Woman, paraded naked, gets justice after 16 years

New Delhi: Upholding a year-long jail term to four persons, including a woman, for parading a 25-year-old Bhil woman naked 16 years ago in a Maharashtra village, the Supreme Court on Wednesday rued that the punishment was too little and the state never sought its enhancement.

"The parade of a tribal woman on the village road in broad day light is shameful, shocking and outrageous," said a bench of justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra, while upholding the conviction of the four perpetrators of the crime dating back to May 13, 1994.

"The dishonour of victim Nandabai called for harsher punishment, and we are surprised that the state government did not file any appeal for enhancement of the punishment awarded by the additional sessions judge in February 1998," the bench said.

The bench also lamented that the Bombay High Court earlier, while adjudicating the appeal by the four convicts, had set aside their convictions under stringent Scheduled Cases and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 on mere technicalities that the victim was not able to produce her caste certificate.

Upset by the incident, the bench went on to recall mythological incident in Hindu epic Mahabaharata, where guru Dronacharya had tricked Bhil youth Eklavya into severing his thumb and giving it to him as his fees for learning archery under his inspiration.

Observing that Dronacharya had taken Eklavya`s thumb merely to ensure that there was no better archer than his favourite pupil Arjuna, the bench said, "It is time to undo the historical injustice to tribals."

The incident dates back to 1994, when the Bhil woman was assaulted and paraded naked by four of her co-villagers – Kailash, Balu, Subhash and Subhadra, for having a relation with one of their family members, Vikram, who was also the father of Nandabai`s daughter.

The four had assaulted her and paraded her naked to drive her out of the village as they wanted to get Vikram married to some other girl of their own caste.

Upset by the injustice meted out to the Bhil woman, the bench said, "The mentality of our countrymen towards these tribals must change, and they must be given the respect they deserve as the original inhabitants of India.

"It is the duty of all people who love our country to see that no harm is done to the Scheduled Tribes and that they are given all help to bring them up in their economic and social status, since they have been victimised for thousands of years by terrible oppression and atrocities," it said.

"The injustice done to the tribal people of India is a shameful chapter in our country`s history," said the bench, adding, "The tribals were called `rakshas` (demons), `asuras`, and what not.

"They were slaughtered in large numbers and the survivors and their descendants were degraded, humiliated, and all kinds of atrocities inflicted on them for centuries," rued the court.

"Despite this horrible oppression on them, the tribals of India have generally retained a higher level of ethics than the non-tribals in our country. They normally do not cheat, do not tell lies, and do other misdeeds which many non-tribals do," the bench said.

"They are generally superior in character to the non-tribals. It is time now to undo the historical injustice to them," the court said.