Reputation of women preserved like a jewel in our society; they are hesitant to report sexual offences: Bombay High Court

Reputation of women preserved like a jewel in our society; they are hesitant to report sexual offences: Bombay High Court

While quashing an order that discharged a male teacher who sexually harassed a female teacher, the Bombay High Court recently observed that women in our society often hesitate to report such offences [XYZ v. State of Maharashtra].

Justice Govind Sanap said that in such cases, women hesitate to report the offence as they fear it would affect not only their own reputation, but also their families'.

"In such cases, the reputation of the family and the reputation and character of woman is at stake. It is to be noted that in such cases one has to be mindful of the fact that the character and reputation of a woman in our society is preserved and protected like invaluable jewel. The women in our society as well as the near and dear are, therefore, reluctant to come out in open against such a crime, which has a tendency and propensity to cause a direct dent to the character and reputation," the order stated.

The Court was hearing a plea filed by an assistant teacher at a zilla parishad school who challenged the orders of a magistrate court discharging the accused from the offence of outraging her modesty.

As per the prosecution case, the accused teacher made several sexual advances towards the complainant woman, who was a differently-abled person. Once, he had even moved his hand on her back and waist and sought sexual favours. A complaint was later filed by the woman's family, after which a First Information Report (FIR) was registered against the accused. 

The magistrate court, while considering the discharge plea of the accused, noted that the FIR was lodged after several months of the alleged incidents. It, therefore, discharged him on the ground of delay in lodging the FIR. 

Noting the facts, the High Court stated that it was a general rule that the delay in lodging the FIR cannot be the basis of discharge.

"The Court has to see the reason or explanation, if any, provided in the FIR for lodging the delay. The question in such cases is whether there is explanation for delay in lodging of the FIR and whether the said explanation is sufficient to accept the case of prosecution," the judge opined. 

The Bench noted that the complainant did not lodge the report initially on account of many reasons.

"Her children were grown up and educated. She further stated that in order to avoid defamation and humiliation in the society, she did not go to the police and lodge the report. In her report, she has stated that when all this become unbearable, she poured kerosene on her person and tried to set herself on fire. She has stated that she was saved by her husband and the neighbours."

It further noted that subsequently, the victim had made a complaint to the Education Officer (Primary) Zilla Parishad, Chandrapur and the Chief Executive Officer, Zilla Parishad, Chandrapur. This was submitted to the Women Grievance Redressal Committee, which submitted its final report and opined that the accused was involved in the serious crime.

While quashing the order discharging the accused from the case, the Court said,

"There was no reason for her to malign her image and reputation in the society. She has narrated the same in her report. It is further pertinent to note that the learned Magistrate has branded her report as a false report. In my view, at the stage of discharge, it is not permissible...In my view, if the material on record is examined in juxtaposition with this settled position, it becomes clear that the approach of the learned Magistrate was not in accordance with law."

Advocate VS Lokhande appeared for the complainant. Additional Public Prosecutor AR Chutke represented the State. Advocate Yuvraj Humne appeared for the accused.