In a judgment last week, Bombay High Court judge Pushpa Ganediwala found that a 39-year-old man was not guilty of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl as he had not removed her clothes, meaning there was no skin-on-skin contact.
According to court documents, the man brought the child to his house on the pretext of giving her guava in December 2016. While there, he touched her chest and tried to remove her underwear, according to the judgment.
He was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to three years in prison in a lower court, but then appealed to the High Court.
In her judgment on January 19, Justice Ganediwala found that his act “would not fall in the definition of ‘sexual assault,'” which carries a minimum three year prison term which can be extended to five years.
Justice Ganediwala acquitted the accused of sexual assault but convicted him on the lesser charge of molestation and sentenced him to one year in prison.
“It is the basic principle of criminal jurisprudence that the punishment for an offense shall be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime,” she said.
India’s sexual assault problem
Indians took to social media after the Bombay High Court decision was released to question the logic of the court decision, which sets a new precedent. Other high courts and lower courts around the country will now need to follow the Bombay High Court’s decision.
Karuna Nundy, a lawyer at the Supreme Court of India, the country’s top court, called for judges who passed judgments that were “completely contrary to established law” and basic rights to be retrained.
Ranjana Kumari, the director of non-profit Centre for Social Research, which advocates for women’s rights in India, said the judgment is “shameful, outrageous, shocking and devoid of judicial prudence.”
Those included fast track courts to move rape cases through the justice system swiftly, an amended definition of rape to include anal and oral penetration, and the publication of new government guidelines intended to do away with the two-finger test which purportedly assessed whether a woman had sexual intercourse recently.
CNN’s Swati Gupta and Manveena Suri contributed reporting.