Amid the outrage against the order of the Bombay High Court ruling requirement of "skin to skin contact" for sexual assault under the POCSO law, the Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the orders. The top court has stayed the acquittal of the accused in the sexual abuse case for two weeks, by when the Maharashtra government has been asked to respond.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India Sharad Bobade was moved by Attorney General K K Venugopal on Wednesday.
The AG mentioned before the bench the January 19 judgment of the Bombay High Court's Nagpur bench, which held that groping a minor won't amount to sexual assault unless there is a "skin to skin" contact.
Mentioning the matter, the AG said, "This is an unprecedented order. If allowed to stay, it would set a dangerous precedent."
Having heard the submission, CJI Bobade stayed the orders by which Justice Pushpa Ganediwala of the Nagpur bench had acquitted a 39 year old man of sexual assault charges.
The CJI-led bench even issued notice to the Maharashtra government to respond within next two weeks. The bench further granted time to the AG to file a formal SLP to challenge the HC verdict.
Free Press Journal was the first to report this case, wherein Justice Ganediwala in her judgment had said, "Admittedly, it is not the case of the prosecution that the accused removed her top and pressed her breast. As such, there is no direct physical contact i.e. skin-to-skin with sexual intent without penetration."
Considering the 'stringent' nature of punishment provided for offence of ‘sexual assault’ i.e. a minimum of three years and maximum five years of prison, the judge said that "stricter proof and serious allegations are required".
"The act of pressing the breast of a 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 her top and pressed her breast, would not fall under the definition of ‘sexual assault'," the judge held, adding, "it would certainly fall within the definition of section 354 of the IPC, which penalises outraging the modesty of a woman."
The verdict has received too much criticism from citizens.
Meanwhile, the Youth Bar Association of India (YBAI) has moved the top court seeking to expunge the "derogatory and defamatory" observations of Justice Ganediwala in the said verdict.
"Following the ‘Balika Diwas’ (National Girl Child Day), we were badly perturbed to note through social media, that vide impugned order, the Single Judge (of the HC) had made various observations, concerning the modesty of a girl child, which are not only derogatory and defamatory but the same are also in utter disregard to the applicable laws," reads the plea filed by the association.
Further, even Rekha Sharma, the chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) had tweeted on Monday night that the commission would be challenging the verdict in the top court. She has said that the order, if allowed to continue, would have a "cascading effect."