OBSERVING THAT incidents of sexual harassment on public transport are experienced by every common woman, a special court on Wednesday sentenced a Mumbai-based businessman to three years in prison for sexually abusing a 17-year-old actor on a Delhi-Mumbai flight in 2017. The court, however, allowed his application to suspend the sentence till he files an appeal against the conviction before the Bombay High Court and granted him bail.
The 41-year-old man was found guilty under sections pertaining to sexual harassment of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO)Act.
The 17-year-old actor had in her complaint in 2017 told the police that the accused, who was seated behind her in the business class of a Delhi-Mumbai flight on December 9, had moved his foot on her shoulder and towards her chest. The court held that the act was committed with a “sexual intent”.
“The incident, as deposed by the female victim, that is, inappropriate explicit touch by the male accused during a journey is a very common sexual assault experienced by every common woman travelling in public transport. The present case would reflect that such experience is not an exception in the most elite mode of transportation that too in business class,” special judge A D Deo said in her order. She added that such incidents are usually ignored and go unreported as women feel that there is no likelihood of coming across the assailant after the journey.
The court relied on the testimony of the nine prosecution witnesses, including the victim, her mother, a co-passenger and two cabin crew members of the flight.
The accused, through his lawyers H S Anand and Adnan Shaikh, had claimed that he was returning from Delhi after a relative’s funeral and was sleeping throughout the flight. He said that the testimony of the crew members reveals that he had asked not to be disturbed.
The court said that while travelling in public transport, a person must be conscious of not causing any inconvenience to others, and said that it would not accept “I was sleeping” as a defence.
The court relied on the testimonies of the co-passenger, who had heard the victim get up from her seat at the time of landing and saying something to the accused, when he heard the victim use the word “leg” or “foot”. While the crew members also said that they had seen the victim get up from her seat, they had said they could not hear what was said as there was noise at the time of landing.
The court said that the testimony of the victim was reliable and that since there was no previous enmity between the accused and her, there was no reason for her to falsely implicate him, also rejecting the accused’s contention that she was “hallucinating”.
“The victim is a child actor who has achieved stardom at an early age… The victim, who is already famous in her profession, will not try to be in limelight by levelling allegations of sexual harassment,” the court said.
The accused’s lawyers said that they will be filing an appeal against the order in the HC.