The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to examine a plea by the National Commission for Women (NCW) challenging the controversial verdict of the Bombay High Court acquitting a 39-year-old man accused of groping a 12-year-old girl over her dress while stating there was no skin-to-skin contact. The NCW termed this verdict as a “perverse interpretation of physical contact”.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde asked senior advocate Geeta Luthra, representing NCW, why should the court entertain a separate plea when it has already stayed the High Court verdict and the accused is in jail. Luthra argued that Section 10 of the NCW Act provides that the commission should move court if there is either miscarriage of justice or wrong interpretation of the law.
“If such a perverse interpretation of physical contact is allowed, it will adversely impact the basic rights of women, who are victims of sexual offenses in the society and will undermine the beneficial statutory safeguards prescribed under various legislations aimed at protecting the interests of women,” said NCW’s plea filed through advocates Shivani Luthra Lohiya and Nitin Saluja.
At the outset, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal submitted before the bench, also comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, that the top court had already stayed the High Court verdict on January 27 and several new petitions have been filed in the matter. The top court issued notice to the Maharashtra government on NCW’s plea and also issued notice to the accused in the case on a separate plea filed by Maharashtra against the verdict.
The commission said it is aggrieved by this order, and the perverse interpretation adopted by the High Court that the term ‘physical contact’ in Section 7, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) means only ‘skin-to-skin touch’.
Clarifying Section 7, NCW said if an accused touches a victim (or a victim’s body part) with sexual intent then the act of “sexual assault” is complete, and there can be no further classification of contact, i.e. skin-to-skin contact.
“The Impugned Order has trivialized the provision provided by the framers of the enactment for the safety and security of women and children. Therefore, the observations made by the High Court ought to be set aside, otherwise the safety of young girls and women, in general, will be severely jeopardized,” contended the plea.
Other petitioners, the Youth Bar Association of India and Bharatiya Stree Shakti, withdrew their pleas against the High Court verdict.