Srinagar: The J&K High Court on Tuesday stayed acquittal of self-styled faith-healer Gulzar Ahmed Bhat alias Gulzar Peer of the charges of rape of four girls.
“In the normal course in acquittal appeal, court does not pass interim order either for staying of the impugned judgment or for directing the arrest of the accused.
“However, after perusal of the statements of the prosecution witnesses, more particular of those girls (minors) who have been subjected to sexual assault, a very strong case is made out for issuance of interim directions,” said a division bench of Justices Muzaffar Hussain Attar and Ali Mohammad Magrey while admitting appeal against the acquittal of Gulzar Peer.
“The girls have given graphic details in the manner they were trapped and subjected to sexual assault. The law and justice, both would require to ensure that accused does not give slip to law and his presence in the society may not endanger its legal, moral and social fabric,” the court said.
Four girls studying at Peer’s ‘seminary’ at Shamasabad village of Budgam had complained to the police on May 19, 2013 that he had been raping them after calling them to his chamber on the pretext of religious teachings.
The girls said while committing the crime, Peer would raise the volume of a tape recorder to drown their cries. They also alleged that he would render them unconscious by “casting magical spells” on them.
A special Investigation Team (SIT) was constituted by police filing FIR (No. 40/2013) at police station Khan Sahib.
Later charge sheet was filed against Peer for commission of offence under RPC section 376 (rape) and he along with five other arrested accused, those who allegedly abetted the crime, were put to trial.
Five more persons, according to police, are still on run and the court has declared them proclaimed offenders.
On February 12, Peer and the others were acquitted by the Sessions Court which observed that prosecution failed to prove the guilt against them.
“We are prima facie of firm opinion that an extraordinary case is made out at this stage to intervene. In the interest of justice, we at this stage direct that, till further orders from the court, the impugned judgment shall stay. (Gulzar Peer) shall be taken into custody by the police. His judicial custody shall be regulated in accordance with law,” the division bench said.
The High Court also issued notice to Peer and the five others. It was accepted by their counsel advocate Mushtaq Ahmad Dar.
The appeal has been filed by government through Station House Officer of Khansahib police station. The government has urged the High Court to set aside the Session Judge’s verdict and convict the accused as well as award them maximum punishment under law in the interest of justice.
“The prosecution established the guilt of the accused to the hilt before the trial court. However, the court has acquitted them by observing that there is no material on record to connect the accused with the commission of offence,” reads the appeal filed by the government through Deputy Advocate General NH Shah.
The state has assailed the verdict on a number of grounds, claiming it was result of “non-application of judicial mind on facts as well as on law.”
The appeal reads: “The trial court has given undue weightage to the factum of delay in lodging of FIR and besides some other factors. It is respectfully submitted that delay in filing of FIR in the rape crimes is usual, as reporting of such crime to police or public, exposes victim of such a heinous crime to social backlash as in our conservative society victim of a rape is being looked down upon in derision and contempt.”
The trial court, the state said, has given the benefit of the delay to the accused by observing that the delay has not been explained, thereby dealing a blow to the prosecution.
“It is trite to submit here that the Supreme Court has in plethora of judgments held that the victims of sexual assault usually hesitate and cringe to report the matter to police because of our social dogmas.
“The victims and their families have to face a lot of heat and criticism. Instead of castigating and deploring such heinous crime, the victim and her family are being subjected to severe castigations,” the appeal reads.
The delay in reporting the matters in such crimes, it said, is usual and “the courts usually condone it but the trial court has held its opinion contrary to the stated position of law.”
That the victims in their depositions before the court, it said, categorically stated that Peer raped them while the other accused were instrumental in the abetment of the crime.
“The depositions of victims before the trial court were consistent, coherent and overwhelmingly inspiring confidence, but the trial court has brushed aside the evidentiary value of the depositions and acquitted the accused on flimsy grounds,” the appeal reads.
To the observations in the trial court’s verdict that the prosecution failed to examine independent witnesses in the case, the state has said: “One fails to understand that in the peculiar facts and circumstances attending the matter, how anyone other than victims of the crime were the best witnesses, as it was a close door affair where presence of no independent witness was expected.”
The law requires that the best evidence should be brought before the court and the investigating agency followed the same.
“It is submitted that the Apex Court has noted in many rulings that asking for corroboration to version of a rape victim amounts to adding insult to her injury as in our deep rooted conservative society it cannot even imagined that at the cost of her honour and reputation any victim of rape can falsely implicate an accused,” the appeal reads.
The government has said the trial court has not spoken a word about the testimonies of the victims but has laid too much emphasis on the material which was less relevant.