HC voices unease over impending closure of Gargi College sexual harassment matter

The Delhi High Court has voiced its “unease” over the impending closure of a case of of alleged sexual harassment of girl students during a cultural festival at the all-women Gargi College of Delhi University in February 2020 in which the police have filed an untraced report’ before a trial court.

The court said media reports alluding to the detention and subsequent release of certain individuals necessitate a comprehensive follow-up, and asked the Deputy Commissioner of Police concerned to personally look into the matter and supervise the investigation in the criminal case lodged in the alleged sexual harassment incident.

The high court, which was informed by the police that none of the witnesses have come forward to make a statement, said the law enforcement agencies must instill confidence in victims and witnesses, and assist them to come forward to make necessary disclosures about the incident.

While the order was passed on August 17, it was made available on the high court’s website on Tuesday.

“The Witness Protection Scheme, 2018, ought to be leveraged to fortify the investigation and safeguard witnesses. It is crucial to scrutinise all available footage, especially those capturing the vehicles, given the evidence suggesting their significant role in the incident,” a bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sanjeev Narula said in its five-page order.

“This court voices its unease regarding the impending closure of a grievous incident without holding any individual accountable. While some testimonies have been collected, the lack of definitive evidence under Section 164 of CrPC poses challenges,” the high court said.

The bench said such hesitancy on part of the witnesses to come forward to make a statement needs to be addressed.

It noted that according to the newspaper report on record, the accused arrived in the campus vicinity in trucks and said that such CCTV footage must be thoroughly examined to identify the vehicles used which can lead to the offenders.

On February 6, 2020, a group of men had broken into Gargi College during the ‘Reverie’ fest and allegedly groped, harassed and molested the attendees, who claimed security officials stood watching when the incident took place.

The incident came to light after some students took to Instagram to narrate their ordeal and alleged that security personnel did nothing to control the unruly groups.

The bench noted that media reports indicate that certain individuals were apprehended but were later released on bail and said to let go of such potential leads without meticulous scrutiny will be a “miscarriage of justice”.

To ensure prevention of any recurrence of such incidents, the high court said a two-pronged approach is required.

“First, the Commissioner of Police, in conjunction with the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University, is directed to bolster police visibility and surveillance during college events. Secondly, both the college and Delhi University administrations must work in concert with the police to establish protective protocols, ensuring students’ safety,” the bench said.

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The court’s order came while disposing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a court-monitored CBI investigation into the incident.

During the hearing, the counsel for Delhi Police submitted that the city police have filed an “untraced report” before the trial court as not even a single girl identified anyone who sexually harassed them. An untraced report is filed when an accused does not join investigation or police are unable to arrest an accused in a case.

The students said they were molested but none of them came forward for recording their statement before a magistrate as they have moved on in their lives and their families do not want to pursue any criminal, police said.

The Delhi police’s counsel also said they have scanned the CCTV footage of the camera installed outside the college gate but could not identify who all indulged in alleged acts of sexual harassment.

Regarding the criminal investigation, the bench said since the proceedings are pending before a magisterial court in Saket, the high court deems it apt to refrain from any further monitoring and no further orders are required to be passed in the PIL.

According to the police, a case was registered under Indian Penal Code sections 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint), 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).

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