High Court seeks reports on Bandipora girl's 'rape'

Taking suo moto cognisance of the alleged rape of a minor girl in Bandipora, the High Court on Wednesday sought reports on status of investigation of the case registered, medical treatment of the victim, her counseling, legal aid and compensation.

 A division bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Tashi Rabstan, after treating the matter as a Public Interest Litigation, also asked for identifying the media reports that had revealed the identity of the victim and called for immediate action against the persons responsible for such reports.

After impleading Kashmir Range Inspector General of Police, Secretary Health and Medical Education and Member Secretary J&K State Legal Services Authority as party respondents, the court issued notices to them.

The Court directed the IGP Kashmir to report by May 17 the steps taken for effective investigation into the matter as well as protection given to the victim and her family.

While the court directed the Secretary, Health and Medical Education to describe the steps taken regarding medical examination, medical treatment and counseling being administered to the victim, it sought a report from the SLSA indicating the status of legal aid provided to the victim as well as the status of the release of compensation admissible to her.

The court also directed Member Secretary SLSA to file a separate report indicating the measures,

 including sensitization programs, underway in the matters relating to sexual violence.

 State’s senior Additional Advocate general BA Dar accepted the notice on behalf of the IGP Kashmir and Secretary Health and Medical Education department after the court asked him for the same. The Court asked Dar to file reports in terms of this order positively on or before 17 May.

 Given the importance of this matter, the court appointed advocate Farah Bashir as Amicus Curiae to assist this Court.

The court also disapproved of the media reports that identified the minor victim.

“The victim as per newspaper reports is a minor girl child of three years age. With regard to the disclosure of identity of victim of sexual offence, two statutory provisions deserve notice,” the court said.

The court said such reporting has done grave injustice to the privacy and dignity of the child.

In this regard the court referred to Jammu & Kashmir Protection of Children from Sexual Violence Ordinance, 2018, and   provisions of Section 228-A of the Ranbir Penal Code.

Citing the Jammu & Kashmir Protection of Children from Sexual Violence Ordinance, 2018, the court said: “This special statute includes Section 23 which prescribes the procedure to be followed by the media in reporting cases of sexual violence against children and rules.”

 The statutory provisions, the court said, are stringent, compliance thereof is mandatory and contravention is punishable.

“We are of the view that immediate action is required to be taken to identify the reports in the print and electronic media wherein provisions of the Section 23 of the Jammu and Kashmir Protection of Children from Sexual Violence Ordinance, 2018, have been violated and action taken against the persons responsible for the same,” the court said.

The court asked advocate Farah as amicus to give details of the reports regarding the incident, which have been published in print and electronic media in violation of Section 23 of the Jammu & Kashmir Protection of Children from Sexual Violence Ordinance, 2018.

 “We shall proceed in respect of such reports upon receiving the list and copies of the reports,” the court said.

The court treated the matter as Public Interest Litigation while underscoring the need for taking in mind the various factors, which must protect the minor rape victim. 

“The incident at hand is not the first incident of sexual violence in the state. Sexual violence unfortunately is endemic to human beings and is not confined to any particular culture, class, religion, age or geographical location,” the court observed.

“ While legislations have attempted to take a strict view of the matter and provide stringent punishments for sexual violence, however, it is increasingly being found that even youngsters are being implicated, some of them unwittingly rendering themselves liable under penal laws being ignorant and unaware of the consequences of their acts or omissions,” the court added.

The court held that in order to address the related concerns, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and J&K SLSA had conceptualized a robust programme of sensitizing and training school children in the 14-17 age group. The programme was named ‘Child Abuse and Sexual Violence Interpersonal and Digital Interface’. The children in this age group, the court observed, could be held culpable under stringent penal laws—POCSO Act, Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act, Ranbir Penal Code, IT Act—for omission/actions which “they might have misguidedly or unwittingly committed”.

“This programme includes sensitizing children on such usage of the electronic media which could invite stringent penalties under cyber laws,” the court said.

The programme was inaugurated on 24 December 2018 at the Delhi Public School, Jammu.

“This is an attempt on the part of the justice delivery system in the state to take on board all stakeholders towards awareness of sensitization with regard to issues relating to sexual violence. Two days’ training programme was organized on 22 and 23 December last year at J&K State Judicial Academy at Jammu”.

Additionally, the court said, all secretaries of the District Legal Services Authority have undergone an Orientation Training Programme with the Delhi State Legal Services Authority in January 2019.

“The incident which is the subject matter of this order highlights the importance which needs to be attached to this sensitization and training programme and emphasizes vigour with which it needs to be pursued” the court said.