Punjab courts pulled up for letting off alleged rapists

By Rana Ajit, IANS,

New Delhi : The Supreme Court has pulled up a Punjab lower court and the state high court for virtually allowing themselves to be hoodwinked by two men accused of raping a 15-year-old girl by holding them guilty of only kidnapping.

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A bench of Justice V.S. Sirpurkar and Justice Deepak Verma expressed exasperation over the Punjab courts in its ruling pronounced late last week.

The case dates back to 1987 when Parshotam Lal and Ved Parkash of Nakador town in Punjab tricked the teenaged daughter (name withheld) of their neighbour, studying in Class 8, into eloping with them. The duo were arrested a few days later and the girl was rescued from their custody after her father lodged a criminal case with the police.

“It is alleged that during elopement, the duo kept the girl at Hoshiarpur where both of them raped her,” noted the apex court bench and added “but, for some mysterious reason which is beyond our comprehension, the two were not charged with the offence of rape.”

“All that we see in the judgement of the sessions judge is that the charge for the offence of rape was dropped for want of territorial jurisdiction. We are completely at a loss to understand as to how the judge lacked the jurisdiction if the kidnapping of the girl and her subsequent rape were part of one and the same crime,” the judges said.

“The accused persons were never tried for the offence of rape despite there being the perfect scenario for their conviction under it as the girl had not even attained the age of according consent, that is 16 years,” the bench said.

A reason that the lower court had cited for dropping rape charges was the plea of the accused that one of them had got married to the girl, the apex court noted, adding that it was aghast to find that the court had not even bothered to check the marriage claim from the victim.

The lower court had eventually sentenced the two to jail terms of four years each for kidnapping the girl.

But there was no dearth of surprises for the apex court, which found that the high court, on an appeal by the two, had reduced their sentences to one and a half years each, despite there being “no serious challenge” by them to the lower court’s order.

“Since there was no real challenge to the conviction, the high court proceeded to dismiss their appeals. It, however, reduced the sentence from four years to one year and six months,” the bench noted.

The two men appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn even this reduced sentence.

They, in fact, tried to trick even the apex court to be lenient to them by managing to secure three affidavits in favour of them by the victim and her brother, vouching for their good character.

Ironically, it was through these affidavits that the apex court came to know that the girl, who had allegedly been raped by them in 1987 had not been married to either of them but had been married to somebody else.

In the affidavit, the victim, now in her late 30s and a mother of two, had pleaded to the apex court that she “had no grudge or ill will against her rapists as she was blessed with two issues and was enjoying her life with her husband and she did not want any action against them as the matter had been patched up.”

“We cannot accept such argument and acquit the convicts on the basis of affidavits. Kidnapping is also a non-compoundable offence and, therefore, the argument of the counsel for the appellants (rapists) cannot be accepted,” said the bench.

“This apart from the fact that in spite of her so-called marriage with Parshotam Lal, the girl ultimately married somebody else while Parshotam Lal and the other accused, Ved Parkash, married somebody else. Under the circumstances, we do not feel that it will be worthwhile to allow this appeal on the question of sentence as the sentence is already on the lenient side,” the bench said, while ordering that the two be taken into custody.

(Rana Ajit can be contacted at [email protected])