New Delhi: The National Commission for Women (NCW) on Monday said it will challenge in the Supreme Court a Bombay High Court judgment that said groping without “skin-to-skin” contact is not sexual assault as defined under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
The judgment will not only have a cascading effect on various provisions involving the safety and security of women in general but will also subject all women to ridicule, NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma said.
It has trivialised the legal provisions provided by the legislature for the safety and security of women, she said.
“@NCWIndia is challenging the Hon’ble Bombay High Court, Nagpur Bench judgement in Criminal Appeal No.161 of 2020, Satish Ragde v. State of Maharashtra dated 19.01.2021,” Sharma said in a tweet, adding that the commission is going to contest it in the apex Court.
Justice Pushpa Ganediwala of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court, in a judgment passed on January 19, held that there must be “skin-to-skin contact with sexual intent” for an act to be considered sexual assault.
In her verdict, the judge said mere groping will not fall under the definition of sexual assault.
In another tweet, Sharma said, “This judgment will not only have cascading effect on various provisions involving safety and security of women in general but also put all the women under ridicule and has trivialized the legal provisions provided by the legislature for the safety and security of women.”
The judgment has drawn the ire of child rights bodies and activists, who have described it as “absolutely unacceptable, outrageous and obnoxious”.
Activist Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, called it an “outrageous judgment” that goes against the letter of the law.
“The POCSO law defines sexual assault very clearly and it has a provision for sexual touch. This notion that you will circumvent the law by saying touch with or without clothes makes no sense at all.
“That is absolute rubbish and it fails the test of common sense also. For me, it is a larger question of who qualifies to be a judge in cases related to gender,” she said.
Yogita Bhayana, an activist who heads the People Against Rape in India (PARI) organization, said it is disappointing to hear such statements from a judge that “motivate criminals”.
“I really think it is very regressive of her to say this,” she said.
After the Nirbhaya rape-and-murder case, Bhayana said they were trying to push that even verbal gestures are considered as assault, adding that they want to be more progressive and move to issues of cyber-bullying. “On the other hand, they are talking about this,” she said.
Prabhat Kumar, deputy director of Save the Children, said nowhere does the POCSO Act talk about skin-to-skin contact.
“The Act talks about physical (abuse), which is largely the use of force to sexually assault. So we feel that this interpretation is not right.
“If there are inconsistencies in the interpretation of this law, then we must choose the law with the stricter punishment for the person accused of the offence. So even that has not been complied with,” he said.