Wednesday, April 17, 2024

False Sexual Offence Cases: Who is the Real Victim?

The Delhi High Court recently observed that it had become a trend to register false FIRs in sexual offence cases, thereby tarnishing the image of the man. The police too prefers to ignore them.

By Rajbir Deswal

In the Indian social scenario, “jar, joru and zameen (riches, women and land)” are often seen as causes for all kinds of strife. The corrective legal provisions, as enshrined in the statute, are clearly defined. Yet, a reference to the basics is warranted.

It has often come to light, though it is not overtly expressed, that to settle scores with detractors, people use women as shields, who then use disarming tactics and twist facts. This not only makes their case stronger, but the due process of law is misused. Courts, women commissions and other forums are known to have a proclivity towards the weaker sex despite no strong evidence being there to prosecute. At times, the women themselves engineer complaints for extraneous reasons.

The Delhi High Court recently observed that sexual offences falling under Sections 354, 354A, 354B, 354C and 354D of the IPC are serious and tarnish the image of the person against whom they are made. An observation by the Court, which needs to be taken as an advisory by investigating agencies, is: “Allegations regarding these offences cannot be made at a drop of a hat.

This practice is an abuse of the process of law.”

Justice Subramonium Prasad was referring to a matter seeking quashing of an FIR filed under Sections 509 (insult the modesty of any woman), 506 (criminal intimidation), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 341 (wrongful restraint), 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354A (Sexual harassment) and 34 (common intention) of the IPC.

Bharti Arora, I-G of Karnal Range, in Haryana, says: “It is no less than a social death for a person falsely accused of offences relating to the feminine body. Even if his stand is vindicated, it takes several years to reach that stage, by which time, the man’s self-esteem and dignity have been damaged.” She says dowry sections are often misused. Even some rape cases and many of those falling under unnatural sex are found to be false. Bharti questions: “Where is the section of law which prescribes punishment for luring a woman into marriage and then raping? But we are registering cases under Section 376 of the IPC and following them up to the courts.”

The Delhi High Court said the time had come to initiate action against persons who file frivolous complaints on sexual harassment for ulterior purposes. It noted that it had become a trend to register FIRs alleging such offences. The Court was aware that police personnel have to spend time investigating frivolous cases, attend court proceedings and prepare status reports, with the result that investigation into serious offences gets compromised.

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Shashi Kant Sharma, former Additional Director, Prosecution, Haryana, and a practising advocate, said that after the coming into force of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, arising out of the Nirbhaya incident, the number of false cases by women alleging sexual offences and illegal arrests of men had increased.

Section 182 of the IPC explains what happens when false information is given to a public servant. Sharma says: “This Section prescribes punishment for giving false information with intent to cause public servant to use his lawful power to the injury of another person. Similarly, for malicious prosecution, the victim can avail the remedies under civil and criminal law and for violation of the fundamental rights as envisaged under Article 21 of the Constitution. Civil law remedy may be availed by way of filing a suit for damages. Criminal law deals with prosecuting the wrongdoers for malicious prosecution and perjury. But in the present scenario, this prosecution is still a developing law.”

In July 2020, a teacher in a private school in Karnal alleged gang rape. It involved the proprietor of the school and a revenue officer. No immediate arrests were made. After a few weeks, the woman allegedly settled the issue after Rs 7.5 lakh was given. This money was recovered from her and a case registered. The woman accused the son of a lawmaker to be behind her being framed and trapped. Namrata Gaur, member of the Haryana State Commission for Woman, rubbished the probe in this case and termed it shoddy. The Karnal police came under criticism for its allegedly biased role against the woman accused. A Special Investigating Team of the adjoining Kaithal district is now probing this case.

Shockingly, the Mewat region in Haryana, one of the most backward in the state, has become notorious in this issue as rape and molestation cases are often registered to extort money. A former officer of Mewat revealed that 80 percent of such cases have turn out to be of extortion. This trend is fanned by vested interests called “thondas” (go-betweens), who after getting an FIR filed by a woman, settle the issue between the parties.

Recently, a TikTok star of Haryana with political ambitions, allegedly slapped a government official on duty for “indecently treating” her. The video of the assault went viral as the complainant played the victim card. Some years back, there was a sudden spurt of rape cases in the state and as the police registered cases, they found many of them to be false.

Unfortunately, those women who genuinely suffer sexual assaults often don’t report them due to the stigma attached. Society looks on these women as being of easy virtue. It is an irony that police do not have any interest in tackling such cases because the general perception is that either the case will not succeed or end up being compromised. For this reason, if the allegations of sexual offences are found to be false, the police do not close them. This is the reason that there is no data available on false cases.

Generally, if such cases are closed, it is done after a statement from the victim that she was under a false belief of the identity of the person. This way, she is insulated from any legal action. The police too are complacent as they are relieved to be rid of an unnecessary case.

Haryana has had women police stations in all districts since 2016. The sole aim of starting them was to afford a platform for victims of sexual offences to report crimes without any hesitation and to seek action against the perpetrators. But lately, almost 50 percent of the crimes in other police stations are being allotted to women police stations since the complaints invariably bring some aspect of women victimisation. If there is an issue regarding distribution of property, a case would be made out where the male of the other party would allegedly molest a woman from this side. In marital discord and domestic violence cases, an accusation made with impunity these days is of unnatural sex being perpetrated on the victim to make the case stronger and non-bailable.

In the recent case where former Union minister MJ Akbar had sued journalist Priya Ramani, the court observed: “The woman cannot be punished for raising voice against the sex abuse on the pretext of criminal complaint of defamation as the right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of woman as guaranteed in Indian Constitution under Article 21 and right of equality before law and equal protection of law as guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution. The woman has a right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades.” The judgment underscored that a person’s “right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of right to dignity”.

Another recent case on gender sensitivity which drew criticism was when a Supreme Court judge asked (but later withdrew) whether the rape accused would marry the minor girl. This disturbing lack of gender sensitivity from the top court is, indeed, shocking. Though the Court clarified that it was not forcing the accused to marry the victim, the damage was done. The Court’s comment trivialises sexual violence against women.

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Another shocking judgment was in 2020 from the Madhya Pradesh High Court which granted bail to a molestation accused on the condition that he request the victim to tie him a “rakhi”.

It is sad that rape cases too have been compromised and settled.

—The writer is a retired IPS officer, an advocate and a commentator


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