When a special court in Bengaluru granted the Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Revanna bail on May 13 in a kidnapping case, activists were dismayed. On May 20, the same court went on to grant Revanna bail in a case involving alleged sexual harassment, among other offences. Since the investigation is underway, they believe that the release of this powerful politician could possibly hamper the investigation.

The sexual harassment case was filed on April 28, naming as accused both HD Revanna, a member of Karnataka’s legislative assembly, and his son Prajwal Revanna, the Janata Dal (Secular) member of parliament from Hassan. The kidnapping case was filed on May 2 by a resident of Mysuru, who alleged that Revanna was responsible for kidnapping his mother. Revanna was arrested two days later in connection with this case.

In a statement to The News Minute later, the woman said that she had previously been sexually assaulted by Prajwal Revanna. Videos of Prajwal Revanna’s alleged abuse of at least tens of women in Hassan have been circulating through pen drives and social media since late April. He has been absconding since April 27, even though police summoned him for questioning, and Interpol issued a blue corner notice for him. On May 18, police issued an arrest warrant for him.

In the kidnapping case, HD Revanna was accused under three sections of the Indian Penal Code – 364(A), 365 and 34. The first two deal with kidnapping, including with intent to murder the victim and to extract ransom. The third deals with “acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention”. The first two offences are non-bailable – that is, those accused under these sections are not entitled to bail as a matter of right.

The fact that the woman who was abducted had allegedly been assaulted by Prajwal Revanna indicated that she had been kidnapped to keep investigators away from her, contended Maitreyi K, president of the All India Lawyers’ Association for Justice.

“In this case, the kidnapping appears to have been done to prevent the victim from filing a complaint,” she said. “That goes to show that there was an attempt to tamper with evidence. So, the fact that he is being let go is very shocking to me.”

She noted that the woman in this instance was “in a very vulnerable position” and that it was HD Revanna’s “massive influence and power that has allowed him to try to tamper with evidence this way”.

BT Venkatesh, a former public prosecutor in the High Court of Karnataka said that courts typically consider several factors while deciding on a bail plea. These include the gravity of the alleged offence, the kind of support that victims need and the power the accused wields to silence witnesses.

“[HD] Revanna is the head of so many institutions,” he said. “He is the son of a former prime minister [HD Deve Gowda], he is a former minister and at present legislator. He is politically, financially and socially very powerful. His very presence in the place of the offence would create fear in the mind of the victim and people who may provide evidence in the case.”

Scroll texted and emailed questions to HD Revanna and Prajwal Revanna about the allegations against them. This story will be updated if they respond.

The court’s reasoning

In her statement to The News Minute, the woman who was allegedly kidnapped said that Satish Babanna, HD Revanna’s aide and the second accused in the case, had told her that a police case had been registered against her and that she would be arrested. Fearing arrest, she said, she went with Babanna to a farmhouse in Kalenahalli village in Mysuru.

Further, she said, the driver of HD Revanna’s wife Bhavani forced her to record a video in which she said that she had not been kidnapped, and that Revanna, his wife and son Prajwal Revanna had done nothing wrong. She alleged that Babanna told the owner of the house to keep her in hiding.

The next day, the woman told The News Minute, she escaped, walked several hours and then took an autorickshaw to a relative’s house, from where she finally made contact with her family.

In its bail order, the court relied heavily on the son’s complaint and reasoned that other than a stray allegation, “no materials have been produced at this juncture, that the entire incident of abduction had taken place at the behest of petitioner”.

According to an official familiar with the investigation, however, the woman’s statement had been recorded, under both sections 161 and 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, by the police and a magistrate respectively. He explained that during the hearing, the prosecution informed the court that these statements had been recorded, but that the court did not take this into consideration.

The court also raised questions about the fact that the victim’s statement was recorded “4-5 days after her rescue”, which it argued “would clearly cast a reasonable doubt with respect to existence or otherwise of a prima facie case against the petitioner”.

