Chief Justice of India, Sharad A Bobde, today said the comments he made during a hearing of a rape case last week were completely misreported to imply disrespect for women. The Supreme Court, he said, had always accorded the "highest respect to womanhood" and the judiciary's reputation was in the hands of its lawyers, the "Bar".
"We did not ask him (rape accused) to marry. We asked 'are you going to marry?' We did not say 'marry'," Chief Justice Bobde said today.
On March 1, the top court was hearing the bail request of one Mohit Subhash Chavan, a technician with the Maharashtra State Electric Production Company, accused of raping a schoolgirl. He faced charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences law.
"If you want to marry, we can help you. If not, you lose your job and go to jail. You seduced the girl, raped her. We are not forcing you. Later you may say court forced you " the Chief Justice told the petitioner's lawyer.
The remarks drew a furious backlash from several quarters as it was construed as the top court considering marriage as some panacea for rape. Several women's rights activists, eminent citizens, intellectuals, writers, and artists wrote to Chief Justice Bobde demanding an apology and a retraction of his remarks. Over 5,000 people signed a petition demanding that he even quit.
A court official later termed the criticism unfair, according to a PTI report, saying the comments were based on "judicial records" containing an undertaking of the accused that he would marry the minor girl, a relative, once she turned 18.
The Chief Justice today said "there was complete misreporting" on the matter. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, too, said the court had asked the question in a different context.
The Chief justice said, "We did not have any marital rape cases before us. I asked my brothers (judges sitting in the bench). They, too, do not remember. This institution, particularly this bench, we have the highest respect for womanhood."
Today's comments, coming on International Women's Day, were made during the hearing of a plea by a minor girl seeking permission to abort a 26-week pregnancy.