The Bombay High Court on February 4 upheld the sentence of life imprisonment meted out to a man by the trial court in 2004, 11 years after he raped the teenage daughter of his live-in partner. The victim’s mother had been in a relationship with the man for about five years, during which time he violated the 13-year-old on several occasions.
Though the girl had informed her mother about the rape, she had brushed it aside. It was only after the intervention of a local acquaintance that the incident came to light and an FIR was registered. The victim Seema stayed with her mother, her aunt, and the three children born to her mother and the rapist, Namdev Waghmare (names changed to protect identities).
Seema’s mother had moved in with Waghmare after the death of her first husband. On December 7, 2001, Seema’s birthday, Waghmare raped her when they were alone at home. When she tried to shout, he slapped her and gagged her with a cloth. He raped her again on January 3, 2002 and subsequently on March 20, 2002. The last incident was witnessed by one of Waghmare’s nephews. Though Seema confided in her mother, she brushed the matter under the carpet.
Seema’s fellow churchgoer Mary Cardoz soon noticed that she had stopped coming to church. When she met the girl, Seema said that she had been burdened with work. Concerned, Cardoz met Seema’s mother and agreed to send the teenager to a boarding school instead, at her own expense.
The next day, Cardoz sent her to an ashram for a retreat. When Seema returned, Cardoz told her to go back to her home, but the terrified girl broke down at the prospect. Later, Waghmare and her mother came to collect her, and tried to intimidate her into returning home with them, but Seema refused.
On April 20, 2002, Cardoz and Seema approached the Women and Child Welfare Department of the police for help and met two social workers from the special cell for women and children. In a private interview, Seema confessed that she had been raped repeatedly.
She revealed that Waghmare had threatened to throw her under a train if she told anyone about the incident. The social workers took the girl for a medical examination, and doctors confirmed that she had been sexually assaulted. An FIR was lodged on the same day. On April 12, 2004, Waghmare was convicted of rape and criminal intimidation and sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial court.
In appeal, the division bench of Justices VK Tahilramani and SS Jadhav in the Bombay High Court upheld Waghmare’s conviction, observing, “In cases of rape, there is, invariably, delay in lodging the FIR. It is to be borne in mind that in a rape case the prosecutrix is worried about her future.
She is in a traumatic state of mind. The family of the victim generally shows reluctance to go to the police station because of society’s attitude towards the victim. Society casts doubts and shame upon her rather than comfort or sympathise with her.”
Placing FIRs in rape cases on a ‘different yardstick,’ the bench added, “As far as delay in lodging FIR in rape cases is concerned no straitjacket formula can be laid down in this regard. In case of sexual offences, the criteria may be different altogether.
As honour of the family is involved, its members have to decide whether to take the matter to the court or not. In such a situation, near relations of the prosecutrix may take time [to decide] what course of action should be adopted. Thus, delay is bound to occur.”