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‘No sexual assault’ in minor’s groping: SC stays Bombay HC “disturbing” order

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday put a stay on Bombay High Court’s “disturbing” order which held that groping a minor girl doesn’t amount to sexual assault if there is no skin-to-skin touch, citing under Protection of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

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The regressive judgment was delivered by a single judge of Nagpur bench of Bombay HC on January 19, where Justice Pushpa V. Ganediwala, while setting aside the ruling of lower court under Section 8 of POCSO against convict Satish Bandu Ragde, said that groping a minor girl’s breast without removing the top would not fall within the definition of sexual assault, but would be termed as outraging the modesty of a woman under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The man was accused of groping a 12-year old minor girl and was acquitted by HC of ‘sexual assault after appeal. However, court charged Satish guilty only under molestation punishable with one year under IPC Section 354.

Meanwhile, the three-judge bench of SC headed by CJI SA Bobde issued notice to the accused and Maharashtra government to reply within two weeks. “Meanwhile, we stay the acquittal of accused in regard to Section 8 of POCSO,” said the bench also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

The Attorney General while requesting the court to take suo motu cognizance said, “The order is very disturbing and is likely to set a dangerous precedent.” He also said that he was in the process of filing a petition against the order.

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The bench permitted the AG to file a petition in this case and stayed the acquittal of the man.

The concerned case dates back to 2016, when the convict, Satish Bandu Ragde, had taken a minor girl into wrongful confinement and had pressed her breasts while she was running an errand for her mother. As the girl did not return for a long time, the mother went looking for her and found her in the upstairs room of Ragde’s house. The room was locked from the outside. Victim’s mother had met Ragde coming down the stairs and inquired him about her daughter’s whereabouts. Ragde had told her that he didn’t know where her daughter was.

To note, the man was accused of groping the girl and removing her salwar, while the HC had held that no offence under Section 8 of POCSO as there was no physical contact.

The AG said, “It is an unprecedented order as it will mean that if a cloth is touched, no case under Section 8 is made out. This court must take notice of the judgement.”

Furthermore, the top court will examine this issue after two weeks, awaiting the reply of Maharashtra government.

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