The judgment delivered by the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court has caused a rising tide of criticism among not just women’s rights propagators but also caught the attention of national commissions. The National Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) wrote to Maharashtra government seeking action in terms of an appeal while the National Commission of Women (NCW) has announced that it will itself file an appeal in court.
In brief, the Nagpur bench judgment delivered by Justice Pushpa Ganediwala did not deem the act of the accused to be sexual assault under Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act since the single judge bench deemed there was lack of ‘skin to skin’ contact.
The Sessions court, Nagpur had convicted the accused under sections 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 363(kidnapping) and 342(wrongful restraint) of IPC and section 8 of POCSO Act. The Nagpur bench acquitted the accused of section 8 of POCSO Act stating that punishment for an offence should be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime.
Reacting to this judgment, the NCPCR, on January 25, wrote to Chief secretary of Maharashtra, Sanjay Kumar asserting that the prosecution failed to put forth the case of the prosecutrix properly. “If the prosecution had made the submissions as per the spirit of the POCSO Act, the accused would not have been acquitted from the serious offence against the minor,” said Priyank Kanoongo Chairperson, NCPCR in the letter. The letter further states that the remark “skin to skin with sexual intention without penetration” that appears in the judgment needs to be reviewed and the State should take note of this as it seems to be derogatory to the minor victim.
Furthermore, the judgement copy, as has been uploaded on the court’s website and is circulated in the media discloses the name of the minor girl and the NCPCR has asked the State to take note of the same and considering the seriousness of the issue has requested state government to take necessary steps by filing appeal against the high court judgment. The Commission has also sought details of the minor girl so it can provide legal aid or any other help in her best interest.
The National Commission of Women (NCW) also took cognisance of the impugned judgment and announced on its social media handle on Twitter that it will challenge the judgment in court. The post states that the “judgment will not only have cascading effect on various provisions involving safety and security of women in general but also put all the women under ridicule and has trivialized the legal provisions provided by the legislature for the safety and security of women”.
@NCWIndia is going to challenge the Hon’ble Bombay High Court, Nagpur Bench judgement in Criminal Appeal No.161 of 2020, Satish Ragde v. State of Maharashtra dated 19.01.2021. The judgment will not only have cascading effect on various provisions involving safety and security
— NCW (@NCWIndia) January 25, 2021
Moreover, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) – South Asia Region also released a statement raising concern over the judgment. The IPPF has stated that the judgment “fails to take into account that child sexual abuse occurs when a person uses his/her power over a child or youth”. It further states that “abuse is a criminal offence not because of skin to skin or physical contact but because it violates consent. A narrow interpretation of what constitutes sexual assault would harm years of work done by child rights and women’s rights groups in India”.