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From crimes against women to juvenile offenders, Indian courts acted tough in 2016

A debatable amendment in juvenile law paved the way for prosecution of children between 16-18 years as adults for heinous offences with a 17-year-old rape accused becoming the first such offender to be tried in 2016 by one of the city trial courts, which acted tough in dealing with crime against women.

From renowned climate scientist R K Pachauri to Peepli Live director Mahmood Farooqui to sacked AAP minister Sandeep Kumar, several well-known faces came under the lens for crime against women, as courts dealt with several cases of betrayal of relationships.

“These are the times when gruesome crimes against women have become rampant and courts cannot turn a blind eye to the need to send a strong deterrent message to the perpetrators of such crimes. Such offences require exemplary punishment,” Additional Sessions Judge Sanjiv Jain remarked in his verdict in one of the cases.

While the maximum punishment of death for two was pronounced in the Jigisha Ghosh murder case of 2009, the progress of a case which was keenly watched globally was the 2014 case of gangrape of a Danish national in which five vagabonds were sentenced to life.

Several offences against women and children by their trusted friends or family members and persons in authority also shocked the conscience of the nation, with courts acting tough on the accused and saying perpetrators of such crimes do not deserve any sympathy.

Courts “cannot and should not give a licence to those who keep on looking for opportunities to exploit the sentiments and vulnerability of girls”, Additional Sessions Judge Anuradha Shukla Bhardwaj said in another order. A widely-reported case was the award of seven-year jail term to Farooqui for raping an American friend at his residence.

Pachauri, the ex-TERI boss, was under constant media glare in a case of sexual harassment lodged by his former colleague and continued to remain on bail. However, he was allowed to go abroad several times by various courts.

While some activists criticised the latest amendment in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 for treating offenders aged between 16-18 years as adults for heinous offences like rape and murder, a juvenile board this August transferred a rape case against a 17-year-old for prosecution by a regular court under the penal law.

Among other such cases, two men were sentenced to life term and 10 years, one for raping a step-daughter and the other for violating his daughter and making her pregnant, with judges observing that the “sacrosanct relationship” of father and daughter was “demolished” and the children could not be given a safe environment.

While a teacher was sent to jail for six months for sexually harassing a girl student in 2013, one of the Delhi courts sent JNU student, Anmol Ratan, to custody for betraying the trust of a fellow student who was allegedly raped by him after spiking her drink.

Several Delhi courts dealt with over half-a-dozen cases of crime against women involving AAP leaders and MLAs including that of sacked minister Sandeep Kumar who spent two months in jail in a rape case after a CD of an alleged sex scandal surfaced.

AAP members also faced prosecution in cases of crime against women ranging from sexual assault, molestation, attempt to murder, domestic violence, threat and abetment to suicide with controversial Okhla, Narela, Sangam Vihar and Deoli MLAs, Amanatullah Khan, Sharad Chauhan, Dinesh Mohaniya and Prakash Jarwal, respectively cooling their heels in Tihar jail for sometime in connection with one or the other offences against women.

Former AAP minister Somnath Bharti’s encounter with law was far from over as the case lodged by his estranged wife for alleged domestic violence continued in a trial court. Another AAP worker Ramesh Bhardwaj, allegedly involved in abetting suicide of a woman party worker, was given bail by a court here after he remained in jail for some days.

Cases of stalking and voyeurism affecting privacy of women were also dealt with sternly as the perpetrators got varying jail terms by courts which stressed the need for “zero tolerance” to crime against women and asked the government to formulate policies to sensitise youth towards gender equality.

“Whether it is a public transport system or public place or shopping malls or multiplexes, women find themselves vulnerable to the threat of stalking everywhere,” a court observed.

Even women, who lodged false rape cases, were not spared by the courts which pulled them up and directed initiation of perjury proceedings against them for misusing laws meant to protect them, with a court observing in one such case that a woman had humiliated the accused and “made a mockery of the judicial system”.

A court here also felt it was time now to have laws to protect and restore the dignity of men charged with false rape cases “as everyone is just fighting to protect the honour of women”, and it has to be examined whether a person acquitted of rape charges be considered as a “rape survivor”.

So was the position in a domestic violence case in which the court imposed a cost of Rs 10,000 on a woman for lodging a false case against her second husband and condemned it saying if she was spared, “a wrong message would go that laws to protect women are being misused.”

To sum up the courts’ role in dealing with crimes against women, another judge observed “the increasing trend of crimes against women can be arrested only once the society realises that any form of deviance against women would not be tolerated and more so in extreme cases of brutality”. “Hence the criminal justice system must instill confidence in the minds of people, especially women.”