India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed a Mumbai High Court order that acquitted a man accused of molestation and ruled that groping a minor’s breast without “skin-to-skin contact” does not constitute sexual assault.
“A bench of Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde and Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian stayed the high court order after Attorney General K.K. Venugopal mentioned the matter,” Indian news site The Wire reported on January 27.
The Nagpur bench of the Mumbai High Court ruled on January 24 that “there must be a ‘skin-to-skin contact’ with sexual intent, and mere groping is not sufficient [sic]” to constitute sexual assault under India’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act. The ruling was made as the Nagpur bench heard an appeal against the conviction of a 39-year-old man “in a case where the accused had allegedly taken a minor girl to his house under the garb of offering her a guava [fruit] and pressed her breasts and partially stripped her,” according to The Wire.
“The act of pressing of breast [sic] of the child aged 12 years, in the absence of any specific detail as to whether the top was removed or whether he inserted his hand inside top and pressed her breast, would not fall in the definition of ‘sexual assault’ [sic],” the single-judge bench of Justice Pushpa Ganediwala held.
Justice Ganediwala acquitted the accused under the POCSO Act, “while upholding his conviction under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code. Considering that the man was out on bail, the court forfeited his bail bond, and issued a non-bailable warrant against him,” Indian news site Scroll.in reported.
Prior to his acquittal, a trial court in Nagpur on January 19 had sentenced the accused to “three years’ imprisonment under section 8 of the POSCO Act and under section 354 [of the Indian Penal Code] IPC (assault or criminal force with intent to outrage a woman’s modesty),” according to the Times of India.
“Justice Pushpa Ganediwala of Nagpur bench had said ‘stricter proof and serious allegations are required given the stringent punishment of three to five years’ imprisonment that ‘sexual assault’ under the POSCO Act entails,” the Times reported of the man’s January 24 acquittal.
Mumbai’s High Court on Wednesday “convicted the man for a ‘minor offense’ and sentenced him to one year in jail overruling [the] trial court’s [sentence of] three years’ imprisonment,” according to the newspaper. The minor in the February 2020 case “testified that she was lured on a false pretext by the accused to his house. She said he had tried to remove her salwar [pants] and had pressed her breast.”