State of Jharkhand V. Shailendra Kumar Rai @ Pandav Rai

(Criminal Appeal No 1441 of 2022)

Facts:

The prosecution alleges that on the afternoon of November 7, 2004, the respondent forcibly entered the victim’s home in Narangi village. It is claimed that he physically assaulted her, committing rape, and then threatened her with death if she raised an alarm. Subsequently, when the victim called for help, the respondent purportedly doused her in kerosene and set her on fire before fleeing the scene upon the arrival of the victim’s family and a villager. The victim sustained severe injuries and was rushed to Sadar Hospital, Deoghar, where she received medical treatment. The police were informed, and the victim provided a statement detailing the incident. Consequently, a First Information Report (FIR) was lodged, and an investigation commenced under the guidance of IO Lallan Prasad, later succeeded by Suresh Yadav. Following the victim’s demise on December 14, 2004, a supplementary charge-sheet was filed against the respondent, including charges under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Throughout the trial, the prosecution presented twelve witnesses to substantiate its claims, while the defence called upon three witnesses in response. The testimonies provided by these witnesses were pivotal in shaping the course of the trial. The prosecution’s case largely relied on the sequence of events as narrated by the victim and supported by the statements of witnesses who responded to her calls for help. On the other hand, the defence aimed to challenge the prosecution’s narrative through the cross-examination of witnesses and the presentation of its own evidence. 

The Sessions Court found the dying declaration to be voluntary, credible, and free from any infirmities. Consequently, the court concluded that the prosecution had established its case beyond reasonable doubt. The respondent was convicted of offenses under Sections 302, 341, 376, and 448 of the IPC primarily based on this dying declaration. The High Court acquitted the respondent due to several reasons: the deceased’s family members were declared hostile witnesses, contradictions arose regarding the presence of a doctor during the dying declaration, advice for better treatment was allegedly ignored, legal precedents invalidated the dying declaration, and medical examination found no evidence of sexual intercourse. Consequently, the prosecution’s case was deemed unproven beyond reasonable doubt. The appellant appealed to the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution, initiating proceedings on January 2, 2019.

Issues Raised:

  1. Whether the statement of the deceased is relevant under Section 32(1) of the Indian Evidence Act 1872?
  2. Whether the prosecution has proved the charges against the respondent beyond reasonable doubt?

Contention:

The arguments on behalf of the Appellant were as follows-

The High Court misinterpreted the evidence: Dr. RK Pandey was attending to a patient near the deceased, not in a different room. Additionally, the post-mortem examination, conducted within 12 hours of death, attributed the cause of death to ‘septicemia’ resulting from burn injuries sustained by the deceased.

Submissions made by appellant were opposed by the Respondent as follows-

The Medical Board’s report did not confirm the rape allegation mentioned in the dying declaration. Moreover, since the victim passed away about a month after the incident, her statement to the Investigating Officer cannot be considered a dying declaration.

Rationale:

In this case, the Supreme Court under the Single bench resided by Justice D.Y Chandrachud came to the following conclusions-

The deceased’s statement holds relevance under Section 32(1) of the Indian Evidence Act 1872, as supported by the post-mortem report confirming death due to ‘septicemia’ from burn injuries. Thus, her statement qualifies as a dying declaration, pertinent to both the cause and circumstances of her demise.

The High Court’s misinterpretation of Dr. RK Pandey’s testimony, inaccurately suggesting he was in another room during the declaration, was erroneous. Dr. Pandey clarified he was present in the same room when the dying declaration was recorded, a fact corroborated by Lallan Prasad’s testimony. The potential for witnesses, especially those emotionally connected to the deceased, to become hostile is acknowledged, but their hostility doesn’t inherently discredit the prosecution’s case. Regarding the lack of medical evidence corroborating rape, it’s emphasized that absence of such evidence doesn’t negate the occurrence of rape, particularly when supported by a credible dying declaration. Additionally, there is no rule mandating the corroboration of the dying declaration through medical or other evidence, when the dying declaration is not otherwise suspicious. The Supreme Court reinstated the Sessions Court’s conviction of the respondent, ruling that the prosecution had sufficiently proven the charges beyond reasonable doubt.

Parting Remarks highlighted the deprecated practice of the “two-finger test” in rape cases, which lacks scientific basis and violates victims’ dignity. Despite legal amendments and guidelines, this test persists, prompting the Court to issue directives to government and private hospitals, emphasizing training for health providers and revising medical school curricula to eliminate this test. Additionally, conducting the “two-finger test” contrary to the Court’s directives constitutes misconduct.

Defects in the Law:

There is no such defect to be pointed out in this particular case as it ruled out an age-old patriarchal sexist and unscientific check on a victim of sexual violence. The “so-called test” operates under the flawed premise that a woman who is sexually active cannot be raped. This assumption is entirely erroneous, as a woman’s sexual history holds no relevance in determining whether she was raped. Additionally, the credibility of a woman’s testimony should never be contingent upon her sexual history. It also reestablished various valid prospects related to the ‘dying declaration’. 

Inference:

The case discussed underscores the importance of properly interpreting evidence and ensuring justice in cases of heinous crimes like rape and murder. The Supreme Court’s ruling reaffirms the relevance of a deceased victim’s statement as a dying declaration, particularly when supported by medical evidence. Moreover, the ruling highlights the outdated and invasive “two-finger test,” condemning its use in cases of sexual violence due to its lack of scientific validity and the re-traumatization it inflicts on survivors.

In the broader context, the judgment serves as a call to action for reforming medical practices and ensuring the dignity of survivors of sexual violence. The directives issued to government and private hospitals underscore the need for comprehensive training of health providers and a revision of medical school curricula to eradicate the use of the “two-finger test.” By banning this practice and promoting more sensitive and scientifically sound approaches, the court aims to protect the rights and dignity of survivors, while also facilitating more effective and empathetic medical responses to cases of sexual violence.

Author Details-

  • Name- Nidhi Gopan
  • Semester- 4th  
  • College- Sau Kusum Tai Dabke Law College, Raipur (C.G)