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Mathura's Ordeal: The Landmark Tukaram v/s Maharashtra Case

Tukaram v. State of Maharashtra is a significant legal case in India that examines the concept of consent in sexual encounters and the legal definition of rape. The incident occurred in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra in 1972. Mathura, an Adivasi girl, became an orphan at an early age and thereafter resided with her brother Gama.

She was 14 years old. Her brother was compelled to work as a worker due to their little income, while she secured employment as a maid at Nunshi's residence. It was there that she eventually encountered Ashok, Nunshi's nephew. Upon developing a strong bond, they reached the resolution to enter into matrimony, although Gama expressed disapproval towards their union. Ashok and Mathura eloped.

Consequently, Gama visited the nearby police station in Desai Gunj and lodged a formal complaint on March 26, 1972, alleging that Ashok and his family had unlawfully taken Mathura, a minor, against her will. Head Constable Baburao recorded the accusation. At 9:00 p.m., Mathura, Gama, Ashok, and his relatives were called to attend an investigation. Baburao directed them to depart once their statements were documented, precisely at 10:00 p.m., and he departed for his residence.

Constable Ganpat implored Mathura to remain while the rest were leaving, instructing her relatives to wait outside. He observed her private regions prior to sexually assaulting her in the vicinity behind the police station. Chief Constable Tukaram also made unwelcome physical contact with her private parts, although his severe intoxication prevented him from engaging in sexual assault.

Mathura disclosed the incident to everyone upon her emergence. Following that, Dr. Kamal Shastrakar conducted a medical examination on her. While the medical report does not indicate any physical damage, traces of semen were found on her clothing. Dr. Kamal Mathura recommended that Mathura file a formal complaint against the two police constables.

The defendant was initially acquitted by the session court after the appropriate procedural procedures. However, the Bombay High Court declared Tukaram and Ganpat guilty, reversing the decision made by the Sessions Court. Tukaram was sentenced to a one-year prison term, whereas Ganpat received a five-year prison term, as the high court identified the gaps that the court judge had failed to see.

The defendant lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court, contesting the conviction orders issued by the Bombay High Court. The defendants were acquitted by the Supreme Court, which overturned the verdict of the Bombay High Court. The judge stated that there were no visible signs of physical harm to the girl. Nationwide, the matter incited demonstrations and public outcry, as numerous advocates contended that the verdict was erroneous and necessitated further scrutiny. The case also spurred more contemplation and altered the interpretation of consent in India's rape legislation.

Judgement And Observation
Session Court
The matter was heard in the session court on June 1, 1974. The esteemed judges of the session court exonerated the defendant, affirming that the act in question constituted consenting sexual intercourse rather than rape. According to reports, it was stated that Mathura engaged in sexual activity, and there is a possibility that she had consensual intercourse with Ganpat, as there were no signs of physical harm on her body.

Highlighting the distinction between consensual sexual intercourse and the criminal act of rape. Additionally, they stated that Tukaram touched her inappropriately due to her regular engagement in sexual intercourse.

Engaging in sexual activity with a female who is under the age of 16, regardless of her consent, is considered assault according to Section 375(6) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The court determined that there was insufficient evidence regarding Mathura's age. Consequently, they concluded that the prosecution had failed to establish its case against the two appellants, thereby declaring their innocence.

High Court
The High Court judges delineated a differentiation between passive acquiescence and assent. It was determined that the likelihood of getting Mathura's consent was very low due to the appellants being unfamiliar individuals, and it was highly unlikely that Mathura would agree to engage in sexual activity with the appellant.

Furthermore, they asserted that it is non-consensual for a tribal girl to engage in combat with middle-aged individuals who hold positions of authority and influence. Furthermore, it asserted that granting permission for consensual sexual contact should not be interpreted as passive acceptance of the potential risk of damage.

Furthermore, they alleged that Tukaram had engaged in sexual assault rather than rape. The court additionally determined that the absence of a medical examination may have been due to the fact that the medical examiner was summoned 20 hours after the incident, and it is quite probable that she had taken a bath during that period.

Consequently, the High Court rendered a verdict of conviction against the accused and imposed a one-year prison term on appellant Tukaram, while appellant Ganpat received a five-year prison term.

Supreme Court
In September 1979, the Supreme Court of India reversed the ruling of the Bombay High Court and acquitted the accused. The Supreme Court determined that the absence of physical harm indicated that the accused did not resist the behaviour, classifying it as consensual sexual contact rather than rape. The Court observed that Mathura voluntarily submitted herself to the accused without expressing any objection to the crime.

Pursuant to Section 375(3) of the Indian Penal Code, the court concluded that the woman's deliberate act of entering the police station of her own choice while leaving her family did not amount to consent due to the potential risk of harm. As per Section 375(2) of the IPC, the action was performed with her agreement, as she did not make any outcry for help or object. Causing Mathura to become accustomed to engaging in sexual activity. The Supreme Court overturned the Bombay High Court's decision by acquitting the defendant.

