Jan 5, 2024

Outraging Modesty: Shock Value and Intent

Recently, the Bombay High Court held that while following, abusing and pushing a woman are annoying acts, they do not constitute the crime of outraging the modesty of a woman under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). 

In this Weekly, let us look at what it means to outrage the modesty of a woman under Sections 354 and 509 of the IPC. 

Both Section 354 and 509 deal with outraging the modesty of a woman. While Section 354 refers to physical acts including assault or force, Section 509 deals with words, gestures and such acts. 

What does Section 354 of the IPC state?

Section 354 in the IPC states that if someone assaults or uses force with the intention to outrage the modesty of a woman, they will be punished with jail time up to 2 years, or a fine or both. This section covers various physical acts like forced kissing, hugging or any unwanted physical contact that is done with the intention to violate a woman’s modesty. 

In Tarkeshwar Sahu v State of Bihar, the court emphasized that certain acts will constitute outraging a woman’s or child’s modesty if they’re associated with her sex, regardless of her understanding of modesty. 

What is Section 509 of the IPC?

Whoever through sounds, gestures, words intends to intrude upon the privacy of a woman will be punished with jail time up to three years or a fine or both. This includes acts like making sexually colored remarks or whistling at a woman or any other words that could shock her decency. Acts like peeping into her room or recording her constitute intruding upon her privacy.

In Varun Bhatia v State and Another, where a man was charged under Section 509 of IPC for using vulgar language against a female employee by calling her “gandi aurat”, the Delhi High Court granted relief to the man stating that these words, which translate to “dirty woman” read without context or without preceding or succeeding words that indicate an intent to outrage the modesty of a woman, don’t bring simply the words “gandi aurat” under the ambit of Section 509. It ruled that insulting a woman, being rude to her and not behaving with her in a chivalrous manner, as she would expect one to behave, will not be covered under the definition of “outraging the modesty of a woman” as per Section 509 of the IPC.

What happened in the current case?

A college student filed a case against a man for following her on his bicycle and pushing her when she was going to the market. She claimed that he had abused and followed her previously too. Justice Pansare of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court quashed the orders of the Magistrate Court and the Sessions Court, acquitting the accused. The Magistrate’s Court had sentenced him to two years of rigorous imprisonment, convicting him on May 9th, 2016. On July 10, 2023 the Sessions Court upheld this verdict. Justice Pansare stated that the woman had failed to tell whether she had been touched inappropriately. The acts of pushing and following her were not enough to shock the sense of decency of a woman. He referred to the Supreme Court judgment in Raju Pandurang Mahale v. State of Maharashtra in which it was held that for a case to be tried under Section 354 of the IPC:

i. the assault must be on a woman,

ii. the accused must have used criminal force on her, and

iii. the criminal force must have been used intending to outrage her modesty.

In this case, the accused brought a woman to his house, forced her to drink liquor and then took nude photographs of her. This act constituted the crime of outraging her modesty.

The Supreme Court stated ​​that ,“the essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex.” regardless of whether a woman is young or old, awake or asleep, aware or unaware of her sex, she has a modesty that can be outraged. In State of Punjab v Major Singh, was tried under Section 354 for having outraged the modesty of a 7.5 months old infant girl. The argument that the child was too young to understand modesty did not stand. 

Thus, any act that is done with the intent to shock a woman’s decency will constitute the crime of outraging her modesty. Some such acts include forcefully kissing you, hugging you, touching you inappropriately. 

How can you file a complaint? 

Go to Police Station
You can file an FIR at any police station or the one nearest to where the crime happened. Anyone, including a friend or relative can also file an FIR on a survivor’s behalf. However, at the time of reporting, the survivor will have to give a statement which a female police officer will record in the FIR.

Call 100
By calling 100 you can seek immediate help from the police. If you are in trouble, a police unit will be sent to their location for further assistance.

National Commission for Women
You  can approach the National Commission for Women (NCW) :

  1. Call 1091
  2. Describe the crime in detail
  3. Give the address and contact number  
  4. A police unit will then be sent to the address given, to assist the survivor with the steps that need to be taken. Any kind of violence against women including sexual offences and domestic violence can be reported to 1091.

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