VICTIMS OF sexual harassment who take legal recourse, are in for a long-drawn wait with the average duration between two hearings spanning nearly a year in most cases, while the accused are out on bail.
For instance, the metropolitan magistrate’s court in Andheri is hearing two cases of sexual harassment filed against Arunabh Kumar, the founder of online portal The Viral Fever, last year. One of the two cases filed by the MIDC police station in Andheri was last heard on April 11, 2018, and the next hearing is slated for February 7, 2019. The second case against him filed by Versova police was heard in April and will next be heard on December 31.
Similarly, in the same court, nine hearings have taken place in the sexual harassment case filed against film director Subhash Kapoor in 2014, with the most recent adjournment in August being on January 8, 2019. Four years since the FIR, the court is yet to frame charges against Kapoor and other accused. In both cases, the accused are booked under charges, including Section 354 (sexual harassment) of the Indian Penal Code. Legal experts say this is the status of most cases even for other offences, where the accused are out on bail. With the high number of pendency of cases in the criminal justice system, priority is given to cases where the accused are in jail as undertrials.
Data from the National Judicial Data Grid on pending cases before the magisterial courts in Mumbai, which includes the Andheri court, shows that there are 4,18,802 cases pending with 59,252 pending for over 10 years. The data is also categorised under those ‘filed by women’, which has a pendency of 7,925 cases till Friday. Data from the National Crime Records Bureau’s report, Crime in India, 2016, shows 14,715 pending cases with a pendency percentage of 94.1 per cent.
“Due to the long pendency before courts, there is a delay in general in the criminal justice system. In that case, compared to those offences which are bailable or the accused are out on bail, urgency is given to those where accused are behind bars pending trial. There is a need to overhaul the justice system to increase the number of judges to reduce pendency. For women survivors, due to such delays, there is no closure as they know they have to still come before court to depose after many years and face cross-examination by the accused,” said Anubha Rastogi, the advocate representing the woman who had filed a complaint against Kapoor in 2014. Legal experts say directives to courts to expedite cases involving body harm and conclude them within two years may benefit survivors.