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Evidence by differently-abled is not inferior: Madras High Court confirms conviction for sexual assault of a visually challenged woman

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The Madras High Court recently upheld the conviction and sentence of an auto-driver who had sexually assaulted a visually challenged woman, while also observing that the victim’s testimony cannot be viewed as inferior only on account of her blindness.

Justice RMT Teekaa Raman made note to emphasise that if the evidence given by a differently-abled person is treated as inferior, it would violate the right to equality.

“Law does not distinguish the evidence of able-bodied person with that of the disabled [differently enabled]. Merely because of the factum of disability, her evidence cannot be treated as inferior in nature to that of able-bodied person. To do so, could be negation to the constitution principle of right of equality”, the judgment stated.

The appellant in this case was an auto driver who was charged with Sections 366 (kidnapping), 354 (outraging modesty of a woman) and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code, along with Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Woman Harassment Act.

He was engaged to transport the victim from a bus stop to an music class in an auto-rickshaw. However, he is stated to have diverted en route and taken her to a relatively isolated area. Upon noticing the sound of traffic fading away and on sensing that the auto driver had gone off-course, the victim questioned the driver about the same. The driver, in turn, is stated to have halted the vehicle, gone to the backset and sexually assaulted the victim. He is also stated to have threatened to kill the victim if she divulged the incident to anyone else.

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Upon the victim resisting his advances and screaming for help, passers by and neighbours in the locality arrived at the scene and rescued her. The auto driver fled the scene as people gathered and started asking questions. The auto-rickshaw was guarded by these people until the police came and seized the same.

A trial court sentenced the auto-driver to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment for the offences under Sections 366 and 354 of the IPC and ection 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Woman Harassment Act. For the offence under Section 506, IPC he was sentenced to undergo two years’ rigorous imprisonment. The correctness of the trial court’s findings was challenged by the auto-driver before the High Court.

Among other arguments, it was contended that the victim had not properly identified the offender and that she cannot be termed an “eye witness” since she was visually impaired. At best, it was submitted that she can only be a “hearsay witness”, whose testimony cannot be relied upon.

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Justice Teekaa Raman, however, opined in that the victim’s testimony was reliable and stood corroborated by the testimony given by the passers by and neighbours who had rescued her from the sexual assault. The Court noted that nothing had been shown to contradict the prosecution’s version in cross-examination either. In this backdrop, the Judge remarked that the victim’s version of the sexual assault committed on her body cannot be rejected merely because she is a visually challenged person.

“Her primary mode of identifying those around her, therefore, it is by the sound of their voice and so P.W.1’s testimony is entitled to equal weight as that of a prosecutrix who could have been able to visually identify the appellant … evidence could amply prove that the victim has successfully identified the accused and her evidence cannot be doubted simply because she is a blind girl”, the Court said.

Before parting with the matter, the Court also recommended that the Tamil Nadu State Legal Services Authority grant Rs 1 lakh as compensation to the victim under the “Tamil Nadu Victim Compensation Scheme.”

Advocate C Mohan Raj appeared for the appellant and government advocate (criminal side) R Vinoth Raja appeared for the State.

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