Lawyers unsure how to prosecute ‘mute spectators’
From citizens’ arrest to provisions already under the IPC that deal with the duties of the public, lawyers are divided on how exactly a mute spectator can be brought to book for not reacting to atrocities against women.
Although they welcomed the recommendation of the Justice Dharmadhikari Committee to treat people who do not report the public harassment of women, or remain bystanders, as offenders, implementing such a law could be a complicated process.
Advocate Pradeep Havnur said that it is only when the mindset of society towards women changes can there be a solution.
Hinting at recent events where women were molested in public, Havnur said anybody could say they were just a spectator.
His views are echoed by advocate Jamshed Mistry. “Ideally it [the crime] needs to at least be reported to the nearest authority,” he said, adding that to making such an action mandatory under law was a bit farfetched.
But not everyone thought the proposal was that implausible. “When you see a crime it is your duty to report it. That is why it is called a first information report. Otherwise you are aiding and abetting the crime. What the report suggests is already covered under the law,” advocate Arfan Sait said.
Lawyers also said there is already a provision under various laws that can be used to implement the committee’s suggestion. All that is needed is the proper implementation and enforcement of such laws, especially because most citizens may not know what the proper course of action would be if they wanted to report a crime.
Havnur said sections 19 and 20 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act make it mandatory for someone to inform the authorities if he or she is aware of any cases of child molestation. Mistry said that under section 43 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), a private person can make an arrest if he is witness to a non-bailable and cognisable offence, and can take action as per the procedure until the police takes over.