Consequences of the Matter
The verdict incited extensive protests among lawyers, activists, and various other organisations. There was a consensus that the existing act required significant amendments to encompass all the necessary errors committed by the courts.

Legal Proceedings: According to Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act, medical experts' opinions can be used as evidence in court. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court ruled that this should be seen as a "low-quality form of evidence" due to its nature as "opinion-based evidence."

The significance of medical evidence in criminal proceedings has been longstanding. It seeks to establish that the victim had a reprehensible character or that the accused is culpable of committing rape. Furthermore, it endeavours to illustrate that the plaintiff's testimony was falsified. As a result, the punishment for the perpetrator is decreased. As a result, the provision of Section 155(4) of the Evidence Act was abolished.

In the case of Pratap Misra v. State of Orissa, the individual in question was labelled as a "concubine" due to her involvement with a married man and subsequent participation in a bigamous marriage with him. During her trip with her husband, she experienced sexual assault perpetrated by three individuals. Nevertheless, as the victim did not display any apparent physical harm, the court concluded that she must have provided her consent, resulting in the exoneration of all three individuals involved.

Furthermore, she refrained from shouting during sexual intercourse; instead, she merely shed tears. The court ruled that if the sexual intercourse had been forced, the victim of gang rape would have experienced a spontaneous abortion immediately rather than waiting for a few days.

The victim faces significant difficulty in substantiating the absence of consent, particularly in cases where the rape took place while the victim was confined. The burden of proof lies with the victim to substantiate her claim of non-consensual sexual assault. Section 114A of the Indian Evidence Act was introduced, stipulating that in rape cases where the victim denies giving consent, the court will presume that she did not agree, and the burden of proof will lie with the accused.

The incident, in which two police officers sexually assaulted a girl aged 14�16 within the confines of a police station, was commonly referred to as custodial rape.

Despite the evolution of legislation pertaining to rape and other forms of protection for women, society's mentality has remained stagnant, solely emphasising physical hurt or bodily damage, as exemplified in this particular instance. Rape not only inflicts physical pain but also constitutes a heinous crime that can result in severe psychological consequences such as melancholy, insomnia, flashbacks, and several other afflictions.

This case largely exemplified that an act will not be considered rape or assault in the absence of bodily injury. The case was considered a pivotal moment in the history of women's safeguarding, despite the ongoing annual increase in rape and assault cases.

My Judgement
I believe that the decision made by the Honourable Supreme Court should be overturned due to the following reasons:

The fundamental concept of consent in any legal system is inherently connected to an individual's capacity to autonomously and knowledgeably make choices. Regarding minors, who are those classified as juveniles by the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015, there exists a legal presumption that they lack the age and maturity necessary to provide informed consent in matters related to sexuality.

Given the assumption that a girl who is below the age of eighteen has the capacity to make an informed decision regarding her sexual orientation, any sexual engagement involving her, irrespective of her consent, is classified as rape. This legal provision underscores the fundamental concept that the consent of a juvenile is fundamentally null and meaningless in the eyes of the law.

Moreover, the relevance of the "unsoundness of mind" provision in the Indian Contract Act of 1872 becomes apparent when considering the assent of children. While the Act primarily focuses on commercial obligations, the concept of mental capacity is crucial to the broader legal framework and has relevance outside the realm of contracts.

Indian courts have recognised the inherent vulnerability and lack of maturity in adolescents on several occasions, seeing their capacity to provide informed consent in sexual situations as equivalent to a mental disorder. The rationale behind this view is based on the recognition that young individuals may lack the emotional and cognitive maturity required to fully comprehend the consequences of their actions, particularly in the context of intimate relationships.

The Indian legal system consistently upholds the sanctity of protecting children from exploitation and abuse, recognising that power imbalances may inherently exist in interactions with children. In the landmark decision of Independent Thought v. Union of India (2017), the Supreme Court of India took a progressive stance by criminalising sexual intercourse with a minor spouse, even if they are married.

The court upheld the notion that a minor's susceptibility and inability to give consent should consistently be taken into account by underlining that the age at which consent is legally valid should remain consistent across all contexts, irrespective of the minor's marital status. Within the framework of Indian criminal law, it is imperative to dispel the misconception that apparent physical damage to a victim implies the absence of rape or sexual assault.

In India, the judicial system recognizes that rape encompasses more than just bodily harm and can encompass a broader spectrum of offences that may not always be apparent to observers. Irrespective of the presence of visible physical harm, Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code now encompasses a range of non-consensual actions that violate an individual's bodily autonomy within the definition of rape.

The absence of apparent physical evidence on a victim should not be used as grounds to dismiss rape allegations. Instead, the legal system must recognise the intricate and nuanced nature of sexual assaults to guarantee a thorough and thoughtful examination of each case.

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