The offender was found guilty and sentenced to seven years of imprisonment.
Justice P Devadass’ suggestion to settle the matter by mediation and conciliation has triggered an avalanche of criticism with several jurists and women’s rights activists wondering as to how the choice of a compromise could be given to an offender, whatever the facts of the case be.
“The girl was 15 years old when she was raped, and she delivered a baby the next year. After six years of trial, the man was found guilty . He was given seven years’ imprisonment and fined ‘2 lakh.What is before the high court is an appeal by the offender, and there is no request from either the girl or the offender for a compromise,” said a senior jurist. It is not correct to give the option of settling the matter by compromise to the offender, he said, adding, “an alternative dispute resolution mechanism cannot be stretched to this extent.”
“This definitely is not a healthy precedent to follow,” advocate R Santhakumari, president of Tamil Nadu Federation of Women Lawyers told TOI. The verdict sent shockwaves among women, she said, adding, “Instead of treating child sex abuse as the most heinous offence and trying to root it out by enhancing pun ishment, the court is attempting a compromise.”
Victim has no say over life post-rape, Activists say
M Shahjahan, former city public prosecutor, said the court’s suggestion might look inappropriate at first glance, but its humanitarian nature could be understood only if it is tested versus the social reality. “Let us face it. A rape victim is never treated as a ‘normal’ unmarried girl. In this case, there is a child, which would be called ‘illegitimate’ for the rest of its life. Courts are here not just to punish people, they must do justice to victims as well. The offender could even be hanged, but does it bring full justice to the girl? Justice Devadass has tried to show the humane face of courts, and attempted to keep it within the four corners of law as well,” he said.
Senior advocate R Shanmugasundaram, former public prosecutor of Tamil Nadu, said compounding an offence through mediation would not undo the act. He said the court must have tried to exhaust all options before treating the matter on merit.
“Would the man have agreed for a compromise had he been acquitted of the rape charge by the trial court? Desperate to get bail now and acquittal later, he might go through the mediation process,” said an inspector of police who did not want to be named. ” Already police and trial courts are being faulted for poor conviction rate in sexual offence cases. If high courts set at naught a successful rape trial of an underprivileged girl, trial courts and victims will lose faith in higher judiciary,” he said.