Sep 15, 2023

How to Take Legal Action Against Mass Molestations?

TW: This Weekly contains mentions of  physical violence and  sexual violence and abuse which some readers may find disturbing.

Last week, A.R. Rahman’s Marrakkuma Nenjam concert in Chennai resulted in chaos due to overcrowding. Among the numerous complaints, one of the most horrifying ones that surfaced is that of mass molestation. Hundreds of women have complained of being sexually harassed there. Mass molestation is not new to India, several  women from Bengaluru reported cases of molestation and groping on the New Year’s eve of 2017. According to a 2022 report by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme implementation, 23% of all crimes against women accounted for sexual assault. However, very few cases of mass molestation get reported. For instance, in the Bengaluru incident no FIR was registered despite eye witnesses confirming cases of molestation. Similarly, even after 5 days no official complaints have been lodged in the current case. 

Often social stigma and difficulties in navigating the justice system dissuades women from reporting sexual crimes, so in this Weekly, we highlight five things you should know about taking any legal action against any kind of molestation.

Molestation is a punishable crime

Molestation  is any inappropriate or forceful physical contact with a woman done to outrage her modesty and/ or sexually harass her. This is a punishable crime under the following provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) :

  • Section 354, IPC punishes anyone who uses force to outrage the modesty of a woman with jail time up to five years and/ or a fine.
  • Section 354A, IPC punishes anyone who uses any unwelcome or explicit physical advances or touch against a woman with jail time up to three years and/ or a fine.
  • Section 354B, IPC punishes anyone who tries to disrobe a woman forcefully with jail time up to seven years and/ or a fine. 

So, anyone who has experienced any such incidents can file an FIR

FIR can be filed in any police station

First Information Report (FIR) is a report of any cognizable crime that must be filed before a police station to initiate investigation of the offence. Survivors of a sexual crime must file an FIR as the first step. According to the Criminal Amendment Act of 2013, survivors can file a complaint at any police station most accessible to them, irrespective of the jurisdiction of the police station. This is known as the Zero FIR and under this provision, no police officer can refuse to file a complaint on grounds of the incident not falling under their jurisdiction. 

No evidence or witness is mandatory at the time of filing an FIR

According to criminal law, in case of sexual harassment, the survivor’s statement must prove occurrence of harassment beyond reasonable doubt. However, this is only at the stage of the trial and not at the stage of reporting the incident. You can go and file an FIR even without any proof or eye witness. 

FIR can be filed even if the perpetrator is unknown

According to section 154 of the Criminal Code of Procedure, an FIR can be filed even when the name or details of the perpetrator of a crime is unknown. In cases of mass molestation or street sexual harassment, often the survivors are not able to identify the perpetrator. However, this is not a ground for dismissal of an FIR. The police is bound to register your complaint and start an investigation. 

You can complain if your FIR is not registered

If any police officer refuses to register your complaint of molestation, you have the right to raise a complaint against that officer in writing to the Superintendent of Police. Remember, registering an FIR and getting a free copy of the same is your legal right. 

For more information on what to do if you or anyone you know has experienced any form of sexual harassment, read our explainer here.