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Zero tolerance towards rapists: High Court bench
Equating the crime of rape with murder, a High Court bench, in Mumbai on January 11, declared a “zero tolerance policy” towards rapists, showing no leniency and asked lower courts to deal with such cases “with sensitivity, sternly and severely.”
INDIAN JUDICIAL system perhaps unwittingly encourages the mindset - “Have clout (and lawyer’s fee)! Will molest (or let son rape)!” - prevailing at the highest levels of society. Unless the hauteur is ruthlessly destroyed, the ‘zero tolerance policy towards rapists’ routinely mouthed by cops and judges will only amount to be a cruel farce.
Loud reports have been carried in the media about a ‘clarion call’ to the judiciary issued by a High Court bench (Justice S Radhakrishnan and Justice Roshan Dalvi) in Mumbai on January 11. The bench declared a “zero tolerance policy” towards rapists and asked lower courts to deal with such cases “with sensitivity, sternly and severely.” Equating the heinousness of rape with murder, which legally is the most serious of crimes, the judges deplored the tendency to take a “sympathetic attitude” towards persons accused of rape and of blaming “lack of tough laws” for being lenient. “Whereas a murderer destroys the physical frame of a victim, a rapist degrades and defiles the soul of a helpless female,” said the bench and added, “Social interest needs to be cared for, protected, strengthened by a string of deterrence inbuilt in the sentencing system.”
Well said, Your Lordships! But, that sort of a utopia will be a pipe dream as long as brilliant lawyers sans conscience abound in the society; they are able to argue convincingly enough to shield confirmed rapists and their accomplices from an obligingly awed, if not conniving, courts.
Look at an exemplary case of perhaps the swiftest justice ever obtained from Indian judicial system. It was the verdict pronounced by RK Maheshwari, Additional District Judge, of the fast track court in Rajasthan in April 2006. An ‘educated’ (studying for MBA) youth from a ‘respectable family’ was caught and presented before him, along with a confessional statement and 13 witnesses to corroborate a rape incident. The court found him guilty under section 376 of CrPC and sentenced him to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment plus a fine of Rs 10,000. The whole trial took just three weeks.
The blunder of the victim, a 26-year research scholar from Germany, whose sexual privacy the haughty boy violated without her consent at a hotel room, was to have trusted the well-meaning Indian youth to accompany him on a sightseeing holiday. She sent several SOS alerts from her mobile phone in the form of SMS messages to her relatives in Berlin when she came in his possession; it was only due to the intervention from the German embassy that the Alwar police acted. The accused, Bitti alias Bittihotra Mohanti, was nabbed while taking her back after his ‘adventure’ in Khairthal railway station, on a complaint by the German woman. He confessed the crime, and the statement was promptly presented to the court along with a medical report. The victim subsequently alleged that relatives of the rapist, who happened to be the son of a top IPS officer from Orissa, Bidya Bhusan Mohanti, were threatening her and demanding a compromise.
The justice came surprisingly swiftly, perhaps because it was a clear cut-and-dried case. Mohanti’s counsel Rajeev Bhargava said, “We are presently studying the case and would certainly file an appeal against the judgment in a higher court soon.” However, he could not play the usual tactics that lawyers play in Indian courts to get the boy free, apparently because the German embassy was involved.
So, instead of letting the justice take its own usual Indian course—a few decades in court—the well-connected rapist did the next best thing: Flee from jail! Six months into his jail tenure, his lawyer got him a fortnight’s parole in November 2006 on the pretext of paying an affectionate visit to his sick mother. Bitti jumped parole blissfully and his father, who was DGP in Orissa, would not let the Rajasthan cops find him in his terrain. Rajasthan police registered a case against the IPS officer for sheltering the convict and concealing facts. The DGP made persistent demands that Bitti be shifted to a jail in his home state to help him “reintegrate with the society” by providing medical and family care!
Mohanti Senior rubbished allegations that he was harbouring Bitti and publicly “appealed” to his son to surrender “even if he is apprehending that he will be further tortured and even if he is lodged in Jaipur.” When it came to himself, on the charge of helping his son evade jail term, the DGP too ‘absconded’ in August 2007 when he could no more avoid getting court warrant!
After getting himself placed under suspension, he moved the Supreme Court against the Rajasthan police booking him under non-bailable offences for his crime. The apex court directed him to surrender before the Jaipur trial court before January 17 and only then try to secure bail. He complied with the order a week in advance. Not due to any newfound love for respecting law. The deadline was to be met to avoid getting the tag of ‘proclaimed absconder’ from the Jaipur court, leading to further legal complications and attachment of property!
As soon as the fugitive IPS officer showed up before the court of additional chief judicial magistrate at Jaipur, his lawyer Mukesh Gupta demanded that he be released on bail under section 225 IPC. He argued that his client was unwell, that his 90-year-old mother was seriously ill, that he had an unmarried daughter to care for and so on. But the ‘unsympathetic’ judge Rajendra Bansal rejected the petition and remanded Mohanti to judicial custody. However, the next day, he could secure bail for his high profile client in the additional district court of Chandrika Prasad. He was asked to furnish two sureties worth Rs one lakh each and another surety of Rs two lakhs.
