The Judicial Magistrate Court in Coimbatore on Thursday, September 30, granted the Indian Air Force custody of the accused in the alleged rape of a woman IAF officer and allowed the Air Force to deal with the matter through a court martial process. This comes despite the survivor’s demands for a police investigation, after alleged intimidation and harassment by the Air Force officials at the College were the alleged sexual assault took place, to dissuade the survivor from making a formal complaint.
“The custody is to be with Indian Air Force authorities and they will conduct the court martial with regard to the alleged crime,” accused Amitesh's advocate and former special public prosecutor for the CBI, N. Sundaravadivelu said. “The argument was who is entitled to custody; who is entitled to investigate. They (the police) were quoting certain provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code. I was quoting the Indian Air Force Act 1950. The Act is very clear, because it is a special Act. They are entitled to have the custody of the accused. The alleged crime is supposed to have taken place inside the premises which is under control of the Indian Air Force. So, they are entitled to investigate, they are entitled to have a court of enquiry, and entitled to have a court martial.” His lawyer added that a court of enquiry as per the military system would be constituted following which a Court Martial would be convened.
Flight Lieutenant Amitesh Harmukh was arrested on September 25 for allegedly sexually assaulting a fellow officer. The accused had been booked under Section 376 (punishment for rape) of the Indian Penal Code. Following his arrest, Amitesh sought to prevent a police investigation or a regular trial by a criminal court in the case, and instead stated in his affidavit that the case ought to be brought before a military court martial — an internal investigation and trial system in the armed forces. Citing section 72 of the Indian Air Force Act, 1950, the accused said that the police had “no authority to arrest [him]. Even if the civil police would have arrested him, the civil police have no authority to produce him before the Judicial Magisterial Court, Coimbatore, for remand into judicial custody. Moreover, as per Indian Air Force Act, 1950, the Court Martial, instituted to try the above offence has jurisdiction.” The affidavit further adds that the police should have handed custody of Amitesh to the Air Force authorities.
The inquiry being handed over to the IAF could potentially be a setback for the survivor, who had alleged in her complaint that when she reported the alleged sexual assault to the authorities at the Air force College where she was studying her course, she was met with callous attitudes, intimidation and harassment, which led her to initially withdraw her complaint.