Further, it stated that there was no evidence of demands of ransom or of the victim being in danger. But Venkatesh argued that the court’s reasoning on the question of ransom was flawed. “Telling someone that they will not be allowed to leave if they don’t make a certain statement or don’t do some particular activity amounts to intimidation,” he said. “In this case, there was an attempt to silence the victim from speaking out about the case.”

The court also observed that the complainant, the woman’s son, had learnt from his friends that she “was subjected to sexual assault and even the same was circulated through viral video”. But in the context of granting HD Revanna bail, it noted, “no materials have been found that the petitioner herein had indeed acted to shield his son”.

Activists argued that the court should have considered the context of the complaint that the alleged victim’s son filed. “Ordinary citizens don’t know how to write a complaint,” said Vimala KS, president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. “It is extremely unfortunate, but they are not aware of what details they need to fill in. Also, he must have been so scared and just wanted his mother to come back. There is nobody to guide citizens on how to write. Plus, they have to deal with all the trauma of the situation.”

Venkatesh agreed with this assessment. “The court should view all the information that is supplied by the prosecution and the defence, and not restrict only to content of the first information report,” Venkatesh said. “More particularly in such cases, as there is distinct possibility of evidences being destroyed or affected. Courts have always held that FIR is not encyclopaedia.”

He conceded that the court’s reluctance to rely on a statement by Babanna that HD Revanna had arranged the kidnapping, which it described as “self-serving”, was not unusual. Since Babanna himself was an accused in the case, he said, “The statement has a limited purpose and it is not reliable.”

Judicial discretion

Ashwini Obulesh, an advocate at the High Court of Karnataka and the founder of Dhwani Legal Trust, said she was “not completely surprised” that the court granted Revanna bail. Courts tended to deny bail “only in rare” cases, she said, such as “where there is aggravated assault”.

But Meghana M, a lawyer and Obulesh’s colleague, noted that in many ways, this case did fall into the “rare” category. “When kidnapping is coupled with sexual harassment, getting bail is also stricter, the judge is not as lenient,” she said.

Obulesh added that in any case, a court has considerable leeway while taking decisions on bail. “Even though there are no set standards of discretion, the court can use its discretion to decide on bail,” she said.

Venkatesh agreed that the court could have used “its judicial discretion to take other aspects into consideration”. He noted, “It is very important to protect an individual’s right, but it is also important to discuss what needs to be done in protection of social fabric.”

He pointed out that in the Gudikanti Narasimhulu judgement of 1978, the Supreme Court had underlined the importance of balancing “societal responsibility and individual liberty”. It reasoned that “refusal of bail is not for punitive purpose but for the bifocal interests of justice to the individual involved and society affected”.

Vimala said she had hoped that the court would impose stricter conditions on HD Revanna. “The court has said he should not enter KR Nagar, the locality of the victim,” she said. “But how is that enough? They should have strictly directed him to go nowhere near Hassan. He should have been asked to remain in Bengaluru.”

She noted that after he was granted bail, Revanna “visited Chamundeshwari temple, and for 30 minutes nobody was allowed to enter the temple”. She added, “Why is he being given such royal treatment? The case is not over, he is only out on bail.”

Vimala believes that HD Revanna’s bail will definitely have an effect on victims. “Already, women are hesitating to come out and speak up and file complaints,” she said. “This news will further deter them. Women are going to be more scared now.”

Further, she argued, the court should have given more weight to the fact that Prajwal Revanna is still absconding. “Even though his father was arrested, he still didn’t come back,” she said. “The court should have taken a comprehensive approach and tried to understand the impact of his [HD Revanna’s] bail on other factors.”

Maitreyi emphasised that the court should have sought to ensure that affected women felt safe enough to come forward. “We cannot be blind to the fact that this family is casteist, feudal and extremely powerful,” she said. “The state has to ensure that survivors are protected, given legal aid and counsel and compensation.”

Vimala added, “The state must immediately challenge this bail order.”

With reporting inputs from Shivani Kava and Anisha Sheth.