Sakshi v. Union of India (2004)


The case of Sakshi vs. Union of India (2004) involves a writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India by Sakshi, an NGO advocating for victims of sexual abuse. The petition sought a broader interpretation of “sexual intercourse” under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to include various forms of penetration beyond penile/vaginal intercourse. The Supreme Court examined whether such an expanded definition could be judicially interpreted or required legislative amendment. The petition also highlighted the need for protective measures for child victims during trials. The Court acknowledged the necessity for a broader understanding but emphasized that such changes should be made by the legislature, not through judicial interpretation. The judgment led to procedural guidelines for better protection of victims in court.

Keywords: Sexual Intercourse, Judicial Interpretation, Indian Penal Code, Child Abuse, Victim Protection


i) Judgement Cause Title: Sakshi vs. Union of India

ii) Case Number: Writ Petition (Crl.) 33 of 1997

iii) Judgement Date: 26/05/2004

iv) Court: Supreme Court of India

v) Quorum: Rajendra Babu CJ & G.P. Mathur

vi) Author: G.P. Mathur

vii) Citation: 2004 Supp(2) SCR 723

viii) Legal Provisions Involved: Sections 354, 375, 376, 376A-D, 377 IPC, Article 32, 14, 15(3), 21 of the Constitution of India


The case arose from a writ petition filed by Sakshi, an NGO focused on providing support for victims of sexual abuse. The organization sought a declaratory relief to broaden the definition of “rape” under Section 375 IPC to include all forms of non-consensual penetration, including penile/oral, penile/anal, finger/vaginal, finger/anal, and object/vaginal penetration. Sakshi argued that the narrow interpretation of rape under current laws failed to protect many victims, particularly children, and was inconsistent with contemporary understandings of sexual violence and international commitments.


Sakshi, noticing an increase in sexual violence against women and children, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking a judicial declaration that various forms of penetration should be included under the definition of rape in Section 375 IPC. They highlighted that the existing trend of law enforcement was to treat non-penile/vaginal penetrative acts as lesser offenses under Sections 354 or 377 IPC. Sakshi contended that such interpretations failed to acknowledge the severe trauma experienced by victims of these forms of abuse, which could be as harmful as penile/vaginal rape.


i) Whether the definition of “sexual intercourse” in Section 375 IPC should be expanded to include various forms of penetration.

ii) Whether non-consensual penetrations such as penile/oral, penile/anal, finger/vaginal, finger/anal, and object/vaginal should be subsumed under Section 375 IPC.

iii) Whether a restrictive interpretation of penetration in Section 375 defeats the legislative intent of providing adequate protection against sexual abuse.

iv) Whether the narrow interpretation of rape violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution by denying adequate redress to victims.

v) Whether special procedural protections should be provided to child victims of sexual abuse during trials.


The counsels for Petitioner submitted that the current definition of rape under Section 375 IPC was outdated and did not reflect the contemporary understanding of sexual violence, which views rape as an act of humiliation and violation rather than merely penile/vaginal penetration. They argued that the term “sexual intercourse” was not explicitly defined in the IPC and should, therefore, be judicially interpreted to include all forms of penetration to ensure justice for all victims of sexual abuse. They also emphasized the severe psychological trauma caused by non-penile/vaginal penetrations, which deserved to be classified as rape.


The counsels for Respondent submitted that Sections 375 and 376 IPC had been significantly amended by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983, providing clear definitions and stringent punishments for various sexual offenses. They contended that non-penile/vaginal penetrations were appropriately covered under Section 377 IPC as unnatural offenses, which also carried severe punishments. The Respondents argued that judicial reinterpretation of the term “sexual intercourse” was unnecessary and could lead to legal uncertainty. They maintained that any changes in the law should be made by the legislature.


a. Ratio Decidendi

The Supreme Court held that the definition of rape under Section 375 IPC could not be expanded through judicial interpretation to include all forms of penetration. It emphasized that such an interpretation would require the substitution of words, which is not permissible under the principles of statutory interpretation. The Court acknowledged the petitioner’s concerns but concluded that any change in the definition of rape should be made through legislative action rather than judicial interpretation.

b. Obiter Dicta

The Court recognized the severe trauma caused by various forms of sexual penetration and the need for broader protection under the law. It expressed hope that the legislature would take urgent steps to amend the law to address these issues comprehensively. Additionally, the Court issued procedural guidelines to protect child victims during trials, such as allowing videotaped statements, testimony via closed-circuit television, and avoiding direct confrontation with the accused.


The judgment in Sakshi vs. Union of India highlights the limitations of judicial interpretation in addressing evolving social issues. While the Supreme Court empathized with the plight of sexual abuse victims and acknowledged the need for broader legal protection, it maintained that substantial changes to criminal laws should be the domain of the legislature. This case underscores the importance of legislative reforms in ensuring comprehensive legal protection against all forms of sexual violence.


a. Important Cases Referred

  • State of Punjab vs. Gurmit Singh, [1996] 2 SCC 384
  • Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan, [1997] 6 SCC 241
  • Lakshmi Kant Pandey vs. Union of India, [1984] 2 SCC 244
  • S. Gopal Reddy vs. State of A.P., [1996] 4 SCC 596
  • State of Maharashtra vs. Dr. Praful B Desai, [2003] 4 SCC 601

b. Important Statutes Referred

  • Indian Penal Code, Sections 354, 375, 376, 376A-D, 377
  • Constitution of India, Articles 14, 15(3), 21, 32
  • Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983
  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 17(e) and 19
  • UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

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