Shivam Santosh Dewangan v. State of Chhattisgarh 2016 CriLJ2819

On the 27th of April, 2016, a single judge bench of the Chhattisgarh High Court granted bail pending trial in a rape case. The prosecutrix, a transgender woman who had undergone sex re-assignment surgery (“SRS”) commenced a sexual relationship with the accused upon a promise to marry. When that promise was broken, she lodged an FIR alleging rape, among other things. This case concerned the bail application of the accused who had been imprisoned following the FIR.  Sexual relationships based on (later) broken promises to marry may qualify as rape but this blog is not an opinion on that issue. Neither is it an opinion on bail proceedings. Instead in this blog, I focus on two of the reasons for the grant of bail: 1. The court’s incorrect finding that the prosecutrix was not a woman only because all her female sex organs had not fully formed post SRS; and 2. The court’s incorrect implication that the prosecutrix could not be raped only because her vagina was not fully developed. I argue that these findings are incorrect in law and end up excluding certain legal subjects from the protection of rape law.

REASONS FOR GRANTING BAIL

Before expanding on the reasons for bail, we recall that rape, as per the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”), is a crime that can be committed only against a woman. The judge granted bail for the following reasons: 1. She was not entirely a woman i.e. “…her sex ha[d] not changed in tune with gender characteristics from male to female even after SRS surgery.”[1] 2. According to her medical report, her vagina was not completely formed and her secondary sexual characteristics were still developing; 3. There was a year long delay in filing the FIR 4. No semen was found on her clothes; 5. No custodial interrogation of the accused was required; and 6. The prosecutrix was a 23 old adult. I will deal in depth with reason 1 and 2 and make some general observations about reasons 3-6 in respect of bail proceedings. Bail proceedings are not a determination of the merits of the case i.e. whether the accused is guilty or not. Generally, in non-bailable offences like rape, the accused cannot demand bail as a matter of right.[2] Moreover, in cases such as rape, if there is an appearance of guilt, bail shall be denied. Therefore, it is common, to my understanding, for courts to consider the kinds of evidence it did to arrive at the bail decision.[3] This is despite the fact that some of the evidence they examine may be thrown out as inadmissible at the trial stage, or the conclusions drawn from them may be legally incorrect as I will demonstrate below.[4] However, in this blog, I am not focussing on the merits or demerits of such kinds of bail proceedings.2.

COURT’S INCORRECT CONCLUSION THAT THE PROSECUTRIX WAS NOT A WOMAN (REASON 1)

The question in the case was one concerning rape—primarily, whether sexual intercourse on a promise to marry is rape, if the promise is later broken. The short legal answer to that question is yes, it may be rape.[5] Now, though he had been chargesheet-ed on a rape complaint (S.375, IPC), the accused argued that the prosecutrix was not a woman because her sexual characteristics had not developed. Accordingly, he could not have raped her. Examine this report from the medical officer in which he found that the vagina and the secondary sexual characteristics of the prosecutrix had not fully developed:

“Examine [sic] patient is a transgender [sic] has undergone sex change surgery 3 years back around 2013 at Dr. Kalda Clinic. Second Sexual Character on developing stage, has not started menses. Axillary hair+, Vagina is incompletely formed. No sign of injury seen over the anal region or vaginal area. 2 slides prepared from the anal region area. From the above clinical finding about sexual intercourse cannot be told.” [para 7]

The prosecutrix had undergone SRS in 2013. The Supreme Court in 2014 had declared that all transgender persons had a fundamental right to their self identified gender and any insistence on SRS is both illegal and immoral (Directions 2 and 5). Therefore, a transgender person can self indentify as either a man, a woman or third gender (Direction 2). If SRS was not required then there was no reason to medically examine the prosecutrix as to her sex characteristics. Her self-determination as a woman should have been sufficient to place her in the category of “woman” for the purpose of the allegation of rape. Some transgender persons undergo the SRS and some do not. However, that is not a legal requirement to be recognized as either a transgender or a woman as per the NALSA judgment. Instead, this court erroneously relied on the exposition of J. Sikri in NALSA on the experience of SRS. In para 103 of NALSA, J. Sikri explained that SRS is not an overnight process. By this the judge only sought to explain the steps involved in a SRS operation—from the decision, to the hormone therapy and the psychiatric evaluation and then the operation. He did not wish to point out that even after the SRS, the sexual features do not develop overnight, and even if he did, the directions abovementioned given by the full court render inquiry into the state of sex characteristics irrelevant. Therefore, the court’s conclusion that the prosecutrix was not a woman is incorrect in law.

