Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court (HC) has reversed the acquittal of a school teacher on the charge of sexually assaulting three of his minor girl students and sentenced him to 20 years rigorous imprisonment, without any parole or furlough leave in the first decade of his jail term.
The bench comprising of Justice ZA Haq and Justice Amit Borkar convicted the teacher, Gopal Janbandu, primarily on the strength of the testimony of the survivors.
According to the prosecution, on December 2, 2017, one of the three survivors informed her mother about intermittent sexual assaults being committed by the teacher on her and two other students from her class, during school recess. The women then spoke to parents of the two other girls and they lodged police complaints.
Jalbandu was arrested and prosecuted. The prosecution examined 12 witnesses, including the three survivors, but on January 5, 2019, an additional sessions judge at Gondia acquitted the teacher of all the charges levelled against him - rape under Section 376 of Indian Penal Code and penetrative and aggravated sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act, 2012.
The survivors had in detail explained their ordeals while testifying before the special Pocso court. But, special court disbelieved them and acquitted the teacher, saying the cumulative effect of their testimonies was that the teacher sexually assaulted them simultaneously, which according to the trial court was highly improbable.
The state government had moved HC, appealing against the acquittal. Acting on the appeal, HC disapproved the trial court’s approach, saying its conclusion was based on misreading testimonies of the survivors.
“This approach of the learned trial judge in disbelieving victim girl of 10 years, in our opinion, is a gross case of perversity,” said HC. “The reason for brushing aside the testimony of the victim, who had gone through the trauma of aggravated sexual assault shows complete insensitivity on the part of the learned trial judge,” the bench added.
HC, on the contrary, found that the evidence of the survivors inspired confidence and was even corroborated by the evidence of some other witnesses in the case, and reversed the teacher’s acquittal. The court convicted him for rape and aggravated penetrative sexual assault and sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment.
HC also imposed a fine of ₹1.80 lakh on the teacher, Gopal Janbandu, and directed that the fine amount be recovered as arrears of land revenue from him if he fails to pay the fine amount. The teacher will not get furlough or parole even during the remaining term, if the fine is not recovered, even as arrears of land revenue.
HC also disapproved the trial court’s view that the presumption of guilt under Section 29 of the Pocso Act comes into play only when the prosecution proves its case beyond reasonable doubts. HC said the view was erroneous and the presumption comes into play as the prosecution proves foundational facts.
“This finding by the trial court is based on a complete misconception of law on Sections 29 and 30 of the said Act,” said the bench.
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