Women in the 20th century have been subject to numerous atrocities and crimes on a daily basis. Despite efforts by the Indian government to protect women’s rights, there remains a significant gap in safeguarding women from predators who commit outrageous acts with impunity. While it is society’s responsibility to maintain women’s sanctity and respect their rights, this responsibility seems to have been largely ignored. As a result, it is crucial for every woman to be aware of her rights and protect herself under the law.
Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code is widely referred to as the “Women’s Weapon,” and it deals with the criminal offense of assaulting or using force against a woman with the intention of outraging her modesty. The section mandates that any individual found guilty of committing such an act will be punished, which may include imprisonment for a maximum of two years, a fine, or both. It is a legal provision aimed at protecting women’s rights and dignity in India.
The prominent Delhi gang rape case a.k.a NIRBHAYA case brought attention to the growing number of crimes against women and violations of their modesty. This resulted in the creation of a committee on December 23, 2013, which included Justice J.S. Verma as the chair, Justice Leila Seth, and senior advocate Gopal Subramaniam. Their report contained modifications that were intended to expedite the criminal justice system regarding trials and to increase punishments for severe sexual assault offenses against women.
ANALYSIS OF SECTION 354
Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, has “intention” as its fundamental element. This means that the intent to cause shame or outrage a woman’s modesty is the crucial factor that determines the offense. The term “modesty,” as described, pertains to the recognized dignity of women or the generally accepted norms and values of female decency. This provision aims to protect women’s rights and safeguard their dignity by punishing those who violate their modesty.
ESSENTIALS OF THE OFFENCE
- The aggrieved must be a female, regardless of age.
- Regarding the use of assault or criminal force, it is clarified that assault is an act that causes the victim to apprehend the utilization of force, while criminal force refers to the application of physical force on the victim without their consent. The prosecution must prove that the accused committed an act that falls under the definitions of assault or criminal force as stated in Sections 351 and 350 of the Penal Code.
- In regards to Section 354B of the IPC, it is necessary to establish that the accused either had the intention to violate a woman’s sense of modesty or knew that their actions were likely to cause such outrage. This intention can be direct or oblique, meaning that the accused either specifically intended to shame the woman’s dignity or knew that their actions would likely have that effect.
INTERPRETING THE ‘OUTRAGING MODESTY OF WOMEN’ VIA CASE LAWS:
The term “outrage of modesty” is not defined in the IPC, but it is generally understood to mean any act that violates a woman’s dignity, modesty, or decency. The term ‘outrage’ means to offend, insult, or violate.
- In the legal matter of Raju Pandurang Mahale v. State of Maharashtra, the Apex Court concluded that a woman’s dignity is closely linked to her gender. The ruling stated that “modesty” is a characteristic connected with women as a group, and a quality that is linked to a female due to her biological sex.
- The case of Rupan Deol Bajaj v. Kanwar Pal Singh involved a debate over whether Mr. Gill’s act of groping and spanking Mrs. Bajaj on her buttocks in front of a group of people qualified as the offense of causing her shame or humiliation. The Supreme Court defined the term “modesty” as it pertains to women by referring to the definition provided by the Oxford English Dictionary (1993 Edition) as “womanly propriety of behaviour; scrupulous chastity of thought, speech and “conduct”; reserve or sense of shame proceeding from indistinctive a version to impure or coarse suggestions”.
- In the significant case of State of Punjab v. Major Singh, the issue arose of whether causing harm to the private parts of a young female by the accused qualified as the offense of humiliating her. The Supreme Court established a criterion to determine the degree of shame in relation to the judgment of a rational individual. If such a person believes that the act committed is significant enough to violate a woman’s modesty, then it would fall under the challenged Section.
The combined use of the phrases “outrage her modesty” and “intending to or knowing it to be likely that he will” implies that the accused’s intentions or awareness should determine the woman’s modesty in question, rather than the woman’s reaction.
JUDICIAL INTERPRETATION OF SECTION 354
The section has been interpreted by various courts in India over the years. Some of the significant judicial interpretations are discussed below.
- The Supreme Court, in the case of State of Punjab v Major Singh, ruled that Section 354 of IPC is a crime that applies exclusively to men and only a male can be penalized for it.
- The Supreme Court, in the case of State of Haryana v. Raja Ram, declared that for an action to qualify as an offense under Section 354, the act of sexual harassment must have the potential to undermine a woman’s dignity.
- In the case of State of Karnataka v. L. Muniswamy, the Apex Court held that the term ‘modesty’ is a term of wide import and includes not only sexual modesty but also the decency and propriety expected of a woman in public.
- The Supreme Court, in the case of State of Maharashtra v. Madhukar Narayan Mardikar, ruled that the accused’s intention could be deduced from the case’s circumstances, including the manner of assault, spoken words, and conduct.
Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code deals with the offense of using force or assault against a woman with the intention of violating her modesty. This offense is gender-specific and only a man can be held accountable for it. The offense is non-bailable, non-compoundable, and cognizable. Various courts in India have interpreted this section over the years, clarifying its essential components and scope. It is a serious crime that requires strict action.
Author(s) Name: Mahek Karnawat (Jindal Global University)