The judge relied on the new stringent laws against sexual assault that allow for prosecution and conviction of an accused based on the sole testimony of the victim.
Soonawala’s family said that they would appeal against the special judge’s decision.
The 26-year-old woman, from Ghatkopar, had been undergoing treatment for a tuberculosis-related illness in 2013. According to her police complaint, Soonawala raped her when she went to his Khar clinic for a routine checkup on May 17 that year.
The Khar police’s initial handling of the case was severely criticised after officers sent to pick up Soonawala from his Dadar residence allowed him to drive his car unescorted. On the way to the police station, Soonawala escaped. The officers concerned were later suspended for dereliction of duty.
Soonawala avoided arrest by securing anticipatory bail from the Bombay High Court. The police eventually got his custody, but for only 12 hours. A chargesheet in the case was filed last year with witness statements from Soonawala’s secretary and the woman’s husband.
Soonawala asked the court to drop the rape charges, saying there was not enough medical evidence. Soonawala’s lawyer, Harshad Ponda, argued that the victim’s medical reports did not reveal any injuries on or around her private parts, and that no traces of Soonawala’s semen were found in the clinic.
Ponda also raised doubts over the victim’s account of the alleged sexual assault. The woman said in the first information report that Soonawala had ejaculated inside her. But when she was interviewed again after semen traces were found on a bedsheet in the clinic, she told investigators that she didn’t remember whether Soonawala ejaculated inside her or on the bedsheet. “When the panchanama of the place was done by the police and semen stains were found on the bedsheet, her version of events suddenly changed,” Ponda said. “The prosecution has deliberately made her change her story.”
Ponda added that forensic reports also did not suggest sexual assault. “The woman was examined hours after the incident, but nothing abnormal was found. There were no abrasions or injuries on her private parts. The semen found on the bedsheet was not Soonawala’s,” Ponda said.
But the judge observed that these arguments could be made during the trial. The statement by Soonawala’s secretary that his sister tried to influence her statement also prompted the judge to rejected the doctor’s discharge plea.The secretary has said that during a phone call, the sister asked her to depose in Soonawala’s favour in the court.
On Monday, the sister rejected the allegation. “The secretary had called me and expressed shock on reading false accusation against my brother in newspapers. I told her to tell the truth as she was present there throughout,” the sister said.