In a significant ruling, the Bombay High Court has held that a victim under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, who is an adult, cannot be forced to stay at a correctional home against her wishes.
Justice SS Shinde was hearing a criminal writ petition filed by one Asiya Shaikh, a 34-year-old resident of Pune who claims to have raised the victim in the present case, since she was a child, although she (Asiya) is not her biological mother.
The victim was discovered in a raid at a lodge near Pandharpur. A FIR was registered with Pandharpur Taluka Police Station against 11 accused persons. The victim was rescued and temporarily kept in custody of a social worker.
Thereafter, police filed an application before the JMFC, Pandharpur praying to issue directions to keep the victim in a Corrective Institution i.e. Mahila Sudhargruh, Solapur for her care and protection.
However, applications were filed on behalf of the victim and petitioner praying for the victim's custody to be granted to the petitioner, who is her "believed mother". Although, according to the prosecution, it was the petitioner who forced the victim into prostitution.
JMFC directed the Probation Officer to make an inquiry under Section 17(2) of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956. Accordingly, the probation officer after making inquiry submitted his report to following which the JMFC rejected the two applications in an order dated January 23, 2019 and sent the victim to Shaskiya Mahila Rajya Gruh, Prerana Mahila Wasti Gruh, Baramati, Dist. Pune for her care and protection for a period of one year.
This decision was challenged before the Additional Sessions Judge but the challenge was dismissed. Thus, the present petition was filed.
Advocate Satyavrat Joshi appeared on behalf of the petitioner and APP AR Patil appeared on behalf of the state.
Joshi contended that though the victim has nowhere stated that petitioner had compelled her into prostitution, yet both the Courts have erred in recording a fact that the petitioner had compelled the victim into prostitution. Further, the Probation Officer, after taking into consideration various factors, in his report opined that the custody of the victim may be given to the petitioner, both the Courts below have ignored the report of the probation office, Joshi said.
The court examined submissions made on behalf of the petitioner and the State. But before that, the bench made certain observations about the petitioner herself-
"It appears that the petitioner herein posed her as a real mother of the victim, and it was stated before the learned JMFC that the victim is her daughter. However, the learned JMFC, on interaction with the petitioner, found that she is not the real mother of the victim. It appears that the Petitioner told before the learned JMFC that she did not give birth to Respondent No.2 - Victim XYZ, but she maintains her since her childhood. The learned Additional Sessions Judge has also taken note of such conduct of the Petitioner in paragraph 12 of the impugned Judgment and order."
Thereafter, Court said –
"Victim being major can be sent to the said Corrective Institution against her wishes. The learned counsel for the Petitioner submits that Respondent No.2 -Victim has a right to reside at the place of her choice, to move freely throughout the territory of India and to choose her vocation. It is true that every citizen has right to choose his/her vocation, to move from one place to another throughout the territory of India, and other fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India."
The bench refused to grant the victim's custody to the petitioner as she is an adult, but reiterated the victim's right to move freely in the country-
"Therefore considering the report of probation officer and also considering the fact that Victim XYZ has spent a period of more than six months in the said Corrective Institution, the ends of justice would be met in the present case, if the directions are given to release Victim XYZ from the said Corrective Institution"
Thus, the victim was allowed to move freely as per her wishes and the petition was disposed of.
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