In remarks that have since garnered widespread criticism, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Bobde asked a government employee accused of repeatedly raping a minor, if he would marry her to escape prosecution. The Supreme Court bench has granted him four weeks of interim protection from arrest while he seeks regular bail, reports ANJALI JAIN.
Marry Her or Lose Job says CJI to Rape Accused
The court was hearing a petition filed by the accused against a verdict of the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court which had set aside a Sessions Court order granting anticipatory bail to the accused. The CJI asked the accused, “Will you marry her?”, to which his Advocate, Anand Dilip Langde, replied that he would take instructions from his client and inform the court.
“You should have thought before seducing and raping the young girl. You knew you are a government servant,” replied the CJI. “We are not forcing you to marry. Let us know if you will, otherwise you will say we are forcing you to marry her,” the bench added.
When the hearing was resumed, the counsel replied that the accused would be unable to do so as he was already married to somebody else. “I wanted to marry her. But she refused. Now I cannot, as I am already married. The trial is going on, charges are yet to be framed.”
These remarks were made when the bench was hearing a petition by a 23-year-old government employee, Mohit Shubhash Chavan, who works as a technician in the Maharashtra State Electric Production Company Ltd. He has been accused of raping a minor cousin in 2014-15 when he was allegedly 17-18 years old, and the survivor was studying in the 9th standard, according to The Indian Express. The accused, who faced charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) has sought in his appeal that according to the state’s regulations, he would be suspended from his job if he was detained for over 48 hours.
Though the court dismissed Chavan’s petition, it granted him interim protection from arrest for four weeks, during which time he can seek regular bail from the Sessions Court.
Bail Granted by Trial Court Despite Complainant’s Minor Status
While pointing out that she was still a minor when the incident took place, the woman in her plea had argued that it would still be a criminal offence whether she had provided consent or not. This was ignored by the sessions court hearing the case, stating that she had acquired “sufficient maturity” at the time of the incident, because “she has with meticulous details mentioned about use of contraceptive by the Applicant” and had delayed reporting the case.
The court then granted bail to the accused stating that the “possibility of false implication of the Applicant who is now a public servant cannot be ruled out.” Following this, the woman moved the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court against the Sessions Court order.
The FIR filed against him in 2019 has booked him under charges of Section 376 (punishment for rape), 417 (punishment for cheating), 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code. It also includes Sections 4 (punishment for penetrative sexual assault) and 12 (punishment for sexual harassment) of the POCSO act.
Raped, Threatened and Tricked by Distant Cousin
According to the complaint filed by the woman, the accused, who was a distant relative of hers started stalking her in 2014-15, when she was around 16-years-old and studying in class 9 and would often visit her home, where he raped her one day when her parents weren’t home. Thereafter, he repeatedly raped her while intimidating her using threats of violence against her and her family. He has been accused of threatening her of an acid attack if she disclosed the incident to anyone. He has denied all these allegations in court.
The woman has further alleged that after she tried taking her own life, she and her mother sought to file an FIR after which the mother of the accused made the promise of marriage once the woman turned 18. She also allegedly made the survivor’s mother sign a notarised undertaking that claimed the relations between the two had been consensual, according to the petition filed by the accused. However, an FIR was later filed when the accused retracted on the promise of marriage once the woman turned 18.
Bombay HC Questions Trial Court Ruling; Calls it “Atrocious”
While setting aside the “atrocious” order by the Additional Sessions Judge, the Bombay High Court bench questioned the ruling while calling it “perverse, arbitrary and capricious.” The court noted that “one can easily conclude that going by the allegations, respondent No.2 (accused) has sexually exploited the applicant for a sufficiently long period since she was around 16 years of age”.
The court further said that the existence of the notarized document of declaration itself was proof that the accused “and his family seem to be so influential that they could get this executed in writing from the applicant and her widowed mother” and clearly indicated that the accused had in fact indulged in sexual relations with the woman when she was a minor.
Criticizing the trial court’s ruling, the judgement read, “If such is the state-of-affair, the impugned order passed by the learned Additional Sessions Judge is indeed atrocious. The approach of the learned Judge from such reasoning clearly shows his utter lack of sensitivity in such serious matters. Inspite of having noted that the applicant was still a minor when respondent No.2 had sexually exploited her and inspite of observing that her consent would be immaterial, he has concluded that it was a consensual relation.”
Challenging this ruling before the Supreme Court, the accused has claimed that he has not violated any terms of his bail and there was no reason to rule against his anticipatory bail, that too after a year.
(Anjali Jain is a journalism student at the Symbiosis Institute for Media and Communication, Pune and an intern with The Leaflet.)