The Supreme Court bench of Justice SA Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao on Thursday criticized the order dated September 13, 2017, of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, suspending the sentence of imprisonment for 20 years of two students of Jindal Global Law School convicted for gangrape of a co-student and permitting their release on bail during the pendency of the appeals against the conviction.
The bench remarked, “The law teaches something new everyday. It is a rare case when during the course of the trial, the accused were held in custody, and upon conviction, were released on bail. This cannot be allowed to happen. The convicts must return to jail.”
However, the apex court granted stay on the execution of the non-bailable warrant issued against the third convict Vikas Garg, sentenced to imprisonment for 7 years.
Senior counsel Sidharth Luthra, appearing on behalf of the respondent Vikas Garg in the Special Leave Petition (SLP) preferred by the victim against the order of the high court, submitted that Garg was not guilty of the offence of gangrape and had been awarded imprisonment for a term of 7 years in respect of a solitary incident of sexual encounter with the victim. After the suspension of the sentence by the high court, he had been released on bail. But on account of the stay of the order of the high court by the Supreme Court on November 6, 2017, the non-bailable warrant had been issued against Garg. Luthra argued that Garg’s case was different from that of the other two convicts and in view of the same, the warrant against him be stayed.
These submissions were aggressively opposed by the counsels for the victim and the state of Haryana, contending that all three of the convicts were absconding and had refused to surrender.
The Additional District and Sessions Court, in March 2017, had awarded 20 years’ of imprisonment to main accused Hardik Sikri and his friend Karan Chhabra. The third accused, Vikas Garg, was handed a 7-year jail term. They had approached the high court seeking release on bail during the pendency of the appeals.
Allowing their applications, the court had suspended the sentence awarded to them on the condition that they would not leave the country, would abstain from contacting the victim in any manner and would undergo psychiatric counselling “until they are free of their voyeuristic tendencies”. Their parents had been directed to submit to the court a progress report on this aspect after six months.
The order delivered by the bench comprising Justice Mahesh Grover and Justice Raj Shekhar Attri had said that it intended to “balance the concerns of the victim, demands of the society and law and the elements of reformatory and rehabilitative justice”. “It would be a travesty if these young minds are confined to jail for an inordinate long period which would deprive them of their education, opportunity to redeem themselves and be a part of the society as normal beings. Long incarceration at this stage when the appeal is not likely to mature for some time is likely to result in an irreparable damage. We are also of the opinion that the pendency of the appeal, ironically may work as a guarantee to prevent a repeat resulting from the fear of incarceration in the event of failure of the appeal,” the bench had further observed.
Unfortunately though, it had gone on to note the victim’s casual relationships and the lack of “gut-wrenching violence” as “compelling reasons” for suspending the sentence. The court had observed, “The testimony of the victim does offer an alternate story of casual relationship with her friends, acquaintances, adventurism and experimentation in sexual encounters and these factors would, therefore, offer a compelling reasons to consider the prayer for suspension of sentence favourably particularly when the accused themselves are young and the narrative does not throw up gut wrenching violence, that normally precede or accompany such incidents.”
The bench had also lamented the tragedy thrown before them, noting that the “entire crass sequence actually is reflective of a degenerative mindset of the youth breeding denigrating relationships mired in drugs, alcohol, casual sexual escapades and a promiscuous and voyeuristic world.”
The order had made references to the statements of the prosecutrix, explaining that it was necessary to “gain and give an insight into the immature but nefarious world of youngsters unable to comprehend the worth of a relationship based on respect and understanding”.
A careful examination of her statement, the court had opined, evidenced a “perverse streak” and “offered an alternate conclusion of misadventure stemming from a promiscuous attitude and a voyeuristic mind”.
Thereafter, suspending the sentence, it had noted that the trial court had not awarded compensation to the victim and as an interim measure, had directed all three convicts to pay a total compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs to her.
The Supreme Court bench of Justice AS Bobde and Justice Mohan M Shantanagoudar had on, November 6, 2017, granted interim stay against the order of the high court impugned in the present SLP and issued notice thereon.
The matter is scheduled for final disposal on January 18.