For the past 12 years, Pankaj Chaudhary, his brother Gunjesh and two of their friends have gone through hell. Declared "rapists", they become outcastes and lost their job.
They also remained in jail for four years till the High Court granted them bail in 2001. They had been accused of gang-raping their neighbour on July 28, 1997 in Katwaria Sarai. Rejecting their defence that a prostitute in connivance with local policemen had framed them for protesting against an organised flesh trade operating in their area, a trial court handed them a ten-year jail term on May 24, 2000.
On Friday the Delhi High Court removed the stigma and restored their dignity. Finding that they indeed had been framed, the court acquitted all of them. In the landmark judgment, which can set precedent in all false rape cases, Justice S. Muralidhar asked the government to compensate all the four accused "monetarily or in any other appropriate manner for the loss of their precious twelve years battling a false case".
The complainant woman is also in deep trouble as the judge initiated steps for her prosecution under section 211 IPC for instituting a false criminal proceeding. Maximum punishment for this offence is seven years. "This case is an instance of how a false criminal case, instituted in connivance with obliging police officials can virtually ruin the lives of innocent persons", the judge said.
Till the trial court convicted them in 2000, their argument that they were innocent and were framed just remained an argument till a deeper enquiry was conducted by an NGO. It stumbled upon an FIR which revealed that while the woman claimed she was raped at 9.30 p.m., another complaint in the same police station showed that she was arrested the same afternoon for indulging in flesh trade and let off at 10.30 p.m. on a bond of Rs 500.
An internal enquiry by the police after the revelation also confirmed the accused had been framed. The four accused had urged the High Court to fast track the appeal filed in 2000 after the police submitted their report.