27 years on, former Delhi HC Bar Association president convicted for assaulting woman lawyer

While the incident took place on August 5, 1994, the case came before the court on July 7, 1995.

More than 27 years after a woman lawyer was assaulted by a senior bar member, a Delhi court has convicted the accused, Rajiv Khosla, a former president of the Delhi High Court Bar Association, and said that police are often “very slow” in taking action when it comes to lawyers.

The complainant, Sujata Kohli, who was a lawyer at Tis Hazari Courts in the 1990s, retired last year as a District & Sessions Judge.

Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Central District, Tis Hazari Court, Gajender Singh Nagar held Khosla guilty for offences punishable under IPC sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 506(i) (criminal intimidation). The matter is listed for arguments on sentence on November 15. While the incident took place on August 5, 1994, the case came before the court on July 7, 1995.

Kohli in her complaint in 1994 stated that she was often pressured by Khosla, who was then the secretary of the Delhi Bar Association (DBA), to join processions and demonstrations on various issues, which she used to decline. Kohli, a lawyer since 1987, was practicing from her seat near the bar association library at Tis Hazari Lawyer’s Complex. While she was in favor of the establishment of family courts, Khosla was against them, she told the court during the trial.

On July 29, 1994, Khosla asked her to join a seminar on proposed ‘family courts’ but she said she was busy, in response to which she was threatened with withdrawal of all facilities provided by the DBA and dispossession of her seat, as per the complaint. “Kal ki aayi chokri zabaan ladati hai, teri toh seat veat sab utha ke phenk doonga,” the accused allegedly had told her.

Kohli filed a suit to stop that from happening but despite that, her table and chair were removed from its spot. Just before the civil judge hearing Kohli’s suit was to carry out an inspection of the spot on August 5, 1994, Khosla along with a mob of lawyers allegedly surrounded her. According to Kohli’s complaint, Khosla then pulled her hair, dragged her, twisted her arms, used abuses, and threatened her.

Police registered the case on August 8, 1994 at Sabzi Mandi police station. It was in June 1995 that investigation was completed. Since Kohli was not satisfied with the police probe, she had already moved a private complaint to prosecute the case. The private complaint and police case were later clubbed. Since Kohli became a judge herself in 2002, the public prosecutor conducted the case.

On the defence’s argument that no independent witness was brought to corroborate her version, the court said it cannot lose sight of the fact that the accused was secretary of the DBA at the time. “It rarely happens that people would come forward and speak against their chosen leader. It is common knowledge that nowadays, people are becoming self-centered and they find it safe to keep mum even if they see injustice being done to any person. This is becoming a harsh reality these days,” it said in the verdict.

Rejecting another argument that the police witnesses did not support Kohli’s case, the court said the DBA is undisputedly a very strong body of lawyers, and highlighted various instances to show the reluctance of police in taking action against Khosla. “Even prior to recording statement of the complainant and registering FIR, this police official was more interested in enquiring from other lawyers present there and recording signed statement of the alleged accused and others who were stating that no such incident had taken place,” said the court.

Regarding the absence of a medical report, the court said the complainant claimed that she was only manhandled and pulled by the hair. “Thus, only bodily pain was caused to her; in such a case non-proving of MLC is not fatal to the case of the complainant,” reads the verdict.

On the delay, it said it is an exceptional case where, in respect of the incident which happened within half an hour, a person was cross-examined for almost 10 years. “Due to this marathon cross-examination running over 10 years, certain inconsistencies, improvements and minor discrepancies are bound to happen,” said the court, while rejecting the argument on inconsistencies and improvements of Kohli’s statement.

Khosla had argued that Kohli had cooked up the story of the attack due to previous enmity and because of a “desire of the complainant to come in limelight among women organisations”. However, the court said it is impossible for a person to so minutely cook up a story.

“The complainant was an advocate, she was aware about all legal provisions. If she had to cook up a story, she could have easily made up a story that in the late hours after dark she was attacked or molested by the accused which is not the case here. In the present case, complainant has alleged (she was) attacked in broad daylight in the presence of a number of lawyers, soon before the visit of Ld Civil Judge,” reads the verdict.

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