In the matter of Pragya Prateek Shukla and another v. State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan High Court on 12.01.2022 suspended the sentence awarded to a Faculty Member in the college and the Hostel Warden booked under Section 21 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (‘POCSO Act’) for their alleged failure to report a ‘POCSO Case’ of the hostel involving a scheduled caste minor girl, and remarked:
Incidents are not uncommon where after deliberations, it is decided in a bonafide manner not to report such matters to the police, lest the reputation of the girl is tarnished. This aspect gains more importance because the hostel warden/higher ups would definitely have preferred to deliberate with the parents of the girl before taking any such action.
The appellant no. 1 Pragya Prateek Shukla was working as a Faculty Member in the BSTC college and the appellant no. 2 Priya Shukla was the Warden in the hostel, where the deceased minor girl was staying as a boarder. On the alleged date of the incident, the minor girl/victim was found missing from the Hostel and when an extensive search was made in presence of the other girls staying in the hostel, the victim was found inside the room of the PTI Vijendra Singh. Thereafter, the minor girl (and the PTI) was allegedly coerced to write down the gist of the circumstances in which she was found in the room of the PTI.
It is the case of the prosecution that in extracting the confession, the appellants coerced the girl to such an extent that she became disconsolate and took the extreme step of ending her life in this process.
The trial court held the appellants responsible for instigating the victim to commit suicide and were convicted under Section 305 IPC (Abetment of the suicide of child or insane person), Section 21 POCSO Act (Punishment for failure to report or record a case) and Section 3(2)(vi) of the SC/ST.
The appellants argued that it was absolutely natural for them, being persons in charge to have made enquiries into the incident and in this process, the letters/gist of events were voluntarily written by the co-accused Vijendra Singh and the victim. It was also argued that the appellants didn’t immediately realize that the victim was a minor and that there is no material to show that they knew that the girl was a minor, and thus, they can’t be expected to report the matter forthwith to the authorities.
On the other hand, the state argued that the appellants should have reported the matter to the police, rather than taking the things into their own hands.
It was firmly submitted that rather than making an enquiry from the victim on their own, the appellants were under a lawful obligation to forthwith report the matter to the police because a minor girl staying in the hostel was found in the room of the PTI.
By failing to report the matter, the appellants have acted in gross contravention of the procedure provided under Chapter V of the POCSO Act. In extracting the confession, the appellants coerced the girl to such an extent that she was left with only two options, either to have her image tarnished in the eyes of the society or to end her own life.
- At the outset, the Bench of Justice Sandeep Mehta and Justice Vinod Kumar Bharwani opined that it would be premature to record any opinion on the issue whether or not the appellants were aware regarding the victim being below 18 years of age, and this would be the subject matter of extensive appreciation of evidence by the appellate court.
- The Court further observed that there was nothing abnormal/unnatural for the hostel warden to have made enquiries as to the circumstances in which, the girl had been found inside the room of the PTI in the dead of the night.
- However, the Court did note that whether or not the circumstances, which came to light in the dead of the night warranted immediate reporting of the matter to the police would also require elaborate consideration at the stage of final disposal of the appeal.
The Hon’ble High Court while suspending the sentence and granting bail to the appellants pending the disposals of their appeal remarked that: “Neither the co-accused Vijendra Singh nor the girl made any admission regarding they being involved in any kind of sexual relations. Prime facie, other than an admission that she was wrong in going to the room of the PTI Vijendra Singh, there is hardly anything in the letter, which can be considered enough to brand it to be an admission by the victim. In this background, we are of the firm view that the applicants have an arguable case that they did not pressurize the girl nor did they try to extract any confession/admission from her.”
– Vaishali Jain, Advocate & Associate – POSH at Work