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Stereotypical notions about women to be avoided; SC on issuing guidelines to deal with sexual crimes

“The wisdom required of a judge is to recognize, consciously allow for, and perhaps to question, all the baggage of past attitudes and sympathies that fellow citizens are free to carry, untested, to the grave. True impartiality does not require that the judge have no sympathies or opinions; it requires that the judge nevertheless be free to entertain and act upon different points of view with an open mind.” - Excerpts from the Canadian Commentaries on Judicial Conduct.


APARNA BHAT & ORS. V STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH & ANR.

Criminal Appeal No.329 Of 2021

March 18th, 2021


The Hon’ble Supreme Court Justice A. M. Khanwilkar, S. Ravindra Bhat has decided the present appeal filed by the appellants. The present case is that the accused entered the complainant’s house and attempted to harass her sexually. The case was investigated and a charge sheet was filed. The accused filed an application under Section 438 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 seeking pre-arrest bail. The bail was granted with some following conditions stated


“The applicant along with his wife shall visit the house of the complainant with Rakhi thread/ band on 3rd August, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. with a box of sweets and request the complainant -Sarda Bai to tie the Rakhi band to him with the promise to protect her to the best of his ability for all times to come. He shall also tender Rs. 11,000/- to the complainant as a customary ritual usually offered by the brothers to sisters on such occasion and shall also seek her blessings. The applicant shall also tender Rs. 5,000/- to the son of the complainant – Vishal for purchase of clothes and sweets. The applicant shall obtain photographs and receipts of payment made to the complainant and her son, and the same shall be filed through the counsel for placing the same on record of this case before this Registry. The aforesaid deposit of amount shall not influence the pending trial, but is only for enlargement of the applicant on bail.” (Para 3)


There many cases where the court compromises especially in the form of marriage between the accused and the prosecutrix is abhorrent, and should not be considered a judicial remedy, as it would be antithetical to the woman’s honour and dignity. The appellants submitted that the courts, in many cases, especially under the POCSO Act, granted bail on the plea that an agreement to marry had been reached between the accused and prosecutrix. The appellants also cite Mohan v. State, where the Madras High Court had referred the case of rape of a minor to mediation and observed that the case was fit for attempting a compromise between the parties. In the case of Gyanaranjan Behera v. State of Odisha, the Orissa High Court in a POCSO case granted interim bail to the accused for the purpose of marrying the prosecutrix. In Ravi Jatav v. State of M.P, granting bail shall register himself as a Covid-19 Warrior and was to be assigned work of Covid-19 disaster management at the discretion of the District Magistrate. Imposition of conditions like compulsive community service, etc. is violative of the right to equality and personal liberty, including procedure established by law in the Indian Constitution.

The learned Attorney General, who had been issued notice in this matter, made his submissions in support of the appeal. i. Bail conditions should not mandate or even permit contact between the accused and the victim. ii. Bail conditions must seek to protect the complainant from any harassment by the accused. iii. Where considered necessary, the complainant/prosecutrix may be heard on whether there is any peculiar circumstance which may require additional conditions for her protection. iv. Wherever bail is granted, the complainant may immediately be informed that the accused has been granted bail. v. Bail conditions must be free from stereotypical or patriarchal notions on women and their place in society, and must strictly be in accordance with the requirements of the CrPC. vi. The Courts while adjudicating a case, should not suggest or entertain any notions (or encourage any step) towards compromises between the prosecutrix and the accused to get married, as it is beyond their powers and jurisdiction.

In Sumit Mehta v. State, the court, with respect to the conditions that can be imposed validly under section 438(2) of the CrPC, any condition, which has no reference to the fairness or propriety of the investigation or trial, cannot be countenanced as permissible under the law. So, the discretion of the Court while imposing conditions must be exercised with utmost restraint. The role of all courts is to make sure that the survivor can rely on their impartiality and neutrality, at every stage in a criminal proceeding, where she is the survivor and an aggrieved party. The current attitude regarding crimes against women typically is that “grave” offences like rape are not tolerable and offenders must be punished. The challenges Indian women face are formidable: they include a misogynistic society with entrenched cultural values and beliefs, bias (often sub-conscious) about the stereotypical role of women, social and political structures that are heavily malecentric, most often legal enforcement structures that either cannot cope with, or are unwilling to take strict and timely measures.


