In a recent order passed by a special court in Thane, a 20-year-old man convicted of sexual harassment was sentenced to “suffer till court rises”. The daylong punishment meant the accused could walk free after the court proceedings for the day concluded.
The accused was found guilty under Section 354 (D) (stalking) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 12 (punishment for sexual harassment) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The maximum punishment under both these sections may extend to three years. In case of stalking, if it is the second conviction, the punishment may extend to five years as per an amendment made to the IPC section.
In 2016, the accused lived in the same building complex as the victim, a Class X student. According to the prosecution, the victim was studying in a school in Kalyan and would attend school from 7 am to noon. She would then go to a tuition class in the evening. The prosecution claimed that the accused kept insisting that the victim become his friend. He professed his love for her and even threatened to kill her if she refused. He had also allegedly told her that he had committed two murders. The victim informed her mother about it after which the accused was given a warning.
Despite the warning, the accused went to the tuition class once day and kept staring at her. The tuition teacher noticed this and directed him to leave the place. The accused, however, didn’t budge and began singing a song. The girl then informed her mother again and a police complaint was lodged. During the trial, the prosecution examined three witnesses, including the victim and her mother. The accused did not produce any evidence, but denied the charges and submitted that the case was filed due a quarrel with the victim’s uncle.
The court ruled that there was no evidence that the complaint was false. “There appears no love relations, therefore, considering the nature of offence alleged and the evidence, prosecution has succeeded in proving the offence but partly,” the special POCSO court said in the order passed last week.
On hearing the accused on the point of sentence, the court said, “He (the accused) stated that he is doing FY science at village. He submitted that lenient view be taken as he has to search for a job,” the court observed, sentencing him to “suffer till the rising of the court” and slapped a fine of Rs 200 in default of which he would have to suffer imprisonment for seven days.
In a similar instance in July, another Thane court had released a 22-year-old, who was also accused of stalking a Class X student, on a good behaviour bond of Rs 5,000 under the Probation of Offenders Act.
Legal experts said such sentencing would end up trivialising offences like stalking, a rampant form of sexual harassment. “A sentence where the accused comes to court in the morning and is let off by evening has no impact on him at all. It ends up making an offence like stalking, which is so menacing, less serious. Instead of minimising the sentence, some courts have given innovative punishment including community service where the accused is made to feel that he has done something wrong than being let off lightly,” said Flavia Agnes, legal scholar and women’s rights activist.