Judges adopting a liberal approach in cases of sexual assault would be a “spectacular error”, the Supreme Court cautioned on Wednesday, a week after the Madras high court
to a rapist so he could meet his victim for a possible settlement.
An apex court bench headed by justice Dipak Misra observed that such orders of reconciliation promising marriage between a rape accused and the woman compromised her dignity and were illegal.
The top court's order came on an appeal by the Madhya Pradesh government challenging a state high court verdict that acquitted a man accused of rape but convicted him of molestation.
The high court set aside a trial court order declaring the man guilty of raping a minor and sentenced him to just one year under the lesser penal offence.
“We would like to clearly state that in a case of rape or attempt of rape, the conception of compromise under no circumstances can really be thought of. These are crimes against the body of a woman which is her own temple,” said the Supreme Court verdict, remanding the matter back to the Madhya Pradesh high court for reconsideration. “…we say with emphasis that the Courts are to remain absolutely away from this subterfuge to adopt a soft approach to the case, for any kind of liberal approach has to be put in the compartment of spectacular error.”
Rape is a non-compoundable offence under Indian law, which means it is considered a grave crime that not only impacts the victim but also society at large.
The Supreme Court said a compromise was not in the interest of justice as a convict could pressurise the victim and it was painful to see how some judges, even of high courts, were being lenient in handling such cases.
“The judgment sends out a strong message that a woman's dignity and self esteem cannot be up for barter and cannot be equated with a commercial transaction,” said Supreme Court advocate Madhvi Diwan. “It's important that the courts should brook no compromise when it comes to violence against women.”
Last week, a Madras high court judge said a man who raped a teenager in 2002 could leave jail for a mediation session, creating a furor with legal experts terming the order “illegal and unethical”.
Justice P Devadass recorded in a judgment on a bail plea from the man imprisoned for sexually assaulting the minor, who bore a child out of the union, that it was a “fit case for attempting compromise between the parties”.