STATE OF DEVELOPMENT OF SEX ORGANS AND IMPLICATIONS OF SUCH INQUIRY: CREATION OF LEGAL SUBJECTS WHO CANNOT BE RAPED (REASON 2)

Reason 2 for the grant of bail stated that the vagina of the prosecutrix was not fully formed, implying that she could not be raped. The court stated: “…further considering the fact that her vagina is not fully developed and the secondary sexual characters are on developing stage, as case of the prosecutrix is falling under Section 375(a) of the Indian Penal Code… this Court is of the view that it is a fit case to release the applicant on bail.” [para 12]. 375(a) of the IPC states that, “a man is said to commit rape if he (a) penetrates his penis, to any extent, into the vagina, mouth, urethra or anus of a woman or makes her to do so with him or any other person…”

First, rape under 375(a) can be committed by insertion of penis into places other than the vagina as well: the mouth, the anus, the urethra. There was no reason therefore, for the court’s exclusive focus on vaginal penetration under the 375(a) charge. To be sure, the court did observe that there were no signs of anal injury.  Not only is this still an incomplete coverage of 375(a), lack of injury is not determinative of innocence in rape cases—especially ones of this sort. Irrespective, it was not lack of anal injury but absence of a fully developed vagina that featured in the list of reasons provided by the court for granting bail.

Second, 375(a) penalizes non consensual penetration into the vagina, and not non-consensual penetration into a medically correct vagina. Inquiry into the medical correctness and dimensions of the vagina not only misses the point of rape law which punishes “Offences Affecting the Human Body” [Chapter under which Rape Provisions are housed], such inquiries end up creating legal subjects who “cannot” be raped: post- SRS transgender women with incompletely formed vaginas, intersex women with ambiguous genatalia and biological women whose vaginas don’t fit the medical category, for example. For this prosecutrix such a determination has created this quandary: though the court is treating her as a woman because she has undergone the SRS, and the court refers to the prosecutrix with a feminine pronoun, it is implying that the prosecutrix cannot be raped because she does not have a fully formed vagina. At the same time, her SRS operation has taken her out of the category of a man and therefore S. 377, IPC is not attracted. Therefore, she may have been raped but accused, if found guilty, will neither be punished for rape (376, IPC) nor under 377, IPC. Finally, if courts are going to require a medically correct vagina standard to grant relief in rape cases, how will law address rape cases of transgender women who do not undergo SRS? One immediate answer is that such cases may be handled under 377 but this solution leaves the transgender woman divided against herself, a woman for all purposes, but a man for the purposes of rape law. Lawyers, judges, legislators and others in the business of law need to know more about how transgender persons understand their body before they can formulate satisfactory solutions for their criminal law needs.

———————————————————————————————————-

[1] Para 12.

[2] See Section 437 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973: When Bail May be Taken in Case of Non-Bailable Offence.

[3] For a general understanding on the jurisprudence behind bail see K.N. Chandrashekharan Pillai, “Bail” in R.V. Kelkar’s Criminal Procedure (Eastern Book Company, 2014) 289-344.

[4] For a contrasting viewpoint, see Abhinav Sekhri, “Reversing the Presumption of Innocence- Part III” http://theproofofguilt.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/reversing-presumption-of-innocence-part_9.html

[5] The key question to be answered in this situation is whether the prosecutrix consented to the sexual intercourse only because she believed the accused’s promise to marry to be true? Without expressing an opinion on whether this is a good test, I present some preliminary observations on how the Indian courts apply this test. The court applies the test in this fashion: 1. If there are other reasons which could have influenced her decision, the courts have not found sex based on broken promises to marry as rape. Other reasons include love between the parties, absence of evidence that the accused never intended to keep his promise to marry when he made it, prosecutrix’s consent despite knowledge of insurmountable caste differences etc. 2. There is no hierarchy of reasons– the prosecutrix may have loved the accused but consented to a sexual relationship only because he promised to marry her; the court does not go into this inquiry. 3. The court’s real test appears to be a search for a dispassionate (pun intended) yes in promise to marry cases which connects with how female sexuality is construed. The woman is construed as a passive recipient of sex and therefore any desire on her part to have sex which pre-dates the promise counts against her rape charge. Key cases on this point are: Uday v. State of Karnataka AIR 2003 SC 1639; Deelip Singh @ Dilip Kumar v. State of Bihar AIR 2005 SC 203; Jayanti Rani Panda v. State of West Bengal and Anr. 1984 CriLJ 535.

Curiously, presence of factors other than the promise to marry lead the court to conclude that the prosecutrix could not have really relied on the promise to marry before having sex; love, caste differences etc. weaken the authenticity of the promise. There is of course another way to read these factors which is this: could not the love, the desire to united over caste differences lead the prosecutrix to believe even more in the promise to marry? Not only does the court promote a cynical view of love and sex, it places the burden of this cynicism on the prosecutrix: the prosecutrix should have been aware that the promise to marry could not have been real owing to caste differences; the court doesn’t conclude or raise a presumption that the accused never intended to marry, owing to insurmountable caste differences, when he promised to marry [see this claim esp. in light of how S.114A of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 shifts the burden of proof on the accused and presumes lack of consent when the prosecutrix in a rape trial alleges lack of consent.]

My thanks to Arushi Garg for pointing me in the direction of the key cases on this topic, and also for the enlightening discussion on the theory and practice of cases concerning sex on a promise to marry. Arushi is a doctoral student in the law department at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on conviction rates in rape cases in Delhi.

 

One thought on “Shivam Santosh Dewangan v. State of Chhattisgarh 2016 CriLJ2819

  1. Pingback: K. Gowtham Subramaniyam v. Controller of Examination Anna University W.P. No. 7536/2017 | Law and Sexuality

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