'Manual for Rape Victims': Bombay HC Faults Trial Court Verdict Acquitting Tarun Tejpal

The Bombay high court at Goa admitted the appeal by the state government, and a notice has been issued to Tarun Tejpal. The matter will be heard on June 24.

New Delhi: The Bombay high court at Goa on Wednesday, June 2, said that the trial court judgment which acquitted Tarun Tejpal of rape and sexual assault charges appeared like a “manual for rape victims”, listing how they should behave during and after an assault, rather than ascertaining the culpability of the accused.

The court admitted the appeal by the Goa government and issued notice to Tejpal. The matter will be heard on June 24.

Following Tejpal’s acquittal on May 21, the Goa government moved the high court on May 25, stating that it was a fit case for retrial, as the trial court lacked an understanding of a survivor’s post-trauma behaviour, and the verdict was coloured by prejudice and patriarchy.

The appeal, filed before the high court’s Goa bench last week, was amended this week to bring on record the judgment and include further grounds against the acquittal of Tejpal.

Admitting the case, a single-judge bench of Justice S.C. Gupte on Wednesday said,  “It is a kind of manual for rape victims, on the behaviour of victims. There is a case for considering leave for appeal.”

The judgment passed by the trial court on May 21, which said evidence like CCTV footage did not prove the prosecution’s case, came under severe criticism for also questioning the behaviour of the survivor.

According to Indian Express, sessions judge Kshama Joshi had said, “It is extremely revealing that the prosecutrix’s (victim) account neither demonstrates any kind of normative behaviour on her own part – that a prosecutrix of sexual assault on consecutive two nights might plausibly show nor does it show any such behaviour on the part of the accused.”

Appearing for Goa, solicitor general Tushar Mehta, according to NDTV, said, “The entire judgment focuses on indicting the complainant rather than trying to ascertain the culpable role of the accused.”

Also read: Tarun Tejpal Judgment Underlines How Little the Judiciary Has Learnt on Sexual Violence

The government in its appeal said the trial court “considered the evidence given by defence witnesses as gospel truth, but at the same time discredited without any finding the evidence given by the victim and the prosecution witnesses”.

On the question of the “formal apology e-mail” which Tejpal sent to the survivor on November 19, 2013 and which the trial court judge said was not admissible, the government in its appeal said that the judge had completely ignored the most telling piece of evidence in the case “which established the guilt of the accused beyond a shadow of a doubt”.

The trial court had discarded the emailed apology on the grounds that it was ‘coerced’ and did not admit to a crime:

“… bare reading of the alleged personal apology categorically shows that his emails neither implicitly nor explicitly makes any admissions or confessions which [the complainiant] demanded in the apology, or with relation to any other offence with which the accused was charged, and is clearly therefore not an apology but an attempt to assuage any discomfort the [complainant] might have post facto felt…”

The finding of the trial court on how a woman should normally behave is “unsustainable in law and is coloured by prejudice and patriarchy”, the appeal says,

The prosecution has asked the high court to expunge several portions of the judgment that it says cast aspersions not only on the prosecution’s case but also on the survivor.

“This fact, accompanied by other attendant circumstances, clearly makes out a case for retrial in accordance with the law,” the prosecution said.

Taking exception to portions in the judgment which noted that the CCTV footage and photographs from the event, when the victim was assaulted, show the survivor cheerful and smiling, the government’s appeal said the observations betray a complete lack of understanding of the “post-trauma behaviour of victims”.

“The trial court in its 527-page judgment has been influenced by extraneous and inadmissible materials and testimonies, graphic details of the victim’s sexual history, that is prohibited by law, and has used the same for purposes of censuring her character and discrediting her evidence,” the appeal said.

Tejpal was acquitted of offences under Sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 354 (assault or criminal force with intent to outrage modesty), 354 A (sexual harassment), 354 B (assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), 376 (2)(f) (person in position of authority over women, committing rape) and 376 (2)(k) (rape by person in position of control) of the Indian Penal Code.