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Sonepat university rape case: HC upholds 20-year jail for two convicts, acquits third accused

The three had approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court to file an appeal against the conviction order in September 2017.

sonepat university rape caseAfter going through the WhatsApp chat, which is the most material evidence on record related to the relationship between the parties, “it was evident that the prosecutrix was facing an abusive relationship with Hardik”, the HC said. (Express file photo by Jasbir Malhi)

The Punjab and Haryana High Court has upheld the 20-year jail term sentenced to two former students of O P Jindal Global University in Sonepat and acquitted the third student in connection with a gangrape and blackmail case of a girl student of the same institute.

The division bench of Justices Tejinder Singh Dhindsa and Pankaj Jain dismissed the appeals filed by convicts Hardik Sikri and Karan Chhabra, and acquitted Vikas Garg from the charges by allowing his plea.

On May 24, 2017, a trial court had awarded a 20-year jail term to prime accused Hardik Sikri and his friend Karan Chhabra for raping and blackmailing the girl. Vikas Garg was awarded a seven-year jail term. The three had approached the high court to file an appeal against the conviction order in September 2017.

The HC said the survivor was not only abused but was denied “even basic dignity of a living creature, compassion and courtesy”. “She was noosed and the dilemma that she was facing was not only to keep the noose loose, but also to conceal it,” the court stated.

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The bench added that it was evident that it is a case of “submission” on the part of the prosecutrix. “Her silence or her caving in to the demands of the accused cannot be termed as consent,” the court noted.

After going through the WhatsApp chat, which is the most material evidence on record related to the relationship between the parties, “it was evident that the prosecutrix was facing an abusive relationship with Hardik”, the HC said.

Perusing the WhatsApp chats between the girl and Hardik, which were placed on record, the HC said: “A composite reading of the whole chat reveals that the prosecutrix was at command of Hardik. He used to blackmail her. At times, she had to seek his permission even for having dinner or even to drink water. The incidents pertaining to their visit to Ethnic Resort and the occurrence at Chandigarh stand proved by their WhatsApp chat.”

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The counsel for Karan argued that convicting the appellants based upon mere testimony of the victim, having suppressed material facts from this court, cannot be treated as trustworthy. “The victim was selective in producing the WhatsApp chats and opted to withhold the majority of the same,” the counsel said. The counsel further referred to various instances recorded in the WhatsApp chat to show that the victim was more than a willing partner in the intimate encounters which she now claims to be without her consent.

Senior advocates RS Cheema and Arshdeep Cheema, appearing for Vikas Garg, contended that so far, as allegations levelled against Vikas are concerned, the same do not constitute offence of rape as defined under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code. They further submitted that the trial court erred in relying solely upon the statement by the prosecutrix. The counsels referred to the cross-examination of the prosecutrix to contend that Vikas was being forced to become a witness in this case. “After he refused, he was implicated falsely at the instance of the police,” they said. Cheema submitted that there is no allegation that the appellant — Vikas — was a member of the alleged WhatsApp Group and there was no chats with him.

Counsel for the prime accused, Hardik, submitted that consensual relations will not fall within the definition of Section 375 of the IPC. “It is not a case of repeated rape/ gang-rap as enumerated in Section 376(2)(n) IPC and/or Section 376-D IPC. Even if the version of prosecutrix is believed to be gospel truth frequency was just twice in 1 year which won’t fall within the definitions of repeated rape/gang rape,” the counsel argued. The counsel added that the case projected vis-a-vis blackmailing and the prosecutrix being under continuous threat also can’t be believed. Referring to a judgement of the Delhi High Court, the counsel for Hardik submitted that if at all the prosecutrix was raped without her consent, she would have immediately confided in her near-and-dear ones.

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The HC, after hearing the arguments, stated: “In fact there is no conflict between the two. Section 90 IPC does not define ‘consent’ but decrees that the ‘consent’ given under fear or misconception is in fact ‘no consent’…As per Section 90, where a person who is accused of doing the act knows, or has reason to believe, that the consent was given by the other person in consequence of fear of injury or misconception, it will not amount to consent.”

On the contention of the counsels for the appellants referring to the chats of the prosecutrix with other boys to put the victim in dock, the HC said, “As per settled law, merely because the victim is alleged to be a woman of easy virtue, her testimony cannot be discarded. She has a right to protect her dignity.”

The HC concluded that, “The Prosecution has successfully proved that the prosecutrix was being blackmailed and forced into an abusive relationship. Hardik and Karan acting in furtherance of common intention committed rape upon the prosecutrix thereby committing offence punishable under Section 376-D IPC.”

On perusing the WhatsApp chats further, the HC held the testimony of the prosecutrix shows that there was any allegation and conspiracy between Vikas and the other two accused. “Qua Vikas Chat between victim and Hardik doesn’t help case of prosecution. Inference is that Hardik and Vikas had no meeting of minds and that Hardik did not force Vikas upon the victim. The victim was in position to say ‘no’ to Vikas. Not only this, she conveyed her ‘no’ for Vikas to Hardik. Thus, the allegation of the prosecution that Vikas was also in cahoots with other two accused could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt”, said the HC while allowing his appeal and extending the benefit of doubt to him.

First published on: 02-10-2022 at 02:31:06 pm
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