Eight months after Metro molestation, journalist’s wait for justice drags on
In a case that puts a big question mark on the commitment of the State to ensure justice for victims of sexual crimes, a case of molestation is languishing in a Delhi court for months now because of the apathy of the prosecution team.
The Delhi Metro is commonly regarded as a safer mode of transport for women in the capital, but a journalist realised last year, much to her horror, that this was not true for the metro stations.
On her way inside the ITO station of Delhi Metro on 13 November, 2017, the journalist (her name is being withheld in the interest of her privacy) was molested by a man behind her on the stairs. She tried to fight the assailant and catch hold of him but he attacked her and fled.
Shaken, she summoned courage enough to report the incident to the Central Industrial Security Force personnel at the station. After being made to wait at the control room for over an hour, her complaint was finally registered.
A case was subsequently lodged at Pragati Maidan Metro Station police station. The First Information Report (FIR) was lodged under Section 354 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) that deals with “assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty”. The crime is punishable with a prison term of upto two years, or fine, or both.
One of the close-circuit television cameras at the metro station had captured the incident and police succeeded in identifying the assailant with the help of footage from that camera. Police also got to know that compounding his crime, he had reportedly also molested another woman at the same station just five minutes earlier. This woman, however, chose not to report the crime to the police.
In any case, molestation cases barely get registered but in the case lodged by the journalist, Delhi Police were forced to act because of media pressure. The assailant, Akhlesh Kumar, was soon tracked and arrested. Police completed the investigation and filed a chargesheet earlier this year. Two more sections, 341 (wrongful restraint) and 506 (criminal intimidation), of IPC were added.
The journalist’s struggle for justice, however, didn’t end with the alleged molester’s arrest. Nine months after the incident, the case is still languishing in the court of metropolitan magistrate Snigdha Sarvaria at Patiala House. The assailant is already out on bail, after spending a total of 37 days in jail.
This is a critical lapse in the case because Kumar appears to be a repeat offender. Apart from these two incidents of November 2017, his name figures in another FIR filed at Barakhamba police station for the same offence he committed earlier in 2017. He got bail in that case too.
The role of the public prosecutor appears to be critically deficient in this case. The journalist told Catch she didn’t see the prosecutor ever in the course of all the hearings she has attended so far.
The repeated absence of the public prosecutor appears to have prompted the magistrate to not accord the case any priority in allotting dates. The last hearing was in May 2018 and the next date given by the magistrate is in November, when the charges against the accused would be framed. By then, exactly one year would have passed since the crime took place.
Frustrated with the excruciatingly slow pace of the case, the journalist told Catch: “My problem with defense and the court as a whole is, why is it even allowing the defense to harp on silly things and postponing the trial, when the evidence is crystal clear. It's an open and shut case. The CCTV captured the incident in both cases on November 13. The defence's argument is also weak, considering the accused refused a Test Identification Parade.”
If this is the status of a sexual crime case lodged by a journalist, it is easy to imagine the plight of cases filed by women who do not have a scribe’s capacity to navigate legal and administrative labyrinths. Dealing with policemen for follow-up of cases is itself an ordeal, let alone moving ahead with the complicated legal and judicial process.
If the prosecution team itself will be so apathetic towards cases, it will take a long time for the capital to even start becoming safer for women.