Unfortunately, we have failed as a society to identify signs of abuse of children and protect them, observed the Bombay High Court earlier this month, while denying bail to a man booked for abetting the suicide of his niece, whom he sexually harassed. The court noted that the accused being a married person was mature enough and could have avoided harassing the victim, who jumped from her balcony in September 2020.
The bench of Justice Bharti Dangre was hearing a bail plea filed by Gaurav Narkhede, through senior counsel Abad Ponda.
According to the prosecution case, the victim had visited Narkhede’s house in the summer vacation of 2018. The accused started making sexual advances towards the victim and even attempted to touch her private parts. After the victim returned home, the accused continued sending lewd messages to her over WhatsApp, screenshots of which were saved by the victim on her phone.
As per her suicide note, the victim was very scared of the accused. As he was her father’s cousin, she couldn’t disclose her ordeal to her family but opened up before her friend, who then informed the victim’s mother about it. When the mother confronted the victim about the messages, she handed her cell phone to her and jumped from her balcony.
Refuting the allegations against his client, Ponda submitted even if it is assumed his client has committed an error in texting the girl and that he had crossed his limits, at the most he can be said to have committed a moral blunder. “The extreme step taken by the deceased was not the only solution left to her as there were other ways the issue could have been sorted out,” he submitted.
Having noted the submissions and the material in the chargesheet, the bench said the victim was a young girl, who was hesitant to disclose the ill-intentions of the accused – her own uncle. “This factor distinguishes the present case since it revolves around an intimate relationship with her own uncle, which posed a barrier for the victim to report to anyone in the family, but she chose to disclose it to her close friend,” the judge said.
As far as the suicide note is concerned, the bench said, “It is scribed by the deceased few hours before she took the extreme step and is an expression of despair and her anguish; it reflects her desperation and pain. She was a girl in formative years and her writing gives an impression that she felt trapped.”
“The screen shots from the mobile make it apparent that the applicant was harassing the deceased and, in spite of her strong protest, was seeking something from her, leaving her in a despondent state,” Justice Dangre added.
To the submission advanced by Ponda that there wasn't any instigation on his client's part for the victim to commit suicide, the court noted that in certain cases there are possibilities of having no direct evidence in regard to instigation which may bear a direct nexus to suicide.
"In such a case, inference will have to be drawn from the surrounding circumstances and it will have to be ascertained whether circumstances had been such which in fact had created a situation that a person felt totally frustrated and committed suicide," the court held.
Noting that he deceased mutely suffered everything for more than a year, Justice Dangre said, "Sexual violence know no boundaries. It occurs in every country, across all parts of society."
"A child may be subjected to sexual abuse or exploitation at home too. The widespread use of digital technology can also put children at risk. At times, the abuse occurs at the hands of someone a child knows and trusts," the judge said, adding, "Any form of sexual violence result in severe physical, psychological harm."
As a society, Justice Dangre said, we have failed to protect our children from such offences. "Unfortunately, we have not been able to create an atmosphere in the society where parents, teachers and adults in company of the child can identify signs of abuse and make sure children receive care and protection," she observed.
While denying bail, the judge said, "For the deceased, who was not an adult, but a child, her adolescent years were shaped by harrowing experiences that left her with irreversible and irreparable memories. The fear of stigma, not being believed and being blamed, found her in a precarious situation, left her isolated and insecure and which persuaded her to end her life."
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