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SC stays bail of 3 Jindal University students convicted of rape, but all are still free

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Supreme Court stayed their bail, but the men convicted of rape were “not home” when police went to serve fresh arrest warrants issued by the trial court.

New Delhi: Two months ago, the Supreme Court stayed the bail granted to three men convicted in May 2017 for repeatedly gang raping and criminally intimidating a fellow university student. But the convicts are yet to return in police custody, because of a possible legal loophole.

The case had made national headlines last year after a two-judge bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court had blamed the victim while suspending the sentence of the three men and giving them bail, outraging legal and gender experts.

Fresh arrest warrants

Hardik Sikri, Karan Chhabra and Vikas Garg were reportedly “not at home” when the police sought to serve them arrest warrants.

The warrants were issued after the rape survivor, citing the apex court’s order cancelling bail, moved the Sonepat court that had convicted the men. Joginder Singh Rana, the advocate representing the survivor, said the trial court issued warrants on 21 December. “The court was informed that the accused were reportedly not at home when the warrants were sought to be served,” he said.

Rana added that a fresh petition had to be filed seeking arrest, since the convicts did not present themselves before the trial court as per standard procedure.

SC order not clear

However, Prasenjit Keswani, Hardik’s lawyer in the apex court, told ThePrint that the SC order is not clear about taking the convicts back into custody.

“As we see it, the challenge before the SC is only about the high court setting aside the sentence and that is what has been stayed for now. The bail was granted through a separate order, which is not challenged,” he said.

When asked about the arrest warrants issued, Keswani said that “all legal avenues will be explored”.

Sources with knowledge of developments in the case said that Hardik’s team of lawyers is already preparing to challenge the trial court’s intervention before the apex court.

Case background

The Sonepat court had convicted all three accused and sentenced Hardik and Karan to 20 years’ imprisonment while Vikas was sentenced to seven years in jail. The three immediately filed appeals before the high court challenging their conviction.

While their appeals were pending, the Punjab and Haryana High Court granted them bail and also stayed the sentence awarded to them. The high court released them, saying that “it would be a travesty if these young minds are confined to jail for an inordinate(ly) long period of time which would deprive them of their education, opportunity to redeem themselves and be a part of the society as normal beings.”

The high court order was criticised for laying blame on the victim and making needless references to her “promiscuity”, “adventurism”, and “experimentation in sexual encounters”.

The court had suspended the sentence since the “narrative does not throw up gut-wrenching violence, that normally accompanies such incidents.”

Hardik and Karan have already spent roughly two-and-a-half years in jail, while Vikas was in jail for less than less than two years.

The case will be next heard in the apex court on 15 January.

(With inputs from Chitleen K. Sethi)

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