OFFENCE OF OUTRAGING THE MODESTY OF A WOMAN IN INDIA


“If society trivializes modesty, violence against women would result”

-Lalitha Dhar Pariha

INTRODUCTION

Since ancient times, women have been victims of sexual harassment and abuse, and this practise continues now. It reflects the magnitude and ponderousness of the atrocities committed against women in recent years. This is evidenced by the global crusade to eradicate violence against women. At least one out of every three women has been beaten, forced into sex, or subjected to other forms of violence at some point in her life. Furthermore, such instances are a source of severe concern, and its structure is extremely important so that Indian women can live in an environment free of atrocities, denigration, and horrendous crimes with respect, honour, dignity, liberty, and peace. To address this issue, numerous laws have been enacted in India to provide relief and justice to women who have been wronged. Although the Indian Penal Code protects women who are victims of various crimes, such as murder, robbery, and theft, there are other crimes that are specifically targeted against women, known as 'Offenses Against Women.' Many new socio-economic offences have been adopted in response to the need of the hour, together with different revisions to existing laws, with the goal of effectively combating these crimes.


Outraging Modesty: Legal Analysis

Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty shall be guilty for the offence of outraging the modesty of a woman.[1]

Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, prohibits assault or criminal force on a woman with the aim to offend her modesty. There was a lot of ambiguity about what defined a woman's modesty until 2007, and there were numerous speculations about what characterised a woman's modesty. Several instances were determined without a clear definition of what constitutes modesty for a woman.


Ingredients:

There are two key elements in this area:

1. Assault or criminal force against a woman.

2. The actor's intent or awareness that he would be committing this crime.

Modesty refers to a woman's sexual dignity, which she has earned since her birth. The concept of modesty is subjective to each woman, i.e., each woman's sexual limits are unique; there is no fixed formula for judging a woman's sexual honour bounds. It is a sex-related virtue bestowed upon a woman. A simple touch on the shoulder, for example, might be undesirable to a woman who lives in the country, but it could be a casual greeting gesture for a woman who lives in the city. However, there are certain activities that are sure to offend a woman's modesty, and these are legal concerns.

However, the supreme court in the case of Ramkripal v. State of Madhya Pradesh[2], defining modesty as ‘essence of a woman's modesty is her sex. As a result, any offence against women that does not involve penetration will be prosecuted under section 354 of the IPC, broadening the scope of crimes covered by this provision. The court further stated that section 375 IPC refers to "sexual intercourse," which includes penetration, which is enough to constitute rape in and of itself.

In the case of Ram Pratap v. State of Rajasthan[3], The perpetrator was found guilty under Section 354 of the IPC,1860, after reportedly entering the victim's house when she was alone, forcing her to lie on a cot and misbehaving with her without making any preparations to commit rape.

The word 'outrage' conjures up images of a physical act. In this case, a woman's modesty is violated by touching her without her consent on parts of her body that she finds objectionable. The accused must have used criminal force or made such gestures in order to offend her modesty or with the knowledge that it would offend her modesty. Because this offence differs from woman to woman, the woman's reaction is very important in determining whether an assault on her amounts to outraging her modesty. However, there are certain acts that are bound to be outrageous to every woman's modesty, such as touching on her posterior sexual organs, etc.

The final test for determining whether a woman's modesty has been violated is whether the accused's act is capable of startling the woman's sense of decency. Her sex is the essence of a woman's modesty. An adult female's modesty is visible on her body. Young or old, intellectual or illiterate, awake or asleep, the woman has the capacity to be outraged by her modesty.

In the case of Aman Kumar v. State of Haryana[4], the court precised the vital elements of the offence under section 354 and held that “the act of pulling a woman, removing her dress coupled with a request for sexual intercourse, with an intention to outrage the modesty of any woman [5]or knowing that such an act is likely to offend a woman's modesty is sufficient to make an offence under section 354."

What constitutes an attack is defined under Section 351 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The section states that Whoever makes any gesture, or any preparation intending or knowing it to be likely that such gesture or prepa­ration will cause any person present to apprehend that he who makes that gesture or preparation is about to use criminal force to that person, is said to commit an assault.[6]Criminal force is defined in section 350 as the use of force with the intent to harm, intimidate, or irritate the person against whom it is used. It's worth noting that an offence falling under section 354 of the IPC requires the presence of both an intention and knowledge.

