The Supreme Court has said that while there should be prompt lodging of a First Information Report (FIR) in criminal cases, there could be no straight-jacketed formula in registration of rape cases.
Normally, a delay in lodging an FIR not only introduces exaggeration and concoction that colours the facts of the incident but it also gets bereft of the advantage of spontaneity. Thus, in normal circumstances, the delay has to be explained satisfactorily, the court said.
However, "in the case of sexual offences, the criteria may be different altogether. As honour of the family is involved, its members have to decide whether to take the matter to the court or not," said an apex Court bench of Justice P Sathasivam and Justice B S Chauhan in their judgment of July 28, which has only now been made available.
The case referred to the March 11, 1993, rape of a woman by one Satpal Singh when she had gone to the fields to collect cattle fodder. However, the village panchayat resisted all the attempts by the victim's family to lodge a complaint with the Shahbad police station in Haryana's Kurukshetra district.
When all attempts at mediation failed, the complaint was filed, but by that time it was delayed by four months. One of the grounds on which the accused challenged the Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict confirming his conviction and sentencing by the trial court was the delay in filing of the complaint by the victim.
Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Chauhan said that in a rape case, the victim remains in a traumatic state of mind and is worried about her future. The family of the victim generally shows reluctance to go to the police station because of society's attitude towards such a woman.
The judgment said that stigma of rape casts "doubts and shame" upon the victim. "Family remains concerned about its honour and reputation of the victim".
It is only after much deliberation that it is possible for the family to lodge a complaint in sexual offences, the judgment said.
The court said, "We should be alive to the fact that rape not only distracts the personality of the victim but degrades her very soul. Prosecutrix generally faces humiliation and is being harassed by the defence in her cross-examination during the trial. Any kind of unwarranted suggestion can be put to her."
In the case, the appellant Satpal Singh labelled the woman as a "vagabond", the apex court noted while dismissing his appeal against the high court verdict. The high court while upholding the conviction by the trial court reduced the sentence of the accused from seven years to five.