberly Crenshaw and held that, “Intersectionality merely urges us to have an open-textured legal approach that would examine underlying structures of inequality. This requires us to analyse law in its social and economic context allowing us to formulate questions of equality as that of ‘power and powerlessness’ instead of difference and sameness.”
“Intersectional analysis requires an exposition of reality that corresponds more accurately with how social inequalities are experienced. Such contextualized judicial reasoning is not an anathema to judicial inquiry.”
Talking over the Disability and Gender Court has named it ‘twin tales of Societal Oppression’ and observed that, “for many disabled women and girls in India, the threat of violence is an all too-familiar fixture of their lives, contracting their constitutionally guaranteed freedom to move freely and curtailing their ability to lead full and active lives. This threat of violence can translate into a nagging feeling of powerlessness and lack of control, making the realization of the promises held by Parts III and IV of our Constitution a remote possibility for women with disabilities.”
The Court further held that in saying aforementioned things “we do not mean to subscribe to the stereotype that persons with disabilities are weak and helpless, incapable of charting the course of their lives or to deprive them of the agency and bodily autonomy that we all possess and are entitled to exercise. Instead our aim is to highlight the increased vulnerability and reliance on others that is occasioned by having a disability which makes women with disabilities more susceptible to being at the receiving end of sexual violence.”
On the question raised by the defence to cast doubt on the testimony of the prosecutrix by arguing that she would have been unable to identify the accused due to her disability by defence in the High Court the Court answered that, “Though there have been instances where the testimony of a disabled prosecutrix has not been considered seriously. But we are of the considered view that presumptions of such nature which construe disability as an incapacity to participate in the legal process reflect not only an inadequate understanding of how disability operates but may also result in a miscarriage of justice through a devaluation of crucial testimonies given by persons with disabilities.”