Even if a victim is of "immoral character", it does not give any right to anyone to violate her or rape her, declares the Supreme Court.
Most sexual crimes against women in India go unreported because the victims are usually branded "characterless" or accused of having "loose morals". The line of questioning more than often points fingers at the woman reporting the crime rather than the accused, making the rape look like it was her fault.
In a historic and landmark decision, an all-women bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that even if a woman is labelled to be of "easy virtue", she is not open to violation and cannot be raped.
The apex court, with this ruling, has brought into focus the rights of women sex workers in the country.
The bench, comprising Justice R Banumathi and Justice Indira Banerjee, made this ruling while convicting four men in the gangrape of a woman in Katwaraia Sarai, New Delhi in 1997. The accused were convicted to 10 years imprisonment.
The verdict and ruling came after the four accused argued that the victim was of 'loose morals' and was indulging in prostitution.
The trial case had found them guilty but the High Court had later acquitted them. The bench has ordered an inquiry against the police officers who have investigated the case.
The bench observed, “Even if the allegations of the accused that the prosecutrix [victim] is of immoral character are taken to be correct, the same does not give any right to the accused persons to commit rape on her against her consent. Even assuming that the prosecutrix was of easy virtue, she has a right of refuse to submit herself to anyone."
Comment on the judgement, Bengaluru-based lawyer and women's rights activist Vibha Setlur says,
"I am in total confirmation with this judgement. A human is a soul and respect towards a soul is irrespective of their character or profession. When a woman say no it's a total no, whatever be her race or income. And coming to the aspect of virtue, it's not right to determine a woman in prostitution as a woman of easy virtue as many would have had hard circumstances that would have led them to that stage of life. Yes, we respect, all can be given a better life."