New Delhi: In quashing an eight-year-old rape case after the accused and the complainant told the court that they were “happily married”, the Supreme Court has left several legal questions raised by the accused unanswered.
In a judgment passed on 12 April, a bench comprising Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari noted that “after the registration of FIR, the parties were able to resolve their differences and eventually got married on 11.10.2014”.
The FIR in the case was filed in 2013, alleging that the accused established sexual relations with the complainant on a false promise of marriage.
The complainant as well as the accused had now told the court that they “are enjoying a happy married life” and that the FIR was “the outcome of some misunderstanding between the parties”.
While the Delhi High Court had refused to quash the proceedings in November 2019, the apex court now allowed their petition, observing, “Considering the nature of allegations in the FIR and the realisation of the fact that due to miscommunication FIR came to be registered at the relevant point of time which issues/misunderstanding have now been fully resolved and the parties are happily married since 11.10.2014, the basis of FIR does not survive.”
In doing so, however, the Supreme Court chose to steer clear of several important legal questions raised by the accused, including whether the offence of rape can be equated to “consensual intercourse on the false promise of marriage amounting to the offence of rape”. The accused had argued that these two offences cannot be equated.
‘Abusive and violent’ relationship
The duo had met in January 2013 during a professional assignment. The complainant was 36 years old and a widow at the time, and the accused was around 28 years old. They were allegedly in a live-in relationship between March 2013 and August 2013. Things between them turned sour soon after.
According to the Delhi High Court judgment, the complainant alleged that the accused often got “abusive and violent” with her over the course of time that they were in the live-in relationship. She alleged that he forced himself on her and also forced her to undergo an abortion through medication when she became pregnant in July-August 2013.
The complainant then registered an FIR against him on 17 September 2013, under Section 376 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code. The FIR also mentioned Section 380 (theft in dwelling house) IPC, as the complainant alleged that the accused had absconded with her belongings and valuables around the same time.
They, however, tied the knot in October 2014 and now claim that the trial continued for almost seven years post that, “on account of some differences and misunderstandings”.
According to the petition filed in the Supreme Court, they resolved their differences in August 2019, “upon intervention of friends and well-wishers” and signed a settlement deed. The complainant then gave her no-objection certificate for quashing of the FIR and that’s when he approached the Delhi High Court.
Delhi HC cited 2012 SC verdict
The Delhi High Court considered the question of “whether the fact that the parties have got married and have settled the dispute between themselves should be a reason good enough to quash the FIR registered under Sections 376/380 IPC”.
In its judgment passed on 14 November 2019, the court relied on a 2012 ruling, in which the Supreme Court had ruled that “heinous and serious offences of mental depravity or offences like murder, rape, dacoity, etc. cannot be fittingly quashed even though the victim or victims family and the offender have settled the dispute”.
Citing this verdict, a single judge of the high court therefore refused to quash the rape charges against the accused. The accused then approached the Supreme Court in March 2020.
The unanswered questions
In his petition before the Supreme Court, the accused argued that the offence of rape cannot be equated with consensual intercourse on the false promise of marriage amounting to the offence of rape.
The plea said that this was because in the first category of offence of rape, it “requires some kind of mental perversity and depravity, has an element of cruelty and is an offence not only against the victim but against the entire society itself”.
As against this, it said that in the second category, “the accused and the victim are known to each other and were lovers and/or in a live-in relationship where the consent was given by the victim on the promise of marriage however the relationship could not eventually culminate into a matrimonial alliance between the two”.
The accused had also questioned whether “time is of the essence in a promise to marry”. He asserted that even if an accused charged with rape due to consensual intercourse on the false promise of marriage marries the woman after the registration of the FIR, the criminal proceedings against him should be quashed.
He contended that “where consensual intercourse had taken place on the promise of marriage there is no prescribed time limit within which such marriage has to take place”.
‘Hopeful SC with revisit position’
The lawyer for the accused, advocate Nishaank Mattoo, told ThePrint that he was “grateful for the Supreme Court for giving the couple a second chance at life”.
As for his arguments before the court, Mattoo explained, “I truly believe that the offence of rape which emanates from consensual relations on a false promise of marriage cannot be equated with an offence of rape which has been committed without the consent and against the will of the victim. The prior lacks the sense of mental depravity and heniouness which the second category of offence entails.”
“I am hopeful that the apex court will soon revisit its position on offence of rape on the false promise of marriage,” he added.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)