As a result, if a man mistakenly or unintentionally commits a crime that comes within the meaning of the section, he cannot be held liable. In addition, the victim's lack of retaliation or vengeance is not a determining element in the accused's guilt.

Insulting a woman's modesty by words, gestures, or acts is punishable under section 509 of the IPC. This section covers offences that are less serious than those listed in section 354.The 'eve-teasing section' of Chapter XXII of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with illegal intimidation, insult, and annoyance, is sometimes referred to as the 'eve-teasing section.' The fundamental distinction between sections 509 and 354 of the IPC is that section 354 deals with acts that go beyond insulting a woman's modesty and constitute an evident threat of physical damage to the lady, as well as shocking her sense of modesty. As a result, section 354 offences are more serious than section 509 offences.


Analysis

The modesty of a woman is her most precious jewel and there cannot be a straitjacket formula to ascertain whether modesty is outraged.[7]

- Justice Rohit Baban Deo

The court's definition reflects an increasing sensitivity to a changing society in which even seemingly innocuous acts of harassment of women have become criminalised. The court further stated that a lack of protest cannot be used as an alibi. The crux of the case is the accused's responsible intent. The woman's reaction is obviously important, yet it is not always decisive. their place of employment, from acquaintances, or while out on a date.

TThe Bombay High Court's Nagpur Bench, in a ruling on the 4th of August, stated that throwing a chit professing love for a married woman amounts to outraging her modesty and imposed a fine of ₹50,000 [8], while mandating that it be paid as compensation to the victim The act of slapping a chit on a married lady who claims love for her, according to Justice Rohit Deo, is itself a crime and also if it contains poetic verses, is “sufficient to outrage her modesty”.[9]

Shrikrushna Tawari, the accused, had previously been found guilty under Indian Penal Code Section 354 (assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 40,000 rupees, of which 35,000 was to be paid as compensation to the victim.

On the other hand, section 354 makes it illegal to assault or use criminal force against a woman with the intent to offend her modesty. Furthermore, the accused's intent or knowledge is the deciding factor, not the victim's state of mind. Furthermore, Section 354 is gender-neutral, meaning that even a woman might offend another woman's modesty, as the section's phrasing goes, "whoever assaults or uses unlawful force." The main component of the crime is the intent to offend a woman's modesty. As a result, the facts of each case are considered when determining whether or not a person is liable under this section. Because the victim's mental state isn't given much weight, there have been multiple instances of the section being abused. Thus, when a guy accidentally touched a woman's belly on a moving bus and there was no intent on the accused's side to offend the woman's modesty, he was found 'not guilty.'

There are numerous changes being made to this particular offence under the Indian Penal Code in order to make the provision tighter in order to reduce the rising rate of criminal records for such offences and to provide safety, security, and protection to women in general. According to the Justice Verma Committee Report, which was being submitted on January 23, 2013[10], Sexual assault should be deemed non-penetrative forms of sexual contact, and the penalty should be doubled to five years under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code. In addition, it was suggested that a one-hour trial be required in cases involving crimes against women. The Committee, led by then-Chairman of the Supreme Court of India J.S. Verma, determined that the primary cause of sexual offences is a lack of governance. This report is extremely important in bringing about the significant 2013 amendment. Considering the given recommendations, the major amendment was brought about in the March 2013 through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013[11], due to which there have been sporadic developments. The punishments were increased.

This modification made changes to the Indian Penal Code, 1860, as well as the Indian Evidence Act and the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. In addition, new sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 have been added, including Section 354A (sexual harassment), Section 354B (intention to disrobe a woman), Section 354C (voyeurism), and Section 354D (stalking), each with its own set of penalties. Since then, big announcements have been made.


Present Scenario

The current legal situation relative to the abovementioned clause has seen it largely used fraudulently, however the provisions have been demonstrated to be highly woman centric in order to safeguard women from such heinous crimes. It is the man's responsibility to prove his innocence. Furthermore, in such instances, if a woman wishes to submit a FIR against a male, the police must register it, even if the complaint is false; the police official cannot refuse to register the complaint because it was filed in good faith as it was held in Lalita Kumari v. Government of U.P.,[12] and in Amit Kumar v. Joginder Singh[13], The SHO was suspended, and it was determined that all state police departments are required to record the FIR in respect of any complaint that discloses a cognizable offence, and that failure to do so could result in harsh punishment. In contrast to women's exploitation and abuse of the law, it has been observed that in some occurrences, a large number of cases of outraging modesty go unreported, and women suffer for the rest of their lives. The position tends to take extreme positions in a variety of scenarios, necessitating the introduction of changes that not only protect women but also strive to prevent their misuse. The changes should be made in such a way that the provisions are balanced. It should be emphasised that all offences involving outraging modesty should be declared non-bailable, and the veracity of the claims made by women at the time of reporting the offence should be examined well ahead of time to avoid abuse.


