Supreme Court to decide if accused in sex offences can stay unnamed
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to take up a public interest petition (PIL) seeking new guidelines to protect the identities of persons accused of sexual harassment or assault, issuing notices to the government for its view on the demand.
The petition, filed by the Youth Bar Association of India, said allegations carry the potential of destroying the life of an individual even if that person is innocent, and that the media should be restrained from revealing identities on the lines of similar curbs that are in place to protect the identity of victims in crimes of a sexual nature.
“The allegations of sexual harassment tarnish the image, repute and goodwill of such person/s in the society and it adversely affects his entire life in all terms even if, at later point of time he is found to be innocent,” the petition said. “It does not only destroy an individual’s life but creates a social stigma for the family members too. Need of the hour demands that some preventive measures must be taken so as to avoid and to deal with such situations in the interest of justice,” the plea added.
Demands for such curbs have been made several times, most prominently in the aftermath of a suicide by a senior Genpact employee in December. In the suicide note, the man said he had been falsely accused of harassment by two women and fired without being heard.
The petition said suspects of sexual crimes should be named only after charges are proved beyond doubt to uphold the “innocent until proven guilty” legal principle. A bench led by justice SA Bobde issued notice to the Union ministry of home affairs, law ministry and ministry of information and broadcasting for their opinion on the demand.
Women’s rights activists have resisted such guidelines, saying the naming acts as a deterrent. “In my experience, in several cases in the corporate sector, the officials fearing a dent on their reputation comply with the rules. If the name of an accused now remains hidden, it will make matters worse for women,” said Dr Rajulben L Desai of the Nation Commission of Women.
“It is important that women and children in any society know of perpetrators. There was talk of making of a roster of those accused in sexual crimes after they are proven guilty, then where is the need to hide criminals,” said Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research.