Attorney general KK Venugopal told the Supreme Court on Monday that a recent direction given by a high court judge asking an alleged molester to get a “rakhi” tied by his victim if he wanted bail needs to be condemned as the judge was indulging in “plain drama”. During the festival of Raksha Bandhan, sisters tie rakhis on the wrist of their brothers.
Venugopal cited the example to stress on the imperative for gender sensitisation of judicial officers so as to arrest a trend of judges trivialising sexual offences and harming the dignity of victims. He agreed to give suggestions for the court to pass an order sending out the message that orders such as the “rakhi” one are not permissible.
The country’s top law officer was assisting the court in a petition filed by nine women lawyers who appealed against a July 30 order of a Madhya Pradesh high court judge giving bail to a sexual offender on the condition that he would request the woman to tie a rakhi on his wrist on Raksha Bandhan and promise to protect her dignity in the future. The Supreme Court heard the petition on October 16 and requested Venugopal to assist it on the question of whether an order could be passed against judges from passing similar rulings. The petition, filed by advocate Aparna Bhatt, listed several instances where high courts and trial courts had been insensitive to the plight of the victim while passing such orders.
Venugopal said: “This petition serves as an opportunity for the court to educate judges of subordinate courts and high courts on the issue of gender sensitisation. This should be introduced at the time of their recruitment. This is necessary as it could be one way to lay down (for judges) what is permissible and (what is) non-permissible.”
On the July 30 order passed by the MP high court judge, Venugopal said: “On the face of it, the judge seems to have got carried away. The judge should have restricted himself to facts of the case. There are judgments of the court providing restraint on judges while dealing with cases. All this seems to be plain drama and it has to be condemned.”
The bench of justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, and Sanjeev Khanna asked the A-G and other lawyers appearing in the case to submit a short note on the conditions that could be made part of a judicial order laying down “permissible” standards. “The discretion on imposing conditions for bail need to be delineated. Once what is permissible is defined, then automatically everything outside it will be impermissible.”
Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh representing the nine woman petitioners, pointed out during the previous hearing that orders such as the Madhya Pradesh one, are totally against the principles of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). “The judge is aiming at reconciliation when the accused in sexual crimes need to be severely dealt with,” Parikh said. Violence against women, particularly sexual violence, is an extremely serious offence and needs to be dealt with strongly by the courts, the petition stated.
The petition also annexed a Karnataka high court order of June 22, questioning the character of the woman who alleged a man of raping her in the office after she had a few drinks with him. The order was modified after widespread protests. On September 2, the Madhya Pradesh high court granted bail to a rapist who said he wanted to marry the victim.
Supporting the petition, an application moved by a retired judge and a senior lawyer was also heard by the Supreme Court. The application pointed out similar instances where HCs and trial judges have made objectionable statements that tend to dilute or obliterate the heinousness of the crime, thus favouring the accused to get the benefit of acquittal or imposition of lesser sentence. The application was argued by senior advocate Dushyant Dave.
The bench posted the matter for hearing on November 27. The A-G and other lawyers appearing in the case agreed to supply short notes to the court indicating the conditions not to be imposed by judges while granting bail in sexual offences.
“The suggestions made by the A-G are very significant and need to be adopted. After all, gender justice is inherent in the constitutional principles of equality and non-discrimination. An orientation towards viewing women as equal citizens entitled to all freedoms and rights should be a mandatory non- negotiable for all judicial officers,” said advocate Vrinda Grover.