In a recent statement, the Bombay High Court ruled that groping a minor without ‘skin to skin’ contact does not fall under the purview of sexual assault as defined under The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The victim was a 12-year-old girl.
The statement of the Bombay High Court read, “The act of pressing the breast of a child aged 12 years, in the absence of any specific detail as to whether the top was removed or whether he inserted his hand inside her top and pressed her breast, would not fall under the definition of ‘sexual assault’.”
While reading such a statement issued by a High Court is very disturbing, it is not the first time. There have been numerous incidents in the past when an Indian Court has let down the women of the nation. Here is a list of some such incidents:
1. A 26-year-old married man who was accused of molesting a woman, was ordered by the Madhya Pradesh High Court to get a ‘Rakhi’ tied on his hand by the victim on the occasion of Rakshabandhan.
The order was passed on 30th July 2020, when the Court granted Vikram Bagri bail and asked him to give ₹11,000 as a customary offering to the Victim. The court’s order read, “The applicant, along with his wife, shall visit the house of the complainant with rakhi thread/band on August 3 at 11 AM with a box of sweets and request the complainant to tie the rakhi band on him with the promise to protect her to the best of his ability for all times to come.”
2. The Karnataka High Court Justice Krishna S Dixit granted bail to a sexual offender because it was unbecoming of an Indian woman’ to have slept after being ravished.
As reported by Bar and Bench, the anticipatory bail was granted to the rape accused on 24th June 2020 under the pretext that the victim falling asleep was unseemly being an Indian woman. But since the outrage got big, the words were removed from the official judgment. The accused, however, was still granted bail.
3. The Punjab and Haryana High Court, in 2017 granted bail to three law students from the elite Jindal Global Law School who had been convicted by a lower court for blackmailing and gang-raping a fellow student.
The court order shamed victims by statements like ‘that her “allegations regarding her being threatened into submission and blackmail lend sufficient diabolism to the offence, but a careful examination of her statement again offers an alternate conclusion of misadventure stemming from a promiscuous attitude and a voyeuristic mind”.’
4. The verdict of a High Court in 2016 was reversed by the Supreme Court. The former verdict had sentenced three men for gang rape, the latter stated that the victim was looking for vengeance and not justice, hence reversing the statement.
In the judgment, the Supreme Court said, the victim’s behaviour was “not at all consistent with those of an unwilling, terrified and anguished victim of forcible intercourse, if judged by the normal human conduct.” It also added that the victim stayed back to collect evidence, “instead of hurrying back home in a distressed, humiliated and a devastated state”. And this was not the expected behaviour of a sexual assault victim.
5. Justice P. Devadass of Madras High Court in 2015 passed an order referring to a rape case to meditation.
As reported by The Hindu, ‘The accused was granted interim bail and asked to hold talks with the rape survivor.’ Since the victim gave birth to a child after the incident, the Judge stated that this was a “fit case for attempting compromise between the parties.” After receiving very strong criticism the Madras High Court had recalled its controversial order.
6. For the lack of injury marks on the victim’s body, the Rajasthan High Court in a 2017 case dismissed the victim’s account of rape. The judgment was given in favour of the alleged rapist.
The court order stated, “The medical evidence did not indicate any injury on any part of her body which suggested that she was never subjected to any forcible rape.”
7. In 2013, the Delhi High Court gave a statement that ‘pre-marital sex was ‘immoral’ and hence it was careless on the part of the victim to have gotten into the trap of the accused who promised to get married to her.
As reported by The Washington Post, judge Virender Bhat said, “They (the girls) voluntarily elope with their lovers to explore the greener pastures of bodily pleasure and on return to their homes, they conveniently fabricate the story of kidnap and rape in order to escape scolds and harsh treatment from the parents. It is these false cases which tend to trivialize the offences of rape and undermine its gravity.”
In May 2020, the Orissa High Court also walked down the same steps stating, “sex on the false promise of marriage does not amount to rape.”
8. In 2019, a man in a molestation case got anticipatory bail after the Delhi High Court directed him to plant 50 trees in a government school.
In the same year, another similar statement by a Ghaziabad court asked a man accused of kidnapping and raping a minor to plant five saplings and submit an affidavit ascertaining the compliance.
9. The earliest example of such a regressive system appears in the 1972-79 Mathura Rape Case where the accused were acquitted by the Supreme Court on the pretext that the victim was, “habituated to sexual intercourse”. The accused were two police constables and the Supreme Court said that the victim did not scream during the act and the lack of injury marks on her body indicated that it was not forced sexual intercourse.
While these statements might be shocking but it is high time now that we stop victim shaming and blaming. The women of the nation need stringent laws, speedy justice and effective fast track courts.