CONCLUSION

The offence of outraging a woman's modesty has undergone a significant change. According to the National Crime Record Bureau, 8685 and 7305 cases of insult to the modesty of women under section 509 of the Indian Penal Code were filed in 2015 and 2016, respectively. It has been noted that since the major reform to the entire criminal law in 2013, there has been an increase in the misuse of the provisions. To eradicate evil from society, it is critical to first put a stop to the exploitation of the provisions and protect the safety of both men who are frequently wrongfully accused and women who are frequently harmed. The prohibition of evil looks on women, as well as the instillation of social ethics, morality, and values, as well as respect and honour in every human being toward women, is a key component that can help reduce the frequency of crimes against women. However, more harsh and stringent rules are required so that anyone intending to perpetrate such crimes does not lose the courage to act in pursuit of his plan.


REFERENCES

§ The Indian Penal Code, 1860

§ Ramkripal v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 2007. (crl.) SC 370

§ Ram Pratap v. State of Rajasthan, 996 Cri LR (Raj) 127

§ Aman Kumar v. State of Haryana, AIR 2004 Sc 1497

§ Outraging the Modesty of Women, Law Times journal, (March 25, 2020), https://lawtimesjournal.in/outraging-the-modesty-of-women/#_edn6

§ The Indian Penal Code, 1860

§ Devika Sharma, Would throwing love chit on person of a married woman amount to outraging her modesty?,SSC Online, (August 11, 2021), https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2021/08/11/outraging-modesty-of-a-woman/

§ Throwing love chit on married woman amounts to outraging her modesty: Bombay High Court, The Hindu, (August 10, 2021 17:05 p.m.), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/throwing-love-chit-on-married-woman-amounts-to-outraging-her-modesty-bombay-high-court/article35835959.ece

§ Ibid

§ Ritika Sharma, The Offence Relating to Outraging Modesty of Women- An Evaluation, Indraprastha Law Review [Vol. 1: Issue 1]

§ Rituparna Bhattacharyya, Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013: Will it ensure women’s safety in public spaces? Space and Culture India, 2013

§ Lalita Kumari v. Government of U.P, AIR 2013 SC 243

§ Amit Kumar v. Joginder Singh, , CRM-M-41761-2015 (O & M),2019

[1] The Indian Penal Code, 1860 [2] Ramkripal v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 2007. (crl.) SC 370 [3] Ram Pratap v. State of Rajasthan, 996 Cri LR (Raj) 127 [4] Aman Kumar v. State of Haryana, AIR 2004 Sc 1497 [5] Outraging the Modesty of Women, Law Times journal, (March 25, 2020), https://lawtimesjournal.in/outraging-the-modesty-of-women/#_edn6 [6] The Indian Penal Code, 1860 [7]Devika Sharma, Would throwing love chit on person of a married woman amount to outraging her modesty?,SSC Online, (August 11, 2021), https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2021/08/11/outraging-modesty-of-a-woman/ [8] Throwing love chit on married woman amounts to outraging her modesty: Bombay High Court, The Hindu, (August 10, 2021 17:05 p.m.), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/throwing-love-chit-on-married-woman-amounts-to-outraging-her-modesty-bombay-high-court/article35835959.ece [9] Ibid. [10] Ritika Sharma, The Offence Relating to Outraging Modesty of Women- An Evaluation, Indraprastha Law Review [Vol. 1: Issue 1] [11] Rituparna Bhattacharyya, Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013: Will it ensure women’s safety in public spaces? Space and Culture India, 2013. [12] Lalita Kumari v. Government of U.P, AIR 2013 SC 243 [13] Amit Kumar v. Joginder Singh, CRM-M-41761-2015 (O & M),2019



This article is written by Shivani Kharai of CMR University, School Of Legal Studies.

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