Speedy Sexual Harassment Trials: Bombay HC leads the way!
By Soumili Biswas, member of Himmat Research Wing
In an exceptional case, Hon'ble Yashshree Marulkar, Metropolitan Magistrate at Esplanade, Mumbai, recently convicted a person for offences of sexual harassment in a trial that lasted only for two days- one of the shortest trials in the history of anti-sexual harassment cases. The case assumes great importance in light of the usual delays in getting justice faced by the victims of sexual harassment in India.
The incident took place on 18th September, 2021 in a public park when the accused suddenly unzipped his trousers and started walking towards the victim, who was naturally shocked at such an unwarranted act. Eventually, after asking for help from two others in the park, the convict was restrained, while the victim sought help from the police. Soon after, a police vehicle arrived at the spot of the incident and took the accused into custody, who was brought to the police station along with the victim. Thereafter, the victim registered a complaint against the convict and the FIR was promptly registered. The efforts taken by the police officials towards the prompt registration of the FIR, right after the event, was lauded by the Magistrate who deemed it as an exemplary display of “sensitization regarding the heinous crime against women.” Although this is what police officials are legally and morally expected to do, it has turned into a rare occurrence due to the general mindset and disbelief towards the survivor’s testimony. The machinery which is thus, responsible for protecting the interests of the sufferers, often turns into a contributor in aggravating their trauma.
Citing the judgement of the Supreme Court in the case of State of Maharashtra v Chndraprakash Kewalchand Jain, the Magistrate made a pertinent statement noting that a victim in a sexual harassment case does not require any corroborating evidence, except in cases where the testimony suffers from any fundamental contradiction in the opinion of the Court. To believe a victim’s statement only when it is corroborated is an act of adding insult to injury. Therefore, a victims statement has strong evidentiary value under Section 118 of the Indian Evidence Act. After having made this observation, the Magistrate proceeded to scrutinize the evidence of the prosecution and having done so, framed charges against the accused under sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354A (sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment), 354D (stalking) of the Indian Penal Code.
The Magistrate noted,
"Sexual violence apart from being a dehumanising act is an unlawful intrusion on the right to privacy and sanctity of a female. It is a serious blow to her supreme honour and offends her self-esteem and dignity. It degrades and humiliates the victim. It leaves behind a traumatic experience. The accused not only causes physical injuries but more indelibly leaves a scar on the most cherished possession of a woman, i.e., her dignity, honour, reputation…sexual offences are not only a crime against the person or a woman, it is a crime against the entire society."
Therefore, the court noted that is important to show utmost sensibility in deciding the quantum of sentence in such cases, as is sufficient to create a deterrent effect not only on the criminal, but also on all potential criminals. Having considered this, the court sentenced the accused to imprisonment for a term of three years along with a fine of Rs. 1000/-.
The case no doubt, stands out as an instance of efficient and swift prosecution and deserves our appreciation especially since most cases of such nature take years on end in trial. Prompt action is a display of compassion towards the trauma of a survivor of sexual harassment and prevents further harassment at the hands of the criminal justice system. This particular instance deserves to be emulated, and not just to be appreciated in the times to come.
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