Budhadev Karmaskar vs. State of West Bengal

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Introduction

Budhadev Karmaskar vs. State of West Bengal is a landmark judgment that paved the way for securing the rights of sex workers. This case brought into light the vulnerable state of sex workers and the social stigma attached to them. This ruling upholds the right of sex workers to live with dignity as prescribed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

This case also prompted the Supreme Court to frame guidelines to address the plight of sex workers to avert the possibility of any mishap of the like nature. Moreover, it sensitized the general public that sex workers are not a mere commodities and they must not be looked down upon just because of their profession.

The sex workers are also human beings and they are entitled to the same rights and privileges as the other members of society.

Facts of Budhadev Karmaskar vs. State of West Bengal

On the fateful night of 17 September, 1999 at around 9.15 p.m., a gruesome murder of a sex worker, Shrimati Chayay Rani Pal alias Buri, aged 45 years took place in the red light area situated in the Jogen Dutta Lane that shook the conscience of the general public.

She was a resident of a three-storied building situated in the red-light area of Jogen Dutta Lane in Kolkata. Prior to the incident, the deceased was sleeping in front of her room near the staircase on the second floor of the building. The accused came up to the second floor and tripped upon the deceased following which a noisy altercation took place.

The accused Budhadev Karmaskar kicked the deceased with fists and legs and assaulted her which left her bleeding profusely. She fell down on the floor after which the accused dragged her by her hair and pushed her head against the wall.

As a result, she started bleeding from her head, nose, and ear. An alarm was raised by one of the eye-witnesses Asha Khatun, a maidservant who was present on the second floor when the incident took place. The other inmates gathered at the crime spot and witnessed the deceased being mercilessly beaten by the accused.

As soon as a protest was raised, the accused hastily left the victim on the spot, pushed and jostled the onlookers, and fled the area. At around 2.15 a.m., the accused was arrested by the police in the Jogen Dutta Lane itself within 5 hours of the incident. The victim was shifted to the hospital where she was declared dead.

Arguments made by the appellant in Budhadev Karmaskar vs. State of West Bengal

  • The learned advocate appearing for the appellant vehemently denied all the charges framed by the prosecution.
  • The learned advocate submitted that the statement made by the eye-witness, Asha Khatun during the examination-in-chief cannot be admissible under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 as she did not turn up during the cross-examination.
  • To substantiate the same, the learned advocate relied upon the case of Raghuvir Singh v. State of Uttaranchal.
  • It was also submitted that none of the residents of the area where the crime took place were summoned as witnesses. Owing to this reason, the learned advocate wanted to cast a shadow of doubt on the prosecution story.

Arguments made by the respondent in Budhadev Karmaskar vs. State of West Bengal

  • The prosecution case suggested that the relationship between the deceased and the accused were sour and they quarrelled at intervals.
  • The prosecution case produced the injury report made by a competent physician that stated that the deceased was beaten by the accused through fists and legs.
  • The report also found that there was a total of eleven injuries in various parts of the face and forehead that resulted in her death.
  • The prosecution contended that eight out of eleven injuries were sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature.

Order of the court in Budhadev Karmaskar vs. State of West Bengal

  • In the present case, the appeal was dismissed by the Hon’ble High Court of Calcutta.
  • The court denied the submission made by the appellant that the statement of the eye-witness, Asha Khatun should not be brought into service for her absence in the cross-examination under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
  • The court attached reasonable weight to the statement made by the eyewitness of the case, as it gave a vivid description of the act of the accused.
  • It was also proved through the statement of the eye-witness, Asha Khatun that there was enmity between the accused and the deceased, and they often used to quarrel.
  • It was also proved that the accused tripped upon the deceased who was sleeping near the staircase which led to the altercation.
  • The court was of the view that the grave injuries that were inflicted by the accused were further corroborated with the help of the post-mortem report prepared by the attending physician. It was proved that the injuries inflicted by the accused were grave enough to cause the death of the deceased in the ordinary course of nature.
  • The court also expressed its dissatisfaction with the fact there was no explanation as to why there was an injury near the left eye of the accused when the defence case was pure denial.

Conclusion

This landmark judgment is a startling example of how sex workers are mistreated and murdered at the hands of demonic people who treat them as mere commodity. It conveys the social message that one should not be tolerant of such inhumane acts in a civilized society.

This case highlights the miserable condition of the sex workers, that the work they do, is not because they enjoy doing it, but because poverty drives them to do so. Since their profession is attached to a social stigma, it doesn’t mean that they do not have the right to live with dignity.

Under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, every individual has the fundamental right to life and personal liberty. It does not mean mere animal existence. But due to the stereotypical mindset of society, it becomes close to impossible.

Unless and until prostitution will not be recognized as a profession in the eyes of law, sex workers will continue to be exploited at the hands of people who look down upon them. To facilitate the prevention of such heinous crimes, the Supreme Court took a suo moto cognizance of this case and framed guidelines for safeguarding the rights of sex workers.

This judgment did not just shake the conscience of the general public but also inspired and brought social change.


This article has been authored by Tulip Sharma and Diya Nema, students at Amity Law School, Chhattisgarh.


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