Basanti Mohanti, the DGP’s sister, pleaded, “My brother is innocent. He has not committed any mistake in his life. He should be not be punished for the crime which he has not committed.” She claimed that her brother had also appealed to his son several times not to violate the law by jumping parole! “What more can a father do other than appealing to his son to return?” she said dramatically and added that DGP’s poor wife and sick mother had no close relative to look after them in Cuttack.
Rajasthan Police is at the receiving end for subjecting the ‘innocent’ IPS officer to mental trauma by framing charges against him. He has already paid Rs 50,000 as fine for violation of the parole terms by his son. Legally, there ends the punitive action, according to his supporters. The lawyers have assembled a wide range of arguments: 1. The Rajasthan police’s suspicion that BB Mohanti helped his son escape is not supported by any evidence or witness. 2. Bitti was supposed to stay in Jaipur during the parole period. How did he land in Orissa? 3. What was the Rajasthan police doing when Bitti left Jaipur? 4. Can BB Mohanti be held responsible for everything that his 26-year-old adult son has done or for every failure of the Rajasthan police? 5. In that eventuality, one day some people would suspect the girl was raped as per his advice.
Employing a ‘capable’ legal eagle who can find even better arguments than the above, it is very likely that the top cop will manage to get bail in a couple of weeks and eventually get acquitted. He may even regain his right to lord over the people of Orissa as a police chief. He may sing silently at that point of time, “Have money (to pay for sureties and lawyers), will let son rape again!” Ironically, in all the sound and fury about the IPS officer, the MBA son must have recently celebrated the anniversary of his freedom as a fugitive triumphantly. “To hell with the sentence of RI for seven years.”
Mohanti, shamefully, is not the first top cop of the country to go scot-free, after committing/abetting crime against women and then block justice by employing ‘talented’ lawyers. The case of erstwhile Punjab police chief was even more outrageous. Kanwar PalSingh, widely known as supercop KPS Gill, who is into sports management in a big way after retirement and also runs Institute for Conflict Management, was not just an accomplice for a criminal son. He himself was the ‘hero’ not only in molesting a woman but harassing her mercilessly for daring to take on him. That he is the face of India, as the Chief of IHF (Indian Hockey Federation), must shame every woman in the country.
In August 1996, Gill was convicted of sexually harassing a senior Punjabi female civil servant Rupan Deol Bajaj. That was a full eight years after he ‘slapped her bottom’ in inebriated condition at a party. When she dared to protest, he used his clout as the celebrity ‘Supercop’ to frame her in false cases and make her life miserable. She braved all odds to get a court order directing him to pay a hefty fine and sentencing him three years in prison. That was later commuted to a year on probation by the state high court; it just ordered Gill to pay compensation to his victim and a fine. The unrepentant ‘hero’ went on to the Supreme Court so that he could employ the proverbial Indian judicial delay and harass her more. The SC upheld the HC order in 2005 and he had to shell out over USD 5000 in compensation and legal fee.
If Justices Radhakrishnan and Dalvi are to be taken seriously, these top cops are no less criminal than the family of former naval chief admiral SM Nanda. Nanda’s grandson Sanjeev, also a management student, is charged with mowing down six persons, including three policemen, under the wheels of his BMW car in January 1999. Indian judiciary has been unable to punish the culprit and his high-profile accomplices. Amicus curiae Arvind Nigam of Delhi High Court has found “substantial and corroborative” evidence against top defence lawyer RK Anand and the prosecution lawyer IU Khan, who connived in sabotaging administration of justice. They go about as respected members of the justice administration system and their likes will surely help the Orissa top cop to browbeat the law.
The well-known IPS officer Kiran Bedi who had to call it quits last month while mediocre male officers get repeated extensions even after superannuation, has said, “Loss of ethics and values is the root cause of escalating cases of violence against women.” She is right in insisting that legislation, police and courts alone cannot stem the rot. But, can’t they at least refrain from setting wrong examples for others to follow?
There is no doubt that rapists, molesters and murderers from educated, economically well off sections, wielding high societal status, are increasingly getting away scot-free after their escapades. The Indian judicial system, perhaps unwittingly, encourages the mindset - “Have clout (and lawyer’s fee)! Will molest (or let son rape)!” - prevailing at the highest levels of society. Unless the hauteur is ruthlessly destroyed, the ‘zero tolerance policy towards rapists’ routinely mouthed by cops and judges will only amount to be a cruel farce.
When that is the state of affairs, it is anyone’s guess if there will ever be justice done in the numerous crimes against women, which have made headlines lately—to the Gurgaon beauty parlour owner who went to a Gurgaon police chowki to report loss of her mobile handset but got raped by the head constable; to the schoolgirl from Langate Kupwara, Jammu and Kashmir who got her eyes and ears pounded with sawdust before being gang raped and bled to death; to Payal, Pinki Sarkar, Anjali, Madhu and their 15 other co-victims who first got killed, their corpse raped and then their organs pickled and eaten at Kothi number D-5 in Noida; to the two NRI newlyweds from Navsari who were molested and hounded by a mob of about 60 people outside one of Mumbai’s posh hotels and to the 14-year-old girl who was raped and murdered by four youths at the break of New Year in Maharashtra.
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