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Supreme Court: Patriarchal & Stereotypical Notion About Women Should Be Avoided by Courts and Judges Be Trained on Gender Sensitisation

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Case Name: Aparna Bhat vs. State of Madhya Pradesh [CrA 329 of 2021]

Facts of the case

In this case, the accused was the neighbour of the complainant. He went to the house of the complainant on 20 April 2020 at 2:30 am. The accused held the hands of the complainant and tried to sexually harass her. As a result, a police complaint was filed by the complainant against the accused-appellant for the offences punishable under Section 452, 354-A, 323 and 506 of IPC. Later, the case was investigated and a charge-sheet was filed against the accused. Consequently, the accused applied for a grant of pre-arrest bail under Section 438 of CrPC. The High Court of Madhya Pradesh granted bail to the accused but imposed some conditions with it. 

The condition was such that the accused had to go to the house of the complainant with a rakhi/thread so that the complainant could tie the Rakhi thread on the wrist of the accused and the accused would promise to protect the complainant for the rest of her life. This very condition was challenged before the Supreme Court in the appeal petition by the Appellant, public-spirited individuals, for setting the adverse precedent.

Pleadings before the Court

The Appellant, in this case, submitted that, although the words “in the interest of justice”, “such other conditions court consider necessary”, “as it may think fit” used in section 437(3)(c) and 438(2)(4) of CrPC, allows the court to impose such other conditions as might be required. But, those conditions must be consistent with the other provisions’ conditions, the intent of granting bail, and the absence of any other factor. It was further submitted that this was unacceptable, and no condition should be imposed that allowed the accused to meet or had access to the survivor and her relatives. It was also recommended that no observation or condition be made that initiates or promotes compromise that disparages and downgrades an otherwise heinous crime, implying that such crimes could be remedied through compromise/marriage.

The interveners submitted that the power to impose conditions under sections 437(2) and 438 had been expressed in very broad terms by using the word “any condition.” Recently, various High Courts had begun imposing irrelevant conditions while granting bail under these sections. Furthermore, when deciding on a bail application, the Court cannot play the role of a social reformer or a charity fundraiser by imposing conditions that have no connection to the offence or relevance to the purpose of the bail provisions. The learned attorney general also supported the appeal in his submissions and argued that for achieving the goal of gender justice, the judges, judicial officers and bar members should be made aware of the gender discrimination that hinders the idea of justice.

Court’s observation

The Supreme Court bench comprising  Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and AM Khanwilkar observed that by judicial mandate, tying a rakhi as a condition for bail turns a molester into a sibling. This was completely unacceptable, and it dilutes and weakens the crime of sexual harassment. The act committed against the survivor was a legal offence, not a minor transgression that could be remedied by an apology, community service, tying a rakhi or giving a gift to the survivor, or even promising to marry her, depending on the circumstances as outraging a woman’s modesty is illegal under the law.

It was further observed that judges should play an important role in eradicating harmful stereotypes from the justice system. They have a significant responsibility to make decisions based on the law and evidence, rather than on gender stereotypes. The impartiality of a judge’s decision should not be jeopardized by stereotyping, which might influence the judge’s views on witness credibility or the culpability of the accused.

Court’s judgement

While overturning the MP High Court’s bail order, the Supreme Court held that reasoning or language that minimizes the crime and trivializes the survivor must be avoided at all costs. The Court also released some bail rules, advising that gender stereotypes be avoided. It also recommended that judges and public prosecutors should receive gender sensitization training and each High Court should develop a module on judicial sensitivity to sexual offences, which would be tested in the Judicial Service Exam. It also told the bar that such courses should be included in the LLB and AIBE syllabuses.

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