Section 503 - Section 510
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This article is written by Paridhi Dave, a student at the Institute of Law, Nirma University. The article discusses the offences of criminal intimidation, intentional insult and annoyance under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 along with important case laws.

Introduction

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 is the substantive law governing the criminal activities in India. Chapter XXII of the Code, consisting of Section 503-Section 510 provides for offences which fall in the nature of criminal intimidation, intentional insult and annoyance. 

The law has an objective of punishing offenders for all kinds of criminal offences but in contemporary times, the law does not entirely mirror the changes that have taken place in society. Although the provisions are relevant and binding, they fail to address the technological advances in today’s world. The law is archaic but provides a base for new developments. 

In this article, these provisions have been discussed in-depth along with important case laws.

Criminal Intimidation

The offence of criminal intimidation is defined under Section 503 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The provision states that anyone who threatens any other person on the following grounds is liable for criminal intimidation.

  1. Threatens injury to his person;
  2. Threatens injury to his reputation;
  3. Threatens injury to his property;
  4. Threatens injury to the person or reputation of anyone in whom the person is interested.

Further, the intention should be to cause alarm to that person; or to make them perform any act which they are not legally bound to do; or to omit any act which they are legally entitled to perform. If they are forced to do all of these acts as a means to avoid execution of such threat, this amounts to criminal intimidation.

The explanation of this section states that a threat to injure the reputation of a deceased person in whom the person threatened is interested is also covered under this section.

Example: ‘A’ for the purpose of inducing B to refrain from filing a complaint against him, threatens to kill B’s wife. A is liable to be punished for the offence of criminal intimidation.

The Supreme Court in the case of Vikram Johar vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (2019) has observed that the mere act of abusing a person in a filthy language does not satisfy the essential ingredients of the offence of criminal intimidation. The complaint was that the accused came with a revolver to the complainant’s house and abused him in a filthy language. They also attempted to assault him but when the neighbours arrived, they fled from the spot. The Bench held that the above allegations prima facie do not constitute the offence of criminal intimidation.

The Tripura High Court in its recent judgment of Shri Padma Mohan Jamatia vs. Smt. Jharna Das Baidya (2019) has observed that the mere use of abusive words/ filthy language and body posture during the speech of a political leader is not included within the ambit of the provisions of criminal intimidation under the IPC.

In the case of Manik Taneja vs. State of Karnataka (2015), the Apex Court held that posting comments about ill-treatment by the police personnel on Facebook Page may not amount to criminal intimidation. In this case, the appellant was involved in a road accident, wherein she clashed with an auto-rickshaw. The passenger of the auto sustained injuries and was subsequently admitted in a hospital. The appellant duly paid all the expenses of the injured and no FIR was lodged. 

However, she was called to the police station and was allegedly threatened by the police officers. Aggrieved with the way that she was treated, she posted comments on the Facebook page of Bangalore Traffic Police, accusing the police officer of harsh behaviour and the harassment meted out to her. The Police Inspector filed a case against the appellants for this act and an FIR was registered under Sections 353 and 506 of the IPC. The Bench held that there was no intention on the appellant’s part to cause alarm under Section 503 of the IPC.

In Amitabh Adhar vs. NCT of Delhi (2000), it was held that a mere threat does not amount to criminal intimidation. There must be an intention to cause alarm to the person threatened. 

In Shri Vasant Waman Pradhan vs. Dattatraya Vithal Salvi (2004), it was held that intention is the soul of criminal intimidation. It needs to be gathered by the surrounding circumstances.

The Orissa High Court, in Amulya Kumar Behera vs. Nabhagana Behera Alias Nabina (1995) examined the meaning of the term ‘alarm.’ The Court held that the mere expression of any word without any intention to cause alarm was not sufficient to be brought under the ambit of Section 506. The Court also observed that this provision is relatively new, and originally terms like ‘terror’ or ‘distress’ had been proposed instead of ‘alarm.’

The complainant, in this case, argued that he was abused in a filthy language by the accused and if the witnesses had not intervened, he would have suffered more injuries apart from a fist blow from the accused. The complainant admitted that he was not alarmed by the threat given by the accused. Hence, the Court held that since an essential ingredient of the offence was missing, no case could be established.

