After 27 years, Delhi court convicts former Bar Association President for assaulting a woman lawyer

ON October 29, a district court in Delhi convicted Rajiv Khosla, a former Delhi High Court Bar Association President, for the assault of a woman lawyer in 1994.

At the time of the incident, the complainant, Sujata Kohli, was a member of the Delhi Bar Association (DBA) and lawyer at the Tis Hazari district courts. She later joined the judiciary and retired as a District and Sessions Court Judge last year.

Though the incident of assault took place on August 5, 1994, the matter finally came up before the court on July 7, 1995. The court noted that it was “an exceptional case where in respect of an incident which happened within half an hour, a person was cross-examined for almost 10 years.”

Gajender Singh Nagar, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Central District, Tis Hazari Court, held Khosla guilty for offences under Sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 506(i) (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The matter is listed for arguments on sentence on November 15.

In her complaint, Kohli informed the court that as the then secretary of the DBA, Khosla would often pressurize her to  join demonstrations and protests on various issues such as bifurcation of the courts, which she would decline.

On July 29, 1994, Khosla asked her to attend a seminar on family courts, but she excused herself from the same by stating that she was busy. As a result, Khosla threatened to take away all facilities provided to her by the DBA, including her seat at the DBA library, from which she had been working since 1987. Following the threats, Kohli filed a civil suit seeking injunction, though her table and chair at the court complex were removed in the meantime.

By August 1994, she sought to change the nature of her suit from permanent injunction to mandatory injunction. On August 5, 1994, the day the Civil Judge hearing her case was to inspect the spot, the accused Khosla and another co-accused, P.S. Rathi (now deceased) arrived with a mob of lawyers and attacked Kohli. Kohli’s complaint had alleged that they pulled “her hair, twisted her arms and dragged her by hair, uttering filthy abuses and threatened her”.

Kohli’s complaint was registered at Subzi Mandi police station on August 8, 1994. The investigation was completed almost a year later. Since Kohli was not satisfied with the same, she moved a private complaint for prosecution of the case.

Both the complaint and the police case were later clubbed. In 2002, Sujata Kohli herself became a judge. Thereafter, the public prosecutor conducted the case.

Even as the defence argued that the complainant failed to bring any independent witnesses to corroborate her version of the story,  the court said that it could not lose sight of the fact that the accused was the Secretary of Delhi Bar Association.

The court went on to observe:

“It rarely happens that people would come forward and speak against their chosen leader. It is common knowledge that now a days people are becoming self-centered and they find it safe to keep mum even if they see an injustice being done to any person. This is becoming harsh reality these days. … nobody comes forward to save some one or to stand witness for someone unless and until one has personal interest in the matter.”

The court also noted the “reluctance of the police” in taking action against the accused, observing how the “Delhi Bar Association is undisputedly a very strong and formidable body of lawyers and more often, police is very slow in taking any action when it comes to lawyers.” Pointing to the fact that the accused “was a prominent leader of Bar” and was then “Honorary Secretary of the DBA”, the court said that the reluctance of the police in taking action against him or his accomplice was evident. It added that, “Even prior to recording statement of the complainant and registering FIR this police official was more interested in enquiring from other lawyers present there and recording signed statement of the alleged accused and others who were stating that no such incident had taken place.”

Further, the defence’s argument of a lack of medico-legal certificate (MLC) by Kohli was also rejected by the court. The complainant had stated that only bodily pain was caused to her since she was manhandled and pulled by hair. Thus, “non proving of MLC is not fatal to the case …”, the court said.

Although Khosla argued that the case was ‘cooked up’ owing to “previous enmity and desire of the complainant to come in limelight among women’s organizations”, the court noted that it was impossible to concoct the events and held that the complainant was “truthful and creditworthy”.

“The complainant was an advocate, she was aware about all the legal provisions, if she had to cook up a story she could have easily made up a story that in the late hours after dark she was attacked or molested by the accused which is not the case here. In the present case the complainant has alleged the attack in the broad daylight in presence of a number of lawyers, soon before the visiting of Ld Civil Judge. It is impossible for a person to so minutely cook up a story as allegedly done by the complainant,” the court held in its verdict.

Click here to read the court’s judgment.
(Sabah Gurmat is a staff-reporter at The Leaflet.)

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