Mumbai-based businessman Vikas Sachdev has been convicted for molesting a former Bollywood actor when she was 17 years old, by a special POCSO court in Mumbai. On Wednesday, the court sentenced Vikas to rigorous imprisonment for three years, and ordered him to pay a fine of Rs 25,000.
Vikas Sachdeva had molested the actor in December 2017, when they were on a Vistara Delhi-Mumbai flight. The businessman was sitting in the row behind the teenager, and had put his foot on her armrest and molested her. The actor had posted a video about the experience on her social media where she said that the ordeal went on for about two hours on the flight. Following this, Vikas was booked under section 354 of the IPC and under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
For the actor, who was mercilessly trolled and abused for speaking up, the conviction comes as vindication. When she shared her experience, many abused and disbelieved her. While some questioned why she did not complain to the cabin crew, others said that instead of posting a video about it later, why she did not just raise an alarm if it was happening for two hours.
The online abuse intensified after Vikas’s wife spoke to reporters backing her husband. She said that Vikas had apologised to the former actor while deboarding the flight, and the victim had said “okay”. She said that her husband was innocent, was a “family man” and was “mentally exhausted” after attending the funeral of an uncle of his. He was sleeping, and his leg was accidentally touching the girl, Vikas’s wife said.
However, the actor, in her video where she talked about the molestation, said that Vikas had kept nudging her shoulder and “moving his foot up and down” her back and neck. She tried to take a video, but since the lights were dimmed on the flight, she could not.
“This is not done, I am disturbed... Is this how you're going to take care of girls? This is not the way anybody should be made to feel. This is terrible! No one will help us if we don't decide to help ourselves. And this is the worst thing," she had said.
Ultimately, with the vitriol against her growing, the former actor deleted her social media account. Later, she quit acting too, but that decision was not based on the molestation incident.
What the court said
While convicting Vikas, the special POCSO court said that sexual assault is a common experience for women who use public transport. Judge AD Deo observed in her order that the case was about a "most common experience of sexual assault" that women face while using public transport. But women ignore it thinking that there is no likelihood of coming across the assailant after the journey, and therefore such incidents go unreported, she said. The present case would "demonstrate that elite mode of the transport is not an exception", the judge said, referring to the fact that the actor was travelling business class.
The judge also dismissed Vikas’s defence that the survivor was suffering a "hallucination". The survivor was cross-examined at length but her testimony that Vikas touched her with his foot while sitting behind her on the flight remained unscathed, the court said.
However, three of the seven witnesses of the prosecution - a passender and two members of the cabin crew - said that Vikas had slept throughout the flight.
Vikas's lawyer Adnan Sheikh also argued that Vikas had a "good nature", was a first time offender and the only breadwinner of his family.
Vikas (41) was granted bail after the verdict. His sentence was suspended so as to enable him to file an appeal.
“We will be filing an appeal in the High Court immediately. We have a very good case as she didn't identify the accused during the trial and didn't turn up before the court when recalled," lawyer Adnan Sheikh said.
(With PTI inputs)