Activists and child rights bodies have slammed the recent judgment of the Bombay high court that there is no sexual assault if there is no 'skin-to-skin' contact.
In a judgment passed on January 19, the Bombay high court has said groping a minor's breast without 'skin-to-skin contact' cannot be termed sexual assault as defined under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Justice Pushpa Ganediwala of the Nagpur bench of held that there must be 'skin to skin contact with sexual intent' for an act to be considered sexual assault.
It has drawn the ire of child rights bodies and activists, who have termed it 'absolutely unacceptable, outrageous and obnoxious', and called for challenging the judgment.
Dhananjay Tingal, executive director of child rights NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan, said their legal team was looking into the matter and all the data related to this is being collected.
"We shall be appealing the Supreme court on the basis of their inputs," Tingal told PTI.
Activist Kavita Krishnan, secretary of All India Progressive Women's Association, called it an 'outrageous judgment' that goes against the letter of the law.
"The POCSO law defines sexual assault very clearly and it has a provision for sexual touch. This notion that you will circumvent the law by saying touch with or without clothes makes no sense at all," Krishnan said.
"That is absolute rubbish and it fails the test of common sense also. For me, it's a larger question of who qualifies to be a judge in cases related to gender," she said.
Yogita Bhayana, an activist who heads the People Against Rape in India (PARI), said it was disappointing to hear from a judge and such statements 'motivate the criminals'.
"I really think it's very regressive of her to say this," Bhayana said.
After the Nirbhaya case, Bhayana said they were trying to push that even verbal gestures are included as assault, adding that they wanted to be more progressive and move to issues of cyber bullying.
"On other hand, they are talking about this!" she said.
Prabhat Kumar, deputy director of Save the Children, said nowhere in the POCSO Act itself there is talk about skin-to-skin contact.
"The act talks about physical (abuse), which is largely the use of force to sexually assault. So we feel that this interpretation is not right," Kumar said.
"If there are inconsistencies in interpretation of this law, then we must choose the law with the stricter punishment for the person accused of the offence. So even that has not been complied with," he said.
Women's rights activist Shamina Shafiq called it very unfortunate that a lady judge had come out with this judgement.
"As a woman, you must understand that groping while you are wearing clothes is very usual and unfortunately normal in this country and this is something that keeps on happening to women and girls.
"And to say such a thing will give ideas to men also and it will not act as a deterrent," Shafiq said.
"It's shocking and the judge is a woman. I absolutely fail to understand how a woman judge can pass this kind of judgment," social activist Shabnam Hashmi said.