Guwahati, Dec. 7: The 150-day-long investigation and trial of the infamous GS Road molestation case ended today with a trial court convicting the prime accused, Amarjyoti Kalita, and 10 others on four counts, including outraging the modesty of a woman.
Of the 15 accused in the case, the court today acquitted four, including TV reporter Gaurav Jyoti Neog of Newslive, giving them the benefit of doubt.
The case had, apart from the sheer brutality of the attack on the woman, brought into focus the ethics of the media, especially television journalism that was seen as being an arm of the moral police that was specifically targeting women who came out of bars and discotheques often dressed in “revealing” attire.
The case also brought into focus the resistance of pro-prohibition groups towards the increasing number of bars and liquor store in the city. Soon after the July 9 incident, in a separate case related to Midtown bar, the courts shut down all of the city’s 303 liquor stores and 128 bars, based on accusations that many had been allowed to be set up bypassing government rules. Some 13 such establishments still remain closed. Club Mint was shut down by the city administration almost immediately after the incident.
The woman who was attacked on July 9 had come out of Club Mint, a bar on Guwahati’s busy GS Road, around 10pm. According to the victim’s testimony, she had gone to Club Mint Bar on GS Road that day to celebrate a friend’s birthday party. When she came out of the bar and was about to take an autorickshaw, she was restrained by the accused, who abused her using vulgar words. When she objected, the said miscreants assaulted her, dragged her, pulling her by the hair and molested her in full public view. Her gold chain went missing and is suspected to have been stolen. After going through the ordeal for about an hour, she was rescued by Bhangagarh police with the help of the public.
The case, which had serious repercussions after the television crew led by Neog was accused of abetting the crime, led to the resignation of Newslive’s editor-in-chief Atanu Bhuyan.
Chief judicial magistrate, Kamrup, Siddhartha Pratim Moitra sentenced the convicts to rigorous imprisonment for two years and imposed a fine Rs 3,000 each. The order said the fine realised from the accused would be given to the victim as compensation.
The judge declined to show any leniency, stating that the “brutality of the offence does not demand any leniency”.
Besides Amarjyoti Kalita, the other accused who were held guilty are Dipak Deb, Rubul Ali, Sikandar Basfor, Nabajyoti Baruah, Debo Das, Rup Kanta Kalita, Ghanashyam Mallik, Puspendra Das, Nabajyoti Deka and Dhanraj Basfor. Apart from Neog, those acquitted are Hafijuddin, Jitumoni Deka and Diganta Basumatary. Altogether 25 witnesses were examined in the case.
The CJM, in his order, said, “The defence tried to damage or destroy her (the victim’s) evidence by way of character assassination but I like to discard the same not being relevant to the facts of the present case.”
Additional public prosecutor Minati Saikia said the 11 accused were convicted under Sections 354 (outraging the modesty of a woman), 143 (unlawful assembly) 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 341 (wrongful restraint) IPC.
Amarjyoti Kalita’s counsel Bhaskardev Konwar said they would appeal in the district and sessions court against the order. Advocate Bijon Kumar Mahajan, who represented Neog, expressed satisfaction at the “expeditious” trial of the case and acquittal of Neog.
The molestation of the victim outside a pub on the busy GS Road on the night of July 9, which was later beamed on a local satellite television channel, had sparked national outrage.
Police arrested 16 accused, including a juvenile whose case was split and forwarded to Juvenile Justice Board. They also conducted the test identification parade of the accused at Guwahati Central Jail on July 27. They filed the chargesheet against 15 accused on September 4 after which the trial began.
During the trial, Neog’s counsel concentrated his argument on Section 143 (unlawful assembly) IPC and submitted that his client had no common objective with the other accused and was there to satisfy his professional zeal.
Jitumoni Deka’s counsel, advocate A.H. Mollah, submitted in the court that his client was not present at the place of occurrence.
The Electronic Media Forum Assam expressed happiness at Neog’s acquittal. It had resolved in a meeting on July 16 that the TV visuals of the incident were insufficient to hold Neog guilty. It welcomed Neog, who had resigned from EMFA to facilitate impartial probe, to return to its fold again.