Even if a woman is of easy virtues, she cannot be subjected to rape, the Supreme Court has held, saying courts have a duty to determine whether the offence has been committed or not.
"Even in cases where there is some material to show that the victim was habituated to sexual intercourse, no inference of the victim being a woman of 'easy virtues' or a woman of 'loose moral character' can be drawn," the court said.
"Such a woman has a right to protect her dignity and cannot be subjected to rape only for that reason.
"She has a right to refuse to submit herself to sexual intercourse to anyone and everyone because she is not a vulnerable object or prey for being sexually assaulted by anyone and everyone," the apex court said.
A bench of justice BS Chauhan and justice Dipak Misra passed the judgement while acquitting a man Narendra Kumar convicted for allegedly raping a housewife in his neighbourhood.
The apex court however, set aside the concurrent findings of the trial court and the Delhi high court which had awarded seven years sentence on Kumar for the offence alleged committed at Chirag Delhi in 1999.
In the present case the bench said the victim's version had lot of infirmities and hence the convicted deserved acquittal.
"Where evidence of the prosecutrix is found suffering from serious infirmities and inconsistencies with other material, prosecutrix making deliberate improvements on material point with a view to rule out consent on her part and there being no injury on her person even though her version may be otherwise, no reliance can be placed upon her evidence," justice Chauhan writing the judgement said.
However, the apex court rejected Kumar's argument that the victim was of loose character and had developed intimacy with a number of persons.
"Even if the prosecutrix is of easy virtue/unchaste woman that itself cannot be a determinative factor and the court is required to adjudicate whether the accused committed rape on the victim on the occasion complained of," the bench said.
The apex court said merely because a woman is of easy virtue, her evidence cannot be discarded on that ground alone rather it is to be cautiously appreciated.
"In view of the provisions of sections 53 and 54 of the Evidence Act, 1872, unless the character of the prosecutrix itself is in issue, her character is not a relevant factor to be taken into consideration at all.
"The courts while trying an accused on the charge of rape, must deal with the case with utmost sensitivity, examining the broader probabilities of a case and not get swayed by minor contradictions or insignificant discrepancies in the evidence of witnesses which are not of a substantial character," justice Chauhan said.
In rape cases, the onus is always on the prosecution to prove, affirmatively each ingredient of the offence it seeks to establish and such onus never shifts, the bench said.
"It is no part of the duty of the defence to explain as to how and why in a rape case the victim and other witness have falsely implicated the accused.
"However, great the suspicion against the accused and however strong the moral belief and conviction of the court, unless the offence of the accused is established beyond reasonable doubt on the basis of legal evidence and material on the record, he cannot be convicted for an offence," the bench said.
In the present case, the victim's version backed by medical evidence "does not inspire confidence", the bench said while acquitting the convict.