New Delhi, Oct. 9: The Supreme Court has upheld the six-month jail term of a “roadside Romeo” in Malda, 18 years after he planted a kiss on a teenage girl and cut her lip.
The apex court also rejected the plea of the accused, Ajahar Ali, that he was a juvenile at the relevant time and hence could not be punished under the regular law.
Asserting that “with the social condition prevailing in the society, the modesty of a woman has to be strongly guarded”, the court added: “If any person uses criminal force upon any woman with the intention or knowledge that the woman’s modesty will be outraged, he is to be punished.”
A bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and S.A. Bobde noted that even assuming Ali was a minor, the punishment awarded to him was lenient and a mere six months. Had he been tried under the Juvenile Justice Act, the punishment could have been three years in jail for the same offence.
The maximum sentence can go up to seven years of rigorous imprisonment according to IPC Section 354 (outraging the modesty of a woman), under which Ali, now in his early 30s, was tried.
On November 6, 1995, the victim, aged around 16 years, filed a complaint with police alleging that while she was going to attend tuition classes along with her friend, Ali caught hold of her hair and kissed her. She suffered a cut over her lower lip and bled.
On May 9, 2012, a local magistrate convicted Ali and sentenced him to six months in prison. The sessions judge confirmed the sentence and the high court upheld the punishment in 2012, following which Ali appealed in the apex court.
His counsel, S.C. Ghosh, contended that since the incident occurred more than 18 years ago and Ali was 16 then, the court should not send him to jail. Ghosh sought pardon for his client under the Probation of Offenders Act.
The apex court rejected the contention, saying “the appellant has committed a heinous crime” and he “behaved like a road-side Romeo”.
The Supreme Court said it did not think that the case was fit to be tried under the Juvenile Justice Act.
“We do not think it is a fit case where the benefit of the act (would apply). But the question that would arise is if the matter came before the Juvenile Justice Board, the maximum sentence that can be awarded in such a case is three years. In the instant case, the punishment awarded is only six months. So, the cause of the appellant is not prejudiced,” the court said.
“The provisions of Section 354 IPC has been enacted to safeguard public morality and decent behaviour,” the court added.
The bench explained why the maximum sentence under the section was not imposed. “The high court had been of the opinion that the appellant had been dealt with very leniently and it was a fit case where the high court wanted to enhance the sentence but considering the fact that the incident occurred long back, the high court refrained to do so. Thus, the appeal fails and is accordingly dismissed,” the bench said.
The court directed Ali to surrender within four weeks to serve out the sentence, failing which the chief judicial magistrate of Malda will have to take him into custody.