The Punjab and Haryana High Court has suspended the sentences of three former law students convicted of gangrape and blackmail while concluding that the victim’s statement reveals a story of “misadventure stemming from a promiscuous attitude and a voyeuristic mind”. The division bench also ordered a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the victim, with the amount to be borne equally by the three convicts.
“Nothing said above should be construed to be an expression on the merits of the case,” said the High Court division bench of Justice Mahesh Grover and Justice Raj Shekhar Attri in the concluding remarks of its judgment passed last week.
The High Court, which was approached by the three men for bail, also placed conditions on them during the pendency of their appeal in a lower court against the conviction. Stating that the victim’s narrative “does not throw up gut-wrenching violence that normally precede or accompany such incidents”, the bench said, “The testimony of the victim does offer an alternate story of casual relationship with her friends, acquaintances, adventurism and experimentation in sexual encounters and these factors would therefore, offer a compelling reasons to consider the prayer for suspension of sentence.”
It further said, “We are conscious of the fact that allegations of the victim regarding her being threatened into submission and blackmail lends sufficient diabolism to the offence, but a careful examination of her statement again offers an alternate conclusion of misadventure stemming from a promiscuous attitude and voyeuristic mind.”
While ordering for counselling to be provided to the three men by a psychiatrist of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, the High Court said it was essential “to balance the concerns of the victim, demands of the society and law and the element of reformatory and rehabilitative justice” while deciding the matter.
“It would be a travesty if these young minds are confined to jail for an inordinate long period which would deprive them of their education, opportunity to redeem themselves and be a part of the society as normal beings. Long incarceration at this stage when the appeal is not likely to mature for some time is likely to result in an irreparable damage,” the bench said.
The case dates back to 2015 when an 18-year-old management student at Sonepat’s O P Jindal Global University had approached the university administration alleging that her former friend Hardik Sikri had been blackmailing her for a year-and-a-half over some of her nude photos, and had forced her to have sexual relationships with him and his two friends, Vikas Garg and Karan Chhabra.
The accused were convicted by a lower court in Sonepat on March 24 this year. Hardik and Karan were sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment and found guilty of gangrape and other criminal offences. Vikas was sentenced to seven years in jail for rape and other offences.
The three were also convicted under Section 67A of The Information Technology Act, 2000, which provides for punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit acts in electronic form.
In its 14-page judgment, the High Court said, “We have considered the argument of the learned counsel and have thought it prudent to refer to the statement of the prosecutrix and her cross-examination… to gain and give an insight into the immature but nefarious world of youngsters unable to comprehend the worth of a relationship based on respect and understanding. The entire crass sequence actually is reflective of a degenerative mindset of the youth breeding denigrating relationships mired in drugs, alcohol, casual sexual escapades and a promiscuous and voyeuristic world.”
The High Court noted that if a “few allegations of the victim regarding blackmail” are correct, they “need strongest condemnation with equal forceful retribution that the law mandates”. But it also said that “what is equally worrisome is how to retrieve the youth who have dragged themselves and their families into an abysmal situation, be it the victim or the perpetrators”.
“Indeed all the transgressions if established would demand retributory justice at the time of decision of the appeal, but while dealing with an issue of suspension of sentence, we are constrained to not only keep in mind the gravity of the situation and the offence, but also to strike a balance between the retributory reformatory and rehabilitative justice,” the bench said.
Stating that the case “is a tragedy of sorts”, which led the “four young lives” including the victim and their families “into an abyss,” the division bench stated that “the perverse streak in both (victim and Hardik) is also revealed from her admission that a sex toy was suggested by Hardik and her acceptance of the same”.
The bench said that it will be the “duty of the parents” to furnish the “progress” reports of their wards — the three men – in court after six months and requested the director, AIIMS, to “facilitate counselling” and forward a report indicating whether they “are free of their voyeuristic tendencies”.