Women have been victims of sexual harassment and violence since ancient times and that practice still continues even today. At least, one out of every three women around the globe has been beaten, forced into sex or faced other kinds of abuse in her entire life. To cure this problem, there are several laws made in India to provide remedy and justice to such aggrieved women.
Chapter XVI of the India Penal Code discusses about offences against the human body. Under this chapter, Section 354 deals with the offence of outraging the modesty of woman. Section 354 states that “Anyone who assaults or uses criminal force against a woman with the intention of outraging or with the knowledge that the act that he is going to commit will outraging the modesty of women, than he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not less than one year and which can be extended up to five years and also fine.”
Before discussing the meaning of outraging the modesty of women, let us first understand what is criminal force and assault.
Section 350 defines criminal force. It explains that if force is used against a person with the intention of committing an offence and without that person’s consent and that use of force causes any kind of fear, injury or annoyance to the person on whom the force is used, then it constitutes as use of criminal force.
On the other hand, section 351 defines assault as a gesture or preparation done by a person with the intention and knowledge that such gesture will create an apprehension in the mind of the victim that the person who makes the gesture is about to use criminal force on the victim, then this will constitute as an assault.
The word ‘Modesty’ is not defined anywhere in the Indian Penal Code, however, it means the sexual dignity of a woman which is acquired by her right from her birth. The notion of modesty is subjective to every female which means that sexual limits are personal to every woman; there can’t be a set equation to pass judgment the limits of the sexual honor of a woman. For instance, a basic touch on the shoulder may be intolerable to a woman living in a rural area, but form a woman residing in a city, it could be a normal gesture to meet and greet everybody.
Outrage means a physical action. Thus, the modesty of a woman is infringed by touching her without her consent on such body parts which is uncomfortable and intolerable to her. The following ingredients must be present to constitute an offence under section 354:
- There should be use of criminal force against a woman
- An intention to outraging the modesty of women should be present
The Supreme Court finally gave a definition of modesty. It said, “The essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex.” Young or old, intelligent or imbecile, awake or asleep, the woman possesses modesty, capable of being outraged. Actions like pulling a woman without her consent, disrobing her along with a request for sexual intercourse are acts which outraging the modesty of women. If a person has the knowledge that the act he is going to commit will outrage that woman’s modesty then his mere knowledge of that act makes him guilty under the section.
In the case of State of Punjab v. Major Singh, the accused (Major Singh) caused injury to the private parts of a seven and half months female child. The question before the Supreme Court was, whether the accused is guilty under section 354 for outraging the modesty of that child. Justice Bachawat said that a female even at a young age, right from her birth possesses modesty which is a characteristic of her sex. The crux of the matter under this section is the culpable intention of the accused.
In such cases, the reaction of the woman in that situation is very pertinent, but its absence is not always decisive. In the above mentioned case, the victim was just seven and half months old and was not capable to understand that her modesty is being outraged. Justice Mudholker also had similar views and declared that the accused had intended to outrage the child’s modesty and hence he is guilty under section 354.
Let us understand this concept better with the help of some examples:
- If the accused dragged the woman in his house, disrobed her and did some acts, but no proof of rape was found, then he will be guilty under section 354
- If a person pulled a woman by her arm along with the request for sexual intercourse, that person will be booked under this section
- If a man touches a woman’s private parts against her wish and does nothing more, he will still be punished under this section
Modesty of a woman can also be outraged by using certain kind of words or gestures. Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code describes insulting modesty. It states that any person with the intention to insult the modesty of a woman, utters any word, makes any gesture or sound, or shows any object expecting that such word or sound shall be heard, or the gesture or object shall be seen by that woman or encroaches upon the privacy of such woman, then that person shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend up to three years along with fine.
Here ‘insulting the modesty’ means making a woman feel ashamed and embarrassed of her own sexual dignity. It may be carried out by passing sexual obscene comments and remarks or making wrong gestures, sounds or even by showing sexual objects to her.
Section 509 is different from section 354. Under section 354, the use of criminal force is necessary, whereas, in section 509, modesty is outraged without actually touching a woman. Here modesty is only insulted by using words, gestures and sounds which have a sexual connotation attached to them.
The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (45 of 1860), s. 354.
Id., s. 350.
Id., s. 351.
AIR 1967 SC 63.
Supra note 1, s. 509.
This Article Written by Swaranjali Kapoor, Student of JIMS School of Law, Greater Noida (Affiliated to IP University, New Delhi)
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