A delay in lodging an FIR is no reason to discard the testimony of a minor victim who has been sexually abused by her own father at her house, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court said recently.
“In our conservative society, the people remain on the back foot about lodging a report of sexual assault, which has many repercussions. Therefore, merely on the ground of delay, the reliable testimony of the victim cannot be discarded,” said a division bench of Justices Vinay Joshi and Valmiki SA Menezes.
The survivor’s mental condition should also be taken into account, especially when the perpetrator is the head of the family, the court noted. “The FIR itself bears explanation that out of fear of defamation, the report was not lodged initially. One should imagine the mental condition of the victim, when the protector and head of the family itself is a culprit,” it said while hearing an appeal filed by the father challenging his conviction and life sentence imposed by the special POCSO court.
For over a year, the father kept inappropriately touching the minor, the prosecution alleged. On April 6, 2018, when the girl came home from school, the father first beat her with a belt then threatened her with a knife and raped her. The child told her mother and her married sister about the incident the same day.
The incident was not reported initially as the family feared defamation because the father, the head of the family, was the accused. However, on April 11, the girl went to the police station with her mother and a social worker to register an FIR. The defence questioned the delay in lodging the FIR. The bench, however, noted that the delay was due to the fear of defamation.
Victim's Mother & Sister Turn Hostile
The defence also pointed out that the mother and the married sister had turned hostile during the trial and did not support the prosecution. “It is pertinent to note that though the mother did not support the prosecution case, her presence with the victim at the police station assumes significance.
"Since the culprit is her own husband, she may not have gathered courage to give evidence,” the judges said. The father sought leniency claiming that he was the only breadwinner of the family.
However, the bench noted that it was not a case to show leniency. “Always a right balance has to be maintained while imposing punishment which is a delicate task of the court... The punishment should be appropriate to teach the lesson to the accused as well as pass an appropriate message,” it said. The court reduced his sentence from life sentence to 14 years of rigorous imprisonment with fine, saying that it would be an appropriate quantum of sentence “to meet the ends of justice”. Under POCSO, the minimum sentence is 10 years and maximum is life in prison.