The POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) court in Rohini witnessed an unprecedented scene last week when the victim of an alleged rape was made to interact with the accused — in a departure from court norms.
For, this was no ordinary case. The victim, a 15-year-old deaf and mute girl, was allegedly raped by her father last year, following which her mother approached the police in October.
In courtroom number 307 of the Rohini District Court last week, the girl sat anxiously to record her statement, with soft toys and chocolates placed before her. A wooden partition was placed between her and her father to ensure there is no interaction between the two, as mandated under the law.
For two hours, the arrangement remained intact. But eventually, as efforts to record the girl’s testimony did not yield results, the partition was removed, and the girl and her father came face to face. The court took the step after a specialist opined that it would be in the interest of justice if the girl was allowed to look at the accused.
According to the mother’s complaint filed in October last year, the accused allegedly took advantage of the girl’s condition and sexually assaulted her on several occasions when the mother was at work. She also alleged that she noticed tooth marks on her daughter’s hand and chest, and that she was threatened by her husband not to approach the police.
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“When we would sit for dinner, my daughter would refuse to eat. She would keep crying, looking at her father,” the mother said in her complaint filed with the Delhi police.
In November, a sign language expert and a special educator were roped in by the police to interact with the child. The sign language expert, deposing before the court, had said that the “child victim was in a very agitated state”. “She had exhibited violent behaviour. She was pulling her clothes. After interacting with her for some time, we came to know that she was labouring under some kind of mental problem. At that time, we could not get any response from the child except for the fact that something had happened to her,” the expert told the court.
Last week, the two experts tried to interact with the girl for a second time so that the court could record her statement, considered the most crucial evidence. For two hours, they tried interacting with the child, who was accompanied by her mother. “Today, we found that she is not violent. She is responding to touch, but again, no information can be elicited from her as she does not maintain eye contact and she is not in a position to either understand or respond to our attempts,” the experts told the court. “We also find that she is not in a position to comprehend any fact… the child victim is not able to recollect the facts.”
With their attempts having failed, the court decided to confront the girl and her father during in camera proceedings. Sources said the victim communicated with her father using sign language. The two were then made to spend some time together in the court lobby to assess the girl’s behaviour with the accused, said sources.
The court, however, could not record her evidence. “With a view to have some assessment of facts, I have permitted the accused to sit close to the child victim and interact with her. The accused interacted with her and she appeared to be comfortable… I even permitted the child victim to go along with him and they both remained together for some time, and the child did not exhibit any kind of abnormal behaviour with him,” the court said.
“In my considered opinion, the child victim is not a competent witness and as such her evidence cannot be recorded. All the persons present in court — be it from the side of state or the accused — everybody cooperated with the child… But I don’t think that the evidence of the child victim can be recorded in the matter,” the court said, closing proceedings in the case. The court will record the mother’s evidence later this month.