Indrakunwar v. the State of Chhattisgarh
Date of Order:
19 October, 2023
Hon’ble Mr. Justice Abhay S. Oka
Hon’ble Mr. Justice Sanjay Karol
Respondent(s): State of Chhattisgarh
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Supreme Court’ or ‘the Court’) in this case is dealing with the issue raised by the convict-appellant challenging the verdict of the High Court of Chhattisgarh delivered in criminal appeal no. 605 of 2005. In this judgment, the conviction under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860, and the sentencing order dated 4th July 2005, issued by Additional Sessions Judge in Baikunthapur, Chhattisgarh, in the Sessions Trial 525 of 2004 were affirmed.
- The convict-appellant had a relationship with co-villager Baiga Gond and a child was conceived as a result. She allegedly killed the child after giving birth and disposed of the body in a nearby pond.
- An FIR was filed on the day same day when the corpse was discovered and a chargesheet was submitted in October 2004 under section 302 of IPC.
- After recording the statements of the witnesses, the Trial Court observed that the case relied on circumstantial evidence, with 5 out of 8 witnesses being declared hostile by the prosecution.
- The Trial Court, however, considered the statements of the other witnesses under section 313 of CrPC as well as Dr. Divya Rani Tigga (PW11), with respect to recent delivery signs on the convict-appellant.
- The Trial Court found the offence punishable under section 302 of IPC.
- The Chhattisgarh High Court, in the impugned judgment, took note of PW11’s testimony, which deposed that the convict-appellant had given birth and that the child had injuries.
- Although PW11 did not specify whether the child died before or after birth, the details of the same were deemed unimportant because the child’s injuries indicated a homicidal death.
- The High Court upheld the conviction under section 302.
- How far does the right to privacy protect the private matters of a female accused in a criminal case, especially when the prosecution has failed to discharge its duty?
- To what extent are the accused’s rights or duties to address the incriminating circumstances mentioned in their statement under section 313 of CrPC?
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT:
- Appellant did not harm any child, much less the child in question, ever.
- The Convict-appellant was pushed into pond by part Baiga Gond when she refused to take medicines he tried to give her to induce a miscarriage forcibly, resulting in the miscarriage.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT:
- Several witness testimonies on record.
- The convict-appellant had signs of recent delivery as per the medical examination reports.
- The deceased child had injuries of a homicidal nature.
- Imposing a life sentence is a serious matter that necessitates a careful evaluation of the evidence.
- The High Court ought to review the evidence again before deciding whether to uphold the judgment by the trial court as recently dealt with in Geeta Devi v. State of U.P.
- The impugned judgment only provides general and superficial observations concerning the witness testimonies and other evidence, which falls short of the legal requirements for a thorough evaluation, which is alarming considering the seriousness of section 302 of IPC.
- Upon re-examination of the witnesses by the Court, it was established that none of the witness testimony was sufficient to incriminate the convict-appellant, and seemed to be prejudiced against the convict-appellant.
- The conclusion drawn against the convict-appellant was primarily because she was a woman living independently and was pregnant.
- The lower courts held this suspicious since she has been ‘deserted’ by her husband, reinforcing cultural stereotypes, warned strictly against by the Supreme Court.
- Intervention of the Court is crucial when deeply entrenched systems of patriarchy and injustice threaten Constitutional freedoms.
- The Supreme Court has already recognized the right to choose a partner is a Fundamental Right under Articles 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, in Shakti Vahini v. Union of India.
- It falls squarely within a woman’s right to privacy to determine whether to continue with a pregnancy or seek an abortion, provided it aligns with the legal framework.
- The case explores the legal requirements and principles associated with the convict-appellant’s statement under section 313 of CrPC.
- The primary objective of the section is to provide the accused with an opportunity to explain themselves and serve as a means of establishing a dialogue between the court and the accused.
- Negative inferences cannot be drawn for a question or incriminating circumstance not put to an accused while making a statement under the section.
The Supreme Court held that the conviction recorded against the convict-appellant was entirely based on presumption. Convict-appellant was driven to divulge details of her personal life because the prosecution failed to discharge their duties. The right to privacy is fundamental to human dignity and the realization of human rights. At the core of a woman’s Fundamental Rights to equality and privacy lies the autonomy to make decisions about her own body and reproductive choices. The Court held that the High Court had upheld the Trial Court’s order without providing clear and compelling reasons for the verdict, and quashed and set aside the orders of both courts. Convict-appellant was cleared of all charges, and to be immediately released if currently incarcerated. Furthermore, her bail bonds are longer in effect and any pending interlocutory application stand disposed of.