Amid a shocking incident, the Bombay High Court has denied putting sexual assault charges against a man who was accused of groping the breasts of a minor with attempts to remove her ‘salwar’ because allegedly there was “no physical contact”.
The verdict stated that the act could be qualified as a sexual assault because “mere groping” is outraging the modesty of a woman only, coming under minor offenses.
As such, the accused was acquitted of the serious charges as the Nagpur bench of a single judge, Justice Pushpa Ganediwala, said there was a “lack of evidence” to support the claims made by the victim and the other witnesses.
The High Court was hearing the case of the appellant Satish Ragde, resident of Deepak Nagar, Nagpur where he refused to accept the charges made against him in the sessions court.
The incident dated back to 2016 when a 12-year-old girl was kidnapped by the accused on the pretext of giving her guava. He then took her to his home, in the vicinity of the girl’s house, and groped her breasts. The girl shouted when he proceeded his attempts to remove her ‘salwar’. After this, the appellant bolted the door and climbed down his house staircase when he met the girl’s mother. She was informed of her daughter’s presence and screams from the accused’s house by a neighbor.
When she questioned her daughter’s whereabouts to the accused, he denied knowing anything about it. Upon reaching and unbolting the accused’s house door, she found her daughter crying on the floor. She then narrated the entire tale to her mother after which, the duo immediately left to raise a complaint in the police station.
The sessions court had convicted the accused in Indian penal Code’s Sections 354 (outraging modesty), 363 (kidnapping), and 342 (wrongful restraint) along with Section 8 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.
However, the accused filed a petition in the Bombay High Court, challenging the special court’s verdict.
The single bench judge, comprising of a woman, called out loud the definition of POCSO’s Section 8 and said that as there is no clarity on whether the accused removed the girl’s top or even slid his hands under her clothes or not, there is no proof of any physical contact. She said this is only a minor offense and can be stated under section 354 but not a grave charge as POCSO.
She added that “physical contact” refers to “direct skin-to-skin touch with sexual intent without penetration”.
“Considering the stringent nature of punishment provided for the offense (under POCSO), in the opinion of this Court, stricter proof and serious allegations are required. The act of pressing of the breast of the 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 the top and pressed her breast, would not fall under the definition of sexual assault,” the court noted.
The POCSO law awards a minimum punishment of 3 years to the convict while Section 354 of the IPC lays a minimum punishment of one year. Both the crimes have maximum imprisonment of 5 years with a fine.
Section 7 of the child protection law states, “Whoever, with sexual intent, touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of the child or makes the child touch the vagina, penis, anus or breast of such person or any other person, or does any other act with sexual intent which involves physical contact without penetration is said to commit sexual assault.”
Justice Pushpa said the punishment needs to be synchronous with the severity of the crime. As such, the court acquitted the 39-year-old accused of POCSO and Section 363 of the IPC.
The court found him guilty of a minor offense and charged him with Sections 354 and 342 only. He was sentenced to one year in jail with a fine of Rs. 500 under the IPC 354 charge and 6 months imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 500 under the IPC 342.