After a verdict delivered by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court went viral for all the wrong reasons, Shiv Sena leader and Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi has joined the clamour. She has requested Maharashtra's Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development Yashomati Thakur to take up the issue.
A single-judge bench of Justice Pushpa Ganediwala had overturned the conviction of a man accused of sexually assaulting a minor girl by pressing her chest and partially stripping her. The HC had ruled that while his actions could certainly be penalised under Section 354 of the IPC (outraging the modesty of a woman), they would not classify as "sexual assault" under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
As The Free Press Journal's Narsi Benwal had reported earlier, the judge had, modifying the conviction, opining that "stricter proof and serious allegations are required." Note that this does not mean that the man has been absolved of all wrongdoing. As the judge noted, his actions are punishable under the IPC. The quantum of punishment, however, may be less severe now.
"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 had held.
Needless to say, the verdict has outraged many online.
"Aghast to read Nagpur bench of HC verdict where the judge acquitted a 38 year old man for sexual assault on a 12 year old girl. Says no skin to skin contact established hence a minor offence. What a shame if we normalise this sick,pathetic, immoral act with negligible consequences," Chaturvedi tweeted.
In a follow-up post, she urged Thakur to look into the issue, warning that such a verdict would have "far reaching negative consequences in our quest for making an empowered society for women and girls."
Chaturvedi is not the only one expressing outrage. Over the last day or so, countless other public figures have stepped forward to criticise the decision. And while it is unclear whether this is criticism of the verdict or the judicial system as a whole, the common consensus appears to be that the presence or absence of the minor's clothes should not affect the punishment.
"I tried for long but m still left with no words to describe how I feel after reading this," said actor Taapsee Pannu.