Bombay High Court acquitted a 39-year-old man charged with groping a 12-year-old girl since there was “no skin-on-skin contact,” and ruled that groping a child through their clothing does not constitute as sexual assault. Outrage drew across the country as frustrating campaigners battled to address widespread sexual abuse against women and children.
According to court documents, the man brought the child to his house on the pretext of giving her guava in December 2016 when he touched her chest and tried to remove her underwear. He was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to three years in prison in a lower court, but then appealed to the High Court.
On January 19, Justice Ganediwala concluded that his act “would not fall in the definition of ‘sexual assault,” which carries a minimum three-year prison term and can be extended to five years. He was convicted of the lesser charge of molestation since there was “no skin-on-skin contact,”. “It is the basic principle of criminal jurisprudence that the punishment for an offence shall be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime,” she states.
In India, a rape is reported every 15 minutes on average, according to 2018 government data, highlighting the country’s reputation as one of the worst places in the world to be a female. Women reported almost 34,000 rapes in 2018, which barely changed from the year before.
Activists, lawyers and organisations battling for the rights of sexual assault victims denounced the court’s decision, saying it sets a precedent for all other high courts and lower courts who may follow suit. Karuna Nundy, a lawyer at the Supreme Court of India, the country’s top court, called judges who passed judgments that were “completely contrary to established law” and basic rights to be retrained.
Activists have pointed out the continuing issues in the justice system like under India’s legal system, for instance, sexually abusing a trans-person carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.