In what is being deemed a landmark judgment, a vacation judge of the Himachal Pradesh High Court has ruled that friend requests on social media cannot be considered as an "invitation" to be sexually assaulted.
Justice Anoop Chitkara ruled that "the use of social media in present times is the norm. People use social media for networking, knowledge, and entertainment and indeed not to get stopped or be exploited sexually and mentally".
The judgement came during the hearing of a bail plea by a 19-year-old accused of raping a minor in November 2019. The accused had met the minor through Facebook. According to a report in India Today, the accused sought bail on the grounds that the victim had sent him a friend request and had lied about her age.
Responding to the plea, Justice Chitkara said that it was common for people to hide their real identities on social media. In any case, the judge ruled that when the accused met the victim in person, he must have understood that the girl was a minor.
"Just because the victim sent a friend request to the accused does not give him the right and liberty to establish sexual relations with her," the court observed.
The court also noted that 66 per cent of the social media users in India fall under the 15 to 29 years age band and that use of social media by minors did not in any way imply that "children who create social media accounts do so to search for sexual partners, or they intend to receive such invitations".
The judgement also reminded the victim that even if the victim had given the petitioner her consent for sex, laws in India prohibit minors to give consent for sexual activities. In such cases, the consent of the minor does not count, even if given explicitly by them.
The landmark judgement came following a series of POCSO judgements from Bombay High Court judge Pushpa Ganediwala. In a recent case of groping of a child, the judge had ruled that only "skin to skin" contact constituted sexual assault on POCSO. The verdict was later stayed by the Supreme Court of India.
In yet another controversial judgement soon after the previous one, the Nagpur bench Bombay HC ruled that “the act of holding a girl's hands and opening the zip of pants will not come under the definition of sexual assault” under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012. The act instead comes under the ambit of “sexual harassment” under Section 354-A (1) (i) of the Indian Penal Code.