NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the acquittal order of the accused in the case where Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court had said that groping a minor’s breast without “skin to skin contact” can’t be termed as sexual assault.
The case dates back to February 2020 when a 39-year-old man in Nagpur had been charged for pressing the breasts of a minor.
A trial court in Nagpur had sentenced the accused to three years’ imprisonment under section 8 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) and under section 354 IPC (assault or criminal force with intent to outrage a woman’s modesty).
The man had appealed his conviction following which the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court acquitted the man ruling that “no direct physical contact — skin to skin with sexual intent, without penetration” would not amount to ‘sexual assault’ under Pocso Act.
Why did the Bombay High Court acquit the man?
The HC said the issue before it was whether ‘pressing of the breast’ and ‘attempt to remove salwar’ would fall within the definition of ‘sexual assault’ as defined under Section 7 and punishable under Section 8 of the Pocso Act.
While public prosecutor MJ Khan argued the offence fell within the definition of ‘sexual assault’, the HC held it was “not possible to accept’’ the prosecutor’s submission.
The court said the “basic principle of criminal jurisprudence is that punishment shall be proportional to the seriousness of the crime”.
Justice Pushpa Ganediwala of Nagpur bench had said “stricter proof and serious allegations are required’’ given the stringent punishment of three to five years’ imprisonment that ‘sexual assault’ under the Pocso Act entails.
The HC convicted the man for a “minor offence” and sentenced him to one year in jail overruling trial court’s three years of punishment.
The man was on bail. The HC issued a non-bailable warrant against him and said all his other sentences shall run concurrently and he would be entitled for a set-off of term undergone in custody.
Mother found daughter crying inside a bolted room
The minor had testified that she was lured on a false pretext by the accused to his house. She said he had tried to remove her salwar and had pressed her breast.
She tried to shout, but he covered her mouth and left the room after bolting the door from outside. Her mother went to his house while looking for her.
She had seen the accused leave, and on reaching the first floor found the door bolted from outside and her daughter crying inside. She then went to the police station along with her daughter to lodge an FIR, noted the HC.