Mumbai: Observing that the law takes a stern view of crimes such as rape, the Bombay High Court upheld the conviction of 20 accused in the rape case of a 16-year-old school student who was allegedly drugged by her neighbour, sexually assaulted and forced into prostitution. "The law takes a stern view in crimes concerning rape not only for the reason of physical harm that it causes to a woman but also for the victim being left destitute to suffer lifelong mental trauma," Justices UD Salvi and AH Joshi said in their order on February 4.
Sentencing them to a 10-year jail sentence, the court did not accept the accused version that they presumed the girl to be a sex worker and were not aware of her age. However, four of them were sent to jail for eight years because of their young age. One of the convicts, Chetan Bhalgat, who had raped her and forced her into prostitution by threatening that he would publish her nude photographs, married her in May 2011 after he was pronounced guilty by the Aurangabad sessions court.
He pleaded for a lighter sentence saying he had given the victim Rs 21 lakh cash at the time of marriage, a house worth Rs 13 lakh, a shop and a plot in Ahmednagar. This, he claimed, mitigated the malevolence of the crime. Reducing his sentence from ten years to eight years, the judges said, "The genesis of culpability of the accused did not spring from the insanity of a lover but was plain lust supported by pecuniary ability, namely, he could pay for what he craved."
The judges also considered the testimony given by the victim as reliable, saying, "A witness cannot be expected to narrate sexual wrongs done to her which are per se traumatic, with minute details or particulars. It shall suffice if she utters the word physical or sexual relationship or rape." The court noted that the victim was forced to have sex with all those convicted after being threatened that if she refused, her sexual encounters would be published in newspapers. When she went missing from her home for two days, her father took the help of an NGO which found out that the victim was taken to various places for sexual favours such as homes of convicts and hotels in autorickshaws and hired cars.