Bombay HC: No “Skin to Skin” contact is no sexual assault

Umamageswari Maruthappan

A Single-judge Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court passed a disputable judgement while acquitting an accused convicted under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.

The verdict was delivered by Justice Pushpa Ganediwala who observed that, “the act of pressing of breast of the child aged 12 years, in the absence of any specific detail as to whether the top was removed or whether he inserted his hand inside top and pressed her breast, would not fall in the definition of ‘sexual assault.”

The accused, Satish Ragde, was convicted by a lower Court under sections 342, 354, and 363 of the Indian Penal Code, along with section 8 of the POCSO Act, for pressing the breast of a 12-year old minor girl.

Section 342 of the IPC provides punishment for wrongfully confinement, Section 354 provides punishment for use of criminal force assault to a woman with an intention to outrage her modesty, Section 363 provides punishment for kidnapping and Section 8 of the POCSO Act provides punishment for sexual assault.

On an appeal by the convict, the Bombay High Court while upholding the conviction under sections 342 and 354, acquitted the appellant from the scope of section 8.

“Considering the stringent nature of punishment provided for the offence (under POCSO), in the opinion of this court, stricter proof and serious allegations are required,” the Judge observed.

She also stated that mere touching in absence of any “direct physical contact” i. e. Skin to Skin contact, would not come under the definition of sexual assault provided in section 7 of the POCSO Act.

According to the learned Judge, “having regard to the nature of the alleged act by the appellant and having regard to the circumstances, in the opinion of this Court, the alleged act fit into the definition of the offence as defined in Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code.” It thereby set aside the ruling of the lower court with regards to section 8 of the POCSO Act.

The appellant is sentenced under section 354 of the IPC with one year of rigorous imprisonment along with a fine of Rs. 500. Additionally, the punishment under section 342 of the IPC with six months of imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 500 was maintained.

Further, the High Court issued a non-bailable warrant against the appellant and cancelled his earlier bail bond.

According to the statements given by both the parties, in the year 2016, the appellant had taken the minor girl to his place, pretending to offer her guava. Later on, it is alleged that he had pressed her breasts and also attempted to remove her salwar.

Following the incident, the victim’s mother had filed a complaint and the appellant was convicted by the lower court.

The High Court while hearing the appeal seemed to be liberal in its interpretation of the POCSO Act and disregarded section 29 of the Act, according to which the Courts have to presume the presence of offence under section 7.

It also made a narrow observation of the definition of sexual assault by limiting the application of the words “any other act” to include any offence other than those mentioned in the section itself.

The Court applied the principle of ‘Ejusdem Generis’ in this case which states that when general words follow specific words, the interpretation of the general term must be confined to the specified ones.

The Single-Judge Bench’s judgement is highly doubted to set a good precedent for similar cases in the future and thus gives way to controversies.

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