Shri Bodhisattwa Gautam v. Miss Subhra Chakraborty
Order for creation of a Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and guidelines for victims of sexual assault to enforce and protect fundamental rights. Systemic remedy in criminal complaint alleging numerous violations of the Indian Penal Code for deceiving complainant, into sexual intercourse, cohabiting, unlawful marriage, and abortion. Enforcement of fundamental rights against private bodies and individuals. Fundamental right to life (Article 21 of the Indian Constitution). Creation of guidelines in support to victims without access to medical, psychological and legal services.
Miss Chakraborty, in a criminal complaint, alleged that she began an affair in April 1989 with Chakraborty while he was a lecturer and she was a student at Baptist College in Kohima, Nagaland. She asserted Gautam professed his love and deceived her into sexual intercourse with false assurances that he would marry her after receiving his parents’ consent. When she became pregnant in September 1993, he coerced her into a secret marriage ceremony conducted with the appearance of authenticity, well-knowing it was invalid, then convinced Chakraborty to have an abortion, and again pressured another abortion in 1994. Subsequently, in 1995, he abandoned her for a lecture position in Assam. In 1995, Chakraborty filed a criminal complaint against Gautam in the Court of the Judicial Magistrate, 1st Class in Kohima. She claimed Gautam caused her to miscarry/abort her pregnancies, induced her to deliver property, induced cohabitation through an unlawful marriage, conducted a fraudulent marriage ceremony, and subjected her to cruelty, causing her severe mental and physical suffering, in violation of Sections 312, 420, 493, 496, and 498-A of the Indian Penal Code. Gautam’s attempt to quash the complaint was dismissed by the Gauhati High Court, and his re-petition in the Indian Supreme Court was also dismissed. Thereafter, the Indian Supreme Court, taking notice of Chakraborty’s factual allegations in her criminal complaint, examined its ability to compel Gautam’s payment of maintenance costs while the criminal proceedings were pending. Gautam denied all allegations in the complaint, and offered proof of his current unemployment and thus inability to compensate Chakraborty. The Court noted its expansive authority under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution to enforce and protect individual’s fundamental rights, including its power to award compensation for violations, even if Chakraborty did not raise a fundamental rights issue. It found that Gautam’s actions violated Chakraborty’s fundamental right to liberty, and the Article 21 right to life, defined as the right to live with human dignity. Noting the social barriers women face in India, and particularly the psychological and social consequences for rape victims, the Court ordered the creation of a Criminal Injuries Compensation Board to cover losses experienced by victims of sexual assault. It also issued a set of guidelines to help indigent rape victims who cannot afford medical, psychological and legal services consistent with the Principles of UN Declaration of Justice for victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, 1985. Finally, the Court ordered Gautam to pay Rs. 1000 per month in maintenance costs for Chakraborty’s livelihood during the pending criminal case, starting from the date the complaint was filed.
As a result of the decision, rape victims have received compensation while litigation of criminal complaints is pending. However, greater enforcement is necessary.
The Supreme Court recognized that in addition to proceeding on a petition of a publicly spirited individual, the Court retains judicial authority to take cognizance of a matter and proceed suo moto. The Court also held fundamental rights can be enforced against private bodies and individuals.
The decision is a landmark judgment concerning violence against women with the Supreme Court recognizing that rape amounts to a violation of a fundamental right as protected under Article 21, and issued a set of guidelines mandating legal, psychological and medical services be provided to rape victims in accordance with international human rights law.