Stereotyping affects women’s right to a fair trial and that the judiciary must be careful not to create inflexible standards based on preconceived notions of what constitutes domestic or gender-based violence – (Para 36, V. K. V. Bulgaria)


Using rakhi tying as a condition for bail, transforms a molester into a brother, by a judicial mandate. It is wholly unacceptable, and has the effect of diluting and eroding the offence of sexual harassment. The act perpetrated on the survivor constitutes an offence in law, and is not a minor transgression that can be remedied by way of an apology, rendering community service, tying a rakhi or presenting a gift to the survivor, or even promising to marry her, as the case may be. The law criminalizes outraging the modesty of a woman. Granting bail, subject to such conditions, renders the court susceptible to the charge of re-negotiating and mediating justice between confronting parties in a criminal offence and perpetuating gender stereotypes. ‘Judicial stereotyping’ refers to the practice of judges ascribing to an individual specific attributes, characteristics or roles by reason only of her or his membership in a particular social group. Stereotyping might compromise the impartiality of a judge’s decision and affect his or her views about witness credibility or the culpability of the accused person. The stereotype of the ideal sexual assault victim disqualifies several accounts of lived experiences of sexual assault. Rape myths undermine the credibility of those women who are seen to deviate too far from stereotyped notions of chastity, resistance to rape, having visible physical injuries, behaving a certain way, reporting the offence immediately, etc.


The text of judicial decisions and opinions constitutes the law by which our common law system abides and the basis on which judges, lawyers, and citizens make reasoned legal judgments about future action (Para 41, State of Punjab v. Gurmit Singh & Ors.)


The Court holds that the conduct, actions or situations are deemed irrelevant i.e. to say that the survivor had in the past consented to such or similar acts or that she behaved promiscuously, or by her acts or clothing, provoked the alleged action of the accused, that she behaved in a manner unbecoming of chaste or “Indian” women, or that she had called upon the situation by her behaviour, etc. These instances are only illustrations of an attitude which should never enter judicial verdicts or orders or be considered relevant while making a judicial decision; they cannot be reasons for granting bail or other such relief. The instances spelt out in the present judgment are only illustrations; the idea is that the greatest extent of sensitivity is to be displayed in the judicial approach, language and reasoning adopted by the judge. Even a solitary instance of such order or utterance in court, reflects adversely on the entire judicial system of the country, undermining the guarantee to fair justice to all, and especially to victims of sexual violence.

By considering the following decisions - (a) Bail conditions should not mandate, require or permit contact between the accused and the victim. Such conditions should seek to protect the complainant from any further harassment by the accused; (b) Where circumstances exist for the court to believe that there might be a potential threat of harassment of the victim, or upon apprehension expressed, after calling for reports from the police, the nature of protection shall be separately 21 considered and appropriate order made, in addition to a direction to the accused not to make any contact with the victim; (c) In all cases where bail is granted, the complainant should immediately be informed that the accused has been granted bail and copy of the bail order made over to him/her within two days; (d) Bail conditions and orders should avoid reflecting stereotypical or patriarchal notions about women and their place in society, and must strictly be in accordance with the requirements of the Cr. PC. In other words, discussion about the dress, behaviour, or past “conduct” or “morals” of the prosecutrix, should not enter the verdict granting bail; (e) The courts while adjudicating cases involving gender related crimes, should not suggest or entertain any notions (or encourage any steps) towards compromises between the prosecutrix and the accused to get married, suggest or mandate mediation between the accused and the survivor, or any form of compromise as it is beyond their powers and jurisdiction; (f) Sensitivity should be displayed at all times by judges, who should ensure that there is no traumatisation of the prosecutrix, during the proceedings, or anything said during the arguments, and (g) Judges especially should not use any words, spoken or written, that would undermine or shake the confidence of the survivor in the fairness or impartiality of the court.

The National Judicial Academy to make necessary inputs which have to be made part of the training of young judges, as well as form part of judges’ continuing education with respect to gender sensitization, with adequate awareness programs regarding stereotyping and unconscious biases that can creep into judicial reasoning. The Bar Council of India should also consult subject experts and circulate a paper for discussion with law faculties and colleges/universities in regard to courses that should be taught at the undergraduate level, in the LL.B program. The BCI shall also require topics on sexual offences and gender sensitization to be mandatorily included in the syllabus for the All India Bar Examination. Before parting, this Court expresses its gratitude for the valuable suggestions and the assistance rendered by the learned Attorney General pursuant to the notice issued. Each High Court should, with the help of relevant experts, formulate a module on judicial sensitivity to sexual offences, to be tested in the Judicial Services Examination. In the light of the above, the bail conditions in the impugned judgment, is set aside and expunged from the record.


“The wisdom required of a judge is to recognize, consciously allow for, and perhaps to question, all the baggage of past attitudes and sympathies that fellow citizens are free to carry, untested, to the grave. True impartiality does not require that the judge have no sympathies or opinions; it requires that the judge nevertheless be free to entertain and act upon different points of view with an open mind.” – Excerpts from the Canadian Commentaries on Judicial Conduct.


The appeal is said to be disposed of.



Shantha Gopika R

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