New Delhi: The Punjab and Haryana high court on Thursday released on bail three former law students who had been convicted of gangrape, blackmail and other offences. And while doing so, the judges decided to make several claims regarding the complainant’s story and reliability.
The woman had said that the three men forced her to comply with their sexual demands over a two-year period, after which she went to the police. The case dates back to 2015, when an 18-year-old management student at Sonepat’s O.P. Jindal Global University had approached the university administration alleging that her former friend Hardik Sikri had been blackmailing her for more than a year using her nude photos, and had forced her to have sex with him and his two friends, Vikas Garg and Karan Chhabra, Indian Express reported. The three were found guilty on March 24 this year year, with Sikri and Garg sentenced to 20 years in prison for gangrape and other criminal offences, and Chhabra sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for rape and other offences.
In its order granting bail, however, the judges seem to suggest the issue is not of sexual violence but of a generation that is “unable to comprehend the worth of a relationship based on respect and understanding”.
“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 court’s order, available on Bar and Bench, says.
The judges also suggest that the mens’ appeal in a lower court against the sentence was worth considering. “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 abused themselves are young and the narrative does not throw up gut wrenching violence, that normally precede or accompany such incidents,” the order says, in a textbook example of victim shaming.
“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 of this stage when the appeal is not likely to mature for some time is likely to result in an irreparable damage…” the judges continue.
The court does take into account that the allegations made by the woman are serious, but continues to hold its stand that the men are not the only ones to blame:
“We are conscious of the fact that allegations of the victim regarding her being threatened into submission and blackmail lends sufficient diabolism to the offence, but a careful examination of her statement again offers an alternative conclusion of misadventure stemming from a promiscuous attitude and a voyeuristic mind.
She states that ‘he (Hardik Sikri, one the men involved) then sent his own nude pictures and coaxed me into sending my own nude pictures’…The perverse streak in both is also revealed from her admission that a sex toy was suggested by Hardik and her acceptance of the same.”
The three men have been released on bail on the condition that they do not leave the country and undergo psychiatric therapy sessions at the All Indian Institute of Medical Science, Delhi, which the court said is essential “to balance the concerns of the victim, demands of the society and law and the element of reformatory and rehabilitative justice”.
The court also decided that bail being granted during the appeal period was a good idea as it could serve as a deterrent on further such activities:
“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.”