Supreme Court condemns Bombay High Court’s ‘Disturbing’ No-Skin-Touch-No-Sexual-Assault Verdict

Story Highlights
  • Bombay High Court on January 19 released an order that molestation without physical touch would not be considered as a sexual assault, which has created a huge controversy
  • The Youth Bar Association of India has already filed a counter-petition against the concerned verdict

New Delhi: KK Venugopal, the Attorney General of the Supreme Court on Wednesday condemned the Bombay High Court verdict that said the molestation of a 12-year-old-girl was ‘not sexual assault since no skin-to-skin contact’, calling it a ‘disturbing conclusion’. Venugopal, in his statement, said that the verdict would set a ‘dangerous precedent’.

Noteworthily, on January 19, the Bombay High Court released a controversial order, according to which, “Groping the minor girl’s breast without a skin-to-skin contact cannot be termed as sexual assault as defined under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act”.

A judgment was passed on January 19, 2021, by Justice Pushpa Ganediwala of the Nagpur Bench under the Bombay High Court, which gave a verdict that “there must be a skin-to-skin contact with sexual intent for an act to be considered as a sexual assault”.

Ganediwala added in the verdict that “mere groping will not fall under the definition of sexual assault”. A detailed copy of the verdict has been made available lately, inviting huge controversy.

The Bombay High Court released the verdict whilst dealing with a December 2016-incident, regarding a complaint that was lodged by a 12-year-old girl’s mother. The accused namely Satish has “pressed her breast and attempted to remove her salwar”. The girl’s mother rescued her from the spot and filed an FIR against the assaulter.

In February 2020, a 3-years-rigorous-imprisonment and a fine of Rs.500 was imposed on the accused, after the trial court found him guilty under IPC sections 354 9assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 363 (kidnapping), and 342 (wrongful confinement), and POSCO Act’s Section 8 (punishment for sexual assault).

Following the impositions, Satish filed a plea in the Bombay High Court, with a question “whether the ‘pressing of the breast’ and ‘attempt to remove salwar’ would fall within the definition of ‘sexual assault’ as defined under Section 7 and punishable under Section 8 of the POSCO Act”.

The High Court had taken the question into consideration, following which Justice Pushpa V. Ganediwala asserted that sexual assault under POSCO Act means direct (skin-to-skin) physical contact. “Admittedly, it is not the case of the prosecution that the appellant removed her top and pressed her breast. As such, there is no direct physical contact i.e. skin to skin with sexual intent without penetration”, the High Court report pointed out.

This reduced the punishment of the accused to only 1 year of rigorous imprisonment (the minimum under Section 354) from 3 years of rigorous imprisonment (Section 8 of POSCO Act). 

Meanwhile, a counter-petition was filed in the Supreme Court by the Youth Bar Association of India challenging the verdict given by the Bombay High Court. “The observations and reasoning in the verdict would lead to a dastardly situation”, asserted the petition.

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