On January 24, 2009, television channels across India broadcast a video of a group of men slapping women at a pub in Mangaluru, dragging them by their hair and accusing them of having loose morals. The mob were members of the Sri Ram Sene, a Hindutva organisation in Karnataka. Its chief Pramod Muthalik had described the idea of women going to pubs a “cultural invasion”.
Many of the men were arrested in the following weeks. Nine years later, a trial court on Monday acquitted all the accused, including Muthalik, for lack of evidence. In its poorly-drafted 30-page verdict, the court detailed how the police had failed to build a case.
The prosecution not only failed to produce the assaulted women as witnesses, it also did not produce any video evidence, despite there being plenty of it. This effectively killed the case and allowed Muthalik to proclaim, “This judgement is the answer for those who opposed us and called us goons. For nine years, Pramod Muthalik and Sri Ram Sene were defamed. I thank the court.”
No witnesses, no evidence
The verdict said the women who were assaulted were the best witnesses in the case. However, the investigating officer had told the court that he “could not procure their presence”. The judge said:
“In order to prove the same the investigating officer did not procure the presence of women customers in this case and also not cited them as witnesses in the charge sheet. The women customers are the victims and they are the best witnesses in this case. If the investigating officer examined them the real truth would come out it.”
Next, the court said the police had failed to produce documentary evidence. The videos played on repeat by television channels were not part of the case file. The judgement read:
“In order to prove the involvement of the accused persons those videos and photographs are plays very important role and those videos and photographs are the material evidence in this case. In order to prove the same the investigating officer did not produce the videos and photographs before this court. Non-production of the videos and photographs is fatal to the prosecution case.”
To make matters worse, the complainant in the case turned hostile and claimed not to have seen the accused on the day of the assault. The police inspector put in change of the case was not included as a witness. There was even a delay in dispatching the first information report to the court. “The delay in dispatching the FIR is not explained. The delay in dispatching the FIR is also fatal to the prosecution case,” said the court, citing a Supreme Court precedent.