The Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a man accused of raping a 7-year-old girl in a temple premises.

The Court modified the sentence to 30 years of rigorous imprisonment.

The Court noted that the act was barbaric and recognised the need for a deterrent punishment for Section 376 AB of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) conviction.

The Bench comprising Justice C. T. Ravikumar and Justice Rajesh Bindal observed, “the petitioner-convict took the victim to a temple, unmindful of the holiness of the place disrobed her and himself and then committed the crime. We have no hesitation to hold that the fact he had not done it brutally will not make its commission non-barbaric”.

Advocate K. Sarada Devi appeared for the Petitioner and Additional Advocate General Ankita Chaudhary appeared for the Respondent.

The Petitioner, who had been convicted under Section 376 AB of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and was facing multiple charges, contested the judgment of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh. The judgment encompassed the affirmation of convictions and sentences for various offences, including those under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act). The initial capital punishment imposed on the Petitioner was later commuted to life imprisonment.

The Petitioner's capital sentence for Section 376 AB, IPC conviction was changed to life imprisonment by the High Court, which opted for life imprisonment instead of the alternative of rigorous imprisonment for a minimum of 20 years with a fine.

The Apex Court noted the High Court's decision to commute the Petitioner's capital sentence to life imprisonment. Despite characterizing the crime as not barbaric and brutal, the High Court deemed the Petitioner's actions as barbaric, highlighting the nuanced difference between the terms.

We will take the meanings of the words ‘barbaric’, ‘barbarians’ and ‘brutal’ to know the distinctive meanings of the words ‘barbaric’ and ‘brutal’. As per the New International Webster’s Comprehensive ‘Barbaric’ (adj): of or characteristic of barbarians. Wild; uncivilized; crude. ‘Barbarians’: (n) One whose state of culture is between savagery and civilization; Any rude, brutal or uncultured person. ‘Brutal’ (adj): Characteristic of or like a brute; cruel; savage”, the Bench noted.

The Petitioner, who was 40 years old, committed the crime of raping a 7-year-old girl in a temple. The Court noted that while the act was not brutal, it was undoubtedly barbaric. Recognizing the need for a deterrent punishment for the Section 376 AB, IPC conviction, the Court emphasized that the only alternative to life imprisonment was a minimum of 20 years of imprisonment with a fine.

the words ‘barbaric’ and ‘brutal’ are used simultaneously they are not to take the character of synonym, but to take distinctive meanings. In view of the manner in which the offence was committed by the petitioner-convict, as observed by the High Court under the above extracted recital, according to us, one can only say that the action of the petitioner-convict is barbaric though he had not acted in a brutal manner”, the Court emphasized.

After scrutinizing Section 376 AB, IPC, the Court observed that life imprisonment entailed confinement for the convict's natural life, with a minimum term of 20 years. In deciding whether further intervention in the sentence was justified, the Court referred to the case of Shiva Kumar @ Shiva @ Shivamurthy v. State of Karnataka [Special Leave to Appeal (Crl.) No(s). 3400/2017]. The Court emphasized that the power to impose modified punishment within the IPC could only be exercised by the High Court and the Supreme Court.

The Court noted that the sustained conviction under Section 376 AB, IPC mandated a fixed-term punishment of not less than 20 years. While the High Court, in commuting the capital sentence to life imprisonment, considered aggravating and mitigating factors, it overlooked the absence of separate sentences for certain offences under the POCSO Act.

Considering the gravity of the crime, the victim's future well-being, the Petitioner's age, and the time served, the Court modified the sentence to 30 years, inclusive of time served. A fine of Rs. 1 Lakh was imposed for the victim's medical expenses and rehabilitation. The conviction and sentence under Sections 366, IPC, were confirmed, addressing the oversight in the impugned judgment.

The Court altered the Petitioner-convict's sentence under Section 376 AB of the IPC to 30 years of rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs. One Lakh decided against imposing a separate sentence for the related offence under the POCSO Act.

The Bench noted that the conviction under Section 376 AB, IPC was upheld, with the sentence modified to 30 years of rigorous imprisonment, inclusive of time served and any set-off ordered by the Trial Court. The sentence for the conviction under Section 363, IPC would run concurrently, and the fine imposed would be added to the previously imposed fine of Rs. One Lakh. The Petitioner-convict would not be eligible for release before completing the actual sentence of 30 years, taking into account the computations mentioned.

Accordingly, the Court partly allowed the Petition.

Cause Title: Bhaggi @ Bhagirath @ Naran v The State Of Madhya Pradesh (2024 INSC 82)


Appellant: Advocates R. Vijay Nandan Reddy and V. Krishna Swaroop.

Respondent: Government Adovcate Abhimanyu Singh with Advocates Mrinal Gopal Elker and Abhijeet Pandove.

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