The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed a Bombay High Court order that said groping a minor cannot be considered sexual assault without “skin-to-skin” contact or if clothes were not removed. The order had resulted in a national outrage, especially among women groups.
Attorney General KK Venugopal termed the order “disturbing” that could create a dangerous precedent. The apex court, while staying the order, granted time to Venugopal to file a petition in this regard. The top court also stayed the acquittal of a 39-year-old man charged for groping a 12-year-old in 2016 whose jail sentence was reduced by the Bombay High Court on January 19.
The apex court bench said, “Attorney General has brought to our notice the judgement… in which the High Court has apparently acquitted the accused under Section 8 of POCSO on the ground that the accused had no sexual intent in committing the offence because there was no direct physical contact- skin to skin. The Attorney General submitted that the order is unprecedented and likely to set a dangerous precedent.”
What did the Bombay High Court say?
The Bombay High Court in its order said that groping a minor’s breast without skin-to-skin contact cannot be termed as sexual assault as prescribed under the POCSO Act. Justice Pushpa Ganediwala had said that there must be skin-to-skin contact with sexual intent for an act to be considered sexual, not just groping.
As per the case details, the man had taken the girl to his house in Nagpur on the pretext of giving her something to eat.
He gripped her breast and attempted to remove her clothes, Justice Ganediwala recorded in her verdict. But he “groped her without removing her clothes,” so the offence could not be termed sexual assault but “outraging a woman’s modesty” under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, the judge said.
While Section 354 carries a minimum sentence of one year jail, sexual assault under the stringent POCSO Act means at least three years in prison.
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