Tried, convicted and sentenced in 25 minutes

Judge in Bihar juvenile court brings accused and victim, both minors, face-to-face in court

It took just five witnesses and a 25-minute trial for a court to try, convict and sentence a minor accused of rape in Bihar’s Nalanda district recently.

While sentencing the 14-year-old to two three-year terms, the Principal Judge at the Nalanda Juvenile Justice Board (JJB), Manvendra Mishra, said, “There should be an awareness campaign in society to prevent such behaviour and also to instil good sanskaar (values) towards women.” The accused, he said, showed the “ability to commit the crime; he cannot be set free in the best interest of society”.

However, the manner in which the case was fast-tracked has raised several questions. The case (No.165/ 2021) was lodged at the Nalanda police station under Section 377 (unnatural sex) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 4 of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act on October 8, 2021. The police filed a charge-sheet against the accused, a 14-year-old boy, on November 25. The JJB court heard the case on November 27, pronounced the verdict and sentenced the boy to two three-year terms, both to run concurrently, on the same day.

The accused and the victim, a four-year-old girl, both belong to a Scheduled Caste community, are distantly related, and live in the same village in Nalanda district.

“It was a heart-wrenching incident. There is common belief in society that justice is always delayed in the Indian judicial system. But based on the merit of evidences and the production of all five witnesses in the case, the court pronounced the verdict in a day. The role of the Investigating Officer and the Assistant Prosecution Officer in the case was very important too,” Usha Kumari, a member of the JJB in the case, told The Hindu.

Asked how the entire proceedings were completed so soon, Assistant Prosecution Officer Jai Prakash said, “For three-four days, my mind was occupied with this heinous crime. When sufficient evidence along with the oral submission of the victim and other witnesses was done, everything became clear and the verdict was passed.”

According to those present in court, the trial lasted only 25 minutes. “The defence lawyers took the first 15 minutes, the prosecutor presented the facts for 10 minutes. The honourable judge, after being convinced with the arguments of both sides, pronounced the verdict without any delay,” Mr. Jai Prakash said.

“The judge ordered that the victim be brought to the court and face the accused. The girl was terrified, tearful and tightly held her mother’s sari throughout. This seemed to convince the judge in favour of the prosecution’s argument,” said a lawyer present in court throughout the hearing.

However, one of three defence lawyers, Abhay Kishore, told The Hindu that he “never thought all five witnesses and the evidence would be produced before the court in a single day”.

Asked if he was satisfied with the quick verdict, Mr. Kishore said, “As a defence lawyer, I cannot be satisfied with such a quick verdict, but I do respect the court’s decision.”

Besides Mr. Kishore, there were two other defence lawyers, Umesh Kumar and Ravindra Kumar Singh.

In his verdict, Judge Mishra said: “In a country where Gods reside, where women are worshipped…where tradition of worshipping small girl child as an incarnation of a deity has been going on for ages, God Rama had to go to another country to destroy the evil Ravana to take revenge for a woman’s humiliation, the ancient history of a big battle like the Mahabharata was done to protest women’s dignity — this animal behaviour [of a sexual offence against a four-year-old girl] by an adolescent is definitely an issue of concern for society.”

While sentencing the minor, he asked remand home authorities to “ensure periodic psychological counselling” for him.

Asked about the probe into the case, the Investigating Officer, Sub-Inspector Maya Kumari Yadav, told The Hindu, “It was a challenging case. It tugged at my conscience and heart. I took family members of both the victim and the accused into confidence, collected circumstantial evidence like the bloodstained clothes of the girl, the forensic report of the bloodstains and semen of the accused, etc., to produce before the court.”

She added, “It feels good when judgment comes in just one day, which sets an example for society.”

The accused was first sent to a remand home at Biharsharif, district headquarter of Nalanda, but later shifted to a remand home in Patna.

The victim’s father works as a mason and earns ₹5,000-6,000 every month.

“I am satisfied and happy with the verdict but the government should also give us some money as compensation for the girl’s well-being,” the victim’s mother told The Hindu.

Standing by her side, the parents of the accused, however, were not satisfied with the court’s verdict. “The court should have taken more time before making a judgment in haste against my son, who was implicated in a rape case because of a family feud,” said his mother.

“Only time will tell,” said the boy’s father, a casual labourer, when asked if they would challenge the verdict. “We are poor people.”

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