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Sexual harassment by relatives: Still a taboo in Indian Society

Sexual harassment is a horrible violation of a woman’s right to dignity and freedom to live her life. The sole reason constitutes patriarchy and the perception men carry that they are superior to


Sexual harassment is a horrible violation of a woman’s right to dignity and freedom to live her life. The sole reason constitutes patriarchy and the perception men carry that they are superior to women and that any kind of violence or mis-behaviour is acceptable. One of them is sexual harassment by relatives or family members, which is even shameful for the family’s dignity and the meaning that the word “family” carries. Any act of sexual harassment is unacceptable to women, and such an act doesn’t only violate the constitutional rights of women but human rights as well. The word “family” connotes its meaning without even explaining it, as the family is an intimate domestic group which is united by ties of marriage, blood, adoption or legal ties. And in Indian society, people worship such relations, and any shameful act perpetrated by a family member shocks the dignity of the word “family” as well. The laws in India have protected women against such acts and such accused persons and have imparted a greater punishment to set an example for further cases. 


Sexual harassment has been defined by the Supreme Court of India as, any unwelcome, verbal or non-verbal, sexually determined act or gesture against women. Moreover, the sexual harassment at the workplace (prevention, prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 has talked about the definition of Sexual harassment.

Under the Act, Sexual harassment is:

“Sexual harassment” includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour[1] namely:—

(i) physical contact and advances; or

(ii) A demand or request for sexual favours; or

(iii) Making sexually coloured remarks; or

(iv)  Showing pornography; or

(v) Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

It is well known that people adapt to different perspectives according to the time, but such changes come with positive and negative aspects altogether. It is not a concern of time but of the mindset and mental capacity to understand what should be done and what must not be.

In earlier times, people used to be aggressive, and the exploitation of women was worse than it is at present, as every woman had to bear the burden of values and traditions. People have adopted the mindset that follows the new era of independent women. But the issue of sexual harassment is still the same. Why? most of the time, it is always a misconception that results in such acts held by any man against any female turning out to be a case of sexual harassment. The clothes and outfits of any female don’t justify the reason for any immoral or horrible behaviour by men. As if that would have been the reason, the little girl who hasn’t even attained the age of 10 years and a child who is below 5 years old wouldn’t have been raped if the ‘body’ of any woman excites men to do these acts. These misconceptions that clothes or the way any woman carries herself gives men a reason to pursue any sexual offence come from half of the ratio of females in Indian society, who act as a weapon in respect of these men to enjoy freely.


The term is even horrifying, right? Is the relative blood-related somehow? So, how come any relative engages in such behaviour with a family member? Well, it is not a shocking thing to know about anymore as most cases of sexual harassment nowadays are perpetrated by relatives or any family member. As per the NRCB 2020 Data, sections 4 and 6 of the POSCO Act were examined in respect of the offender’s relationship. It was revealed that, in the majority of cases of sexual harassment, the offenders were family members, friends, neighbours or relatives.[2] According to the NCRB figures 2020, it was found that 11272 cases of sexual harassment were registered in which family friends, neighbours or someone known to the family was involved. In 2019, the number of cases documented in this category was 12,864, suggesting a slight decline in the number of sexual abuse cases.[3] As per the reports by Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, around 87% of women faces sexual harassment by their family members at home.[4]


Sexual harassment by relatives is no doubt a horrible statement to hear about and is shameful as well. But whenever sexual abuse happens by any relative or family member, the other family members side with the relative who is accused instead of the survivor’s side. There are various reasons and various misconceptions as well, which lead the other family members to avoid the statements of the victim.

Some of the reasons are:

  • The family’s reputation.
  • Talking about abuse or harassment is considered taboo.
  • The person who has been harassed is the head of the household.
  • The truth can threaten the finances of the house.
  • Fear of breaking the family bond.
  • Other survivors are not ready to speak up about it.
  • Religious expectations around abstinence.
  • Misconception regarding family bond as ‘Family member or relatives are God or something as if they can’t be a villain’

Most of the time, the perpetrators are the relatives of women and also such acts are repetitively committed by that family member, due to which women get afraid to speak up about their experience because of family reputation and fear of scolding by their parents. According to a First Information Report (FIR) filed at Bund Garden Police Station in Pune on March 18, an 11-year-old girl was allegedly raped on several occasions by four members of her family, including her father, older teenage brother and paternal grandfather.[5]


There are various legal protections available against sexual harassment in India:

Indian Penal Code, 1860:

Any act which constitutes sexual harassment is considered an offence under the Indian penal code, 1860. The criminal law amendment 2013 punishes the culprits of sexual harassment under the following sections of the Indian penal code:

Section 354: 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 punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.[6]

Section 509: Whoever intends to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any words, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, [shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, and also with fine].[7]

These sections protect every Indian woman who has been going through sexual harassment anyhow, and there is a specific section for the sexual harassment done by relatives, i.e.:

Section 509A: Sexual harassment by a relative.–Whoever, being related to a woman through blood, adoption or marriage, and not being her husband, takes the advantage of his proximity and induces, seduces or threatens such woman with the intent to insult her modesty by word, gesture or act shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to five years and shall also liable to fine.[8]


Changes are required not in the procedure of laws alone, but the mentality of the people living in society requires modification as well. As mentioned, people adapt to changes according to their values, beliefs, and the people they socialize with, and such things affect their perspective and create a modified version of the mindset in every person. The misconception regarding women’s character and dignity gives men a reason to maintain such an understanding. Until misconceptions regarding women are erased from the minds of the people living in India, women won’t feel safe speaking about it to anybody and men will always feel superior to women. It is past time for people to understand and allow females to express themselves, even if it is about a family member or a relative who harassed them. It is crucial for every other person (excluding the victim) to support the victim and understand her and, at the same time, take legal action against the accused.

Author(s) Name: Shweta Sinha (ICFAI Law School, ICFAI University, Dehradun)


[1] Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, s 2(n)

[2] Maansi Verma, ‘To Tackle Rising Cases of Child Sex Abuse, the NCRB Must Address Gaps in POCSO Data’(The Wire, 26 October 2021) <> accessed 25 august 2022

[3] Savio Rodrigues, ‘96 percent of sexual abusers of minors in India are relatives or friends of the family’ (Goa Chronicle, 23 October 2021) <> accessed 25 August 2022

[4] Shadma Malik, ‘87% girls sexually harassed by family members’(Dhaka Tribune, 30 March 2016) <> accessed 25 August 2022

[5] Nadeem Inamdar, ‘11-year-old girl sexually assaulted by 4 members of family, including father’ (Hindustan Times, 22 March 2022) <> accessed 25 August 2022

[6] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 354

[7] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 509

[8] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 509A