India : Chairman, Railway Board v. Das, A.I.R. 2000 S.C. 988 (28 January 2000)

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Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, a Bangladeshi, was repeatedly raped by train personnel in India. She was first raped in the women's room in the train station, and later in a hotel room by other train personnel.

A petition was file on her behalf by an Indian woman lawyer praying for the train company to be held liable for compensating Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon.

Court ruling

 In the instant case, it is not a mere matter of violation of an ordinary right of a person but the violation of Fundamental Rights which is involved. Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon was a victim of rape. This Court in Bodhisatwa vs. Ms. Subdhra Chakroborty (1996) 1 SCC 490 has held "rape" as an offence which is violative of the Fundamental Right of a person guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Court observed as under :

"Rape is a crime not only against the person of a woman, it is a crime against the entire society. It destroys the entire psychology of a woman and pushes her into deep emotional crisis. Rape is therefore the most hated crime. It is a crime against basic human rights and is violative of the victims most cherished right, namely, right to life which includes right to live with human dignity contained in Article 21."
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The International Covenants and Declarations as adopted by the United Nations have to be respected by all signatory States and the meaning given to the above words in those Declarations and Covenants have to be such as would help in effective implementation of those Rights. The applicability of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and principles thereof may have to be read, if need be, into the domestic jurisprudence. Lord Diplock in Salomon v. Commissioners of Customs and Excise [1996] 3 All ER 871 said that there is a, prima facie, presumption that Parliament does not intend to act in breach of international law, including specfic treaty obligations. So also, Lord Bridge in Brind v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [1991] 1 All ER 720, observed that it was well settled that, in construing any provision in domestic legislation which was ambiguous in the sense that it was capable of a meaning which either conforms to or conflicts with the International Convention, the courts would presume that Parliament intended to legislate in conformity with the Convention and not in conflict with it.
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It was next contended by the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellants, that Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon was a foreign national and, therefore, no relief under Public Law could be granted to her as there was no violation of the Fundamental Rights available under the Constitution. It was contended that the Fundamental Rights in Part III of the Constitution are available only to citizens of this country and since Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon was a Bangladeshi national, she cannot complain of the violation of Fundamental Rights and on that basis she cannot be granted any relief. This argument must also fail for two reasons; first, on the ground of Domestic Jurisprudence based on Constitutional provisions and secondly, on the ground of Human Rights Jurisprudence based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, which has the international recognition as the "Moral Code of Conduct" having been adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations. We will come to the question of Domestic Jurisprudence a little later as we intend to first consider the principles and objects behind Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, as adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution of 10th December, 1948.

Apart from the above, the General Assembly, also while adopting the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, by its Resolution dated 20th December, 1993, observed in Article 1 that, "violence against women" means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."

Our Constitution guarantees all the basic and fundamental human rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, to its citizens and other persons. The chapter dealing with the Fundamental Rights is contained in Part III of the Constitution. The purpose of this Part is to safeguard the basic human rights from the vicissitudes of political controversy and to place them beyond the reach of the political parties who, by virtue of their majority, may come to form the Govt. at the Centre or in the State.

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