Manju Goswami

The Indian Penal Code, 1860, enlists and defines various crimes and also prescribes punishments for the same. It was amended in 2013 by the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, which was passed after the Nirbhaya Gang Rape Case of 2012 which shook the country. Consequently many more stringent punishments were added to suit the present times. Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code gives the definition of rape, while Section 376 contains the punishment to be awarded to the perpetrators of this heinous crime.

‘Rape’ is a word which sends shudders down the spine of any decent, normal human being. It is a slur upon mankind and degrades the perpetrator to a position worse than that of a wild beast. It has assumed alarming proportions in India during the recent years, so much so that it is said that every minute a woman is being raped in some part of India. It outrages the modesty and sanctity of a woman, reducing her to an object to be humiliated, abused, and destroyed, both physically and mentally. It is violence with the private person of a woman, an outrage, an obnoxious act of the highest degree.

According to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, a man is said to commit rape if he has sex with a woman either against her will, or against her consent, or with her consent acquired through fraud or intimidation, or by administering a drug which robs her of her understanding and reason, or when she is mentally unsound, and also if she is under 18 years of age, in which case her consent is immaterial.

The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 enhanced the punishment for rape under Section 376, and added Sections 376 A, B, C, D and E. Thus Section 376 says that whoever commits rape shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term not less than 7 years but which may extend to life imprisonment, together with a fine. Under this Section, if a police officer, or a public servant, or a member of the armed forces or government, or a person in the management of a jail, or remand home or hospital, or a guardian or teacher commits rape on a woman under his custody or protection, or if anyone rapes a woman during communal violence, or a woman who is under 16 years of age, or mentally unsound or pregnant, or repeatedly rapes the same woman, he shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term ranging from 10 years to the rest of his life & shall also be fined.

The newly introduced Section 376 A provides punishment for causing death or resulting in a permanent vegetative state of the victim. Under this Section, whoever, while committing this offence, inflicts an injury which causes death of the victim, or causes her to be in a permanent vegetative state, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term ranging from 20 years to the remainder of his life, or with death. The case of Aruna Shanbaug may be mentioned in this context. On 27th November, 1973, Aruna Shanbaug, a young staff nurse at King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, was sexually assaulted by a sweeper of the hospital. He twisted a dog chain round her neck and yanked her with it in an attempt to rape her. He later left her, bleeding and unconscious, with the chain twisted tightly round her neck. Owing to strangulation with the dog chain, the blood supply to her brain got disrupted, resulting in severe brain damage. She lay unconscious for forty two years till she passed away on 18th May, 2015, at the age of sixty six.

Her friend, Pinky Virani, had earlier filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court of India, praying for an order to let her die peacefully through euthanasia or mercy killing. Her parents were dead, and the other relatives were not concerned about her. At the time of the petition, Aruna had been in a vegetative state for thirty six years, weak, emaciated, reduced to a skeleton, with bed sores all over. The petition was dismissed, as it was found that Aruna was not really in a coma, and was well looked after by the staff of the K.E.M. Hospital and therefore had the right to live. However, in its landmark judgment in 2011, the Supreme Court allowed passive euthanasia by withdrawal of life support to a person in a permanent vegetative state. It is hoped that Section 376 A will serve as a deterrent to persons who have the intention to commit rape. The rapist in the Aruna Shanbaug case had got away with a mere seven year imprisonment.

Section 376AB, recently inserted in the Indian Penal Code by The Criminal Law Amendment Act , 2018, states that whoever rapes a girl under twelve years of age, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term not less than 20 years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life, meaning the remainder of his natural life, together with a fine sufficient to meet the victim’s medical and rehabilitation expenses. The perpetrator may also be given the death sentence under this section.

Section 376 B says that whoever rapes his own wife during separation, whether under a decree of divorce or otherwise, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term ranging from two to seven years and shall also be fined.

Section 376 C provides punishment to a person in authority who seduces or induces a woman in his custody to sleep with him. The term of imprisonment ranges from 5 to 10 years and includes a fine.

Section 376 D deals with gang rape, where a woman is raped by more than one person. The offender is to be punished for a term not less than 20 years but which may be extended to the remainder of his natural life. The punishment includes a fine which should be sufficient to meet the medical expenses and rehabilitation of the victim. In 2012, in Delhi, a young paramedic and her fiancé were forced onto a bus by a gang of men and severely assaulted, while the girl was brutally raped by the six men inside the moving bus which was driven all over the city throughout the night. They were then thrown out of the bus severely injured and unconscious. While her fiancé recovered from his injuries, the severely battered girl, with her body parts viciously torn to pieces, did not.  All attempts to save her life failed and she breathed her last at a hospital in Singapore after she was airlifted there in a critical condition.

The incident provoked widespread outrage, especially among women. The whole nation burned in fury, as men and women protested and clashed with security forces to give vent to their anger against the government for its failure to protect women. Since Indian law does not allow a rape victim’s name to be revealed, the girl in this case came to be known as ‘Nirbhaya’ meaning ‘fearless’. This case which came to be known as the Nirbhaya Gang Rape Case, led to the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, resulting in more stringent punishment to rapists.

The culprits were soon nabbed and sent for trial. One of them committed suicide in police custody, while another, a juvenile, was sent to a juvenile home for three years under The Juvenile Justice Act. The remaining four perpetrators of the crime were convicted and subsequently given the death sentence. Their petitions for mercy before the President, and all Curative Petitions having been rejected, they were hanged by the neck till death on 20th March,2020, in Tihar Jail, New Delhi.

Under Section 376 DA, inserted by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2018, where a woman under sixteen years of age is raped by one or more persons,each of them shall be punished with imprisonment for life ,which shall mean the remainder of his natural life ,and with a fine to be paid to the victim ,sufficient to meet her medical expenses and rehabilitation.

Section 376 DB, also added to the Indian Penal Code by The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2018, says that where a woman under twelve years of age is raped by one or more persons constituting a group, each of those persons shall be punished with imprisonment for the remainder of his life together with a fine to be paid to the victim, sufficient to meet her medical expenses and rehabilitation, or with death.

Section 376 E provides punishment for a repeat offender. Whoever, after being convicted of rape, repeats the offence, shall be punished with imprisonment for the rest of his life or with death.

In spite of such severe punishment prescribed for rapists, this crime shows no sign of abatement and is on the rise every day. The cases against the offenders drag on for years and loopholes sought to be found to enable them to go scot-free. The recent case in Hyderabad where a young doctor was gang raped and burnt alive, sent shockwaves throughout the country. The rage of the police officer who shot them all to death at the scene of crime is not unfounded, and his action, though unlawful, has been applauded by all. Immediate, stern punishment against rapists is the only way to reduce such crimes in India.

Manju Goswami is a post graduate in English Literature from Himachal Pradesh University. She has worked as a lecturer in English for three years each in L.G.B girls college & Arya Vidyapith College. She has completed her LLB from Guwahati University in 2017 and at present is enrolled as an advocate of the Guwahati High Court.