The Supreme Court elaborated the scope of Section 503, IPC in Romesh Chandra Arora vs. State (1960). In this case, the accused-appellant was charged with criminal intimidation. The accused threatened a person X and his daughter, of injury to reputation by releasing a nude picture of the girl unless money was paid to him. The intent was to cause alarm to them. The Court stated that the aim of the accused was to cause alarm to get the money and to ensure that he did not go ahead with the threat of releasing the damaging photographs on a public platform.

The extent of nature of the threat

It is not necessary that the threat is direct in nature. In Re A.K. Gopalan vs. The State of Madras, Union of India: Intervener (1950), the Court held that if a speaker at a public meeting threatened police officers stationed at Malabar, with injury to their person, property or reputation – then he was liable for committing the offence of criminal intimidation. 

In the case of Anuradha Kshirsagar vs. State of Maharashtra (1989), the accused allegedly threatened the female teachers by shouting that the teachers should be caught by their hair, kicked on their waist and pulled out of the hall. The Bombay High Court ruled that these remarks constituted the offence of criminal intimidation.

The nature of the injury threatened

In the case of Nand Kishore vs. Emperor (1927), a butcher who sold beef was threatened that if he indulged in the acts of buying or selling beef, then he would be sent to jail. Further, his living in the municipality was also threatened. The Court held that this amounted to criminal intimidation.

In Doraswamy Ayyar vs. King-Emperor (1924), it was held that the threat of punishment by God could not be included in the ambit of criminal intimidation. If the person who threatens is incapable of putting the threat to execution, then he cannot be held liable for the offence of criminal intimidation.

Punishment for criminal intimidation

The punishment for the offence of criminal intimidation is laid down under Section 506 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. 

The provision is divided into two parts:

  1. In simple cases of criminal intimidation, whoever commits criminal intimidation is liable to be punished with imprisonment for a period which may extend to two years, or a fine, or both. 

Classification of the offence: This part is a non-cognizable, bailable and compoundable offence. 

Triable by: Any Magistrate

2. If the threat is to cause:

  • Death or grievous hurt; 
  • Destruction of any property by fire; 
  • To cause an offence to be committed which is punishable with imprisonment up to a term of seven years, life imprisonment or death;
  • To attribute unchastity to a woman.

Then in the above-mentioned cases, the prescribed punishment is simple or rigorous imprisonment for a term extending to seven years; or a fine; or both.

The second part of the provision, as compared to the first part, deals with prescribing punishment for graver forms of criminal intimidation. 

Classification of the offence: This part is a non-cognizable, bailable and non-compoundable offence. 

Triable by: Magistrate of the First Class

It is important to note that, to attract the second part of this section it is essential that there is a threat of either causing death or grievous hurt. 

In Keshav Baliram Naik vs. State of Maharashtra (1995), it was alleged that the accused touched the hand of the prosecutrix, a blind girl, when she was asleep and further proceeded to remove her quilt and insert his hand inside her dress. He threatened to kill her if she disclosed his identity. The Court held this to be a case of criminal intimidation under Part II of the Section, apart from other offences.

In Ghanshyam vs. State of Madhya Pradesh (1989), the accused entered the house at night, armed with a knife. He threatened to kill the residents. This was held to be criminal intimidation under Part II of the provision.

A proposal for reform in criminal law is, to include the threat of suicide with the intention of coercing a public servant to perform an act or omit an act, as a type of criminal intimidation.

Criminal intimidation by anonymous communication

Section 507 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is an aggravated form of intimidation. This section covers instances wherein the intimidator commits the offence anonymously. It has been stated in this section that whoever indulges into the act of criminal intimidation by anonymous communication or takes precautions to conceal his identity or abode, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend up to two years. This punishment is in addition to the punishment provided for the offence under Section 506 of the IPC, 1860.

Example: If a person anonymously writes a letter to a person X, in which he threatens that he will burn X’s house, then this is an offence under this Section.

Classification of the offence: Bailable, non-cognizable and non-compoundable.

Triable by: Magistrate of the First Class

The act caused by inducing a person to believe that he will be rendered an object of the Divine displeasure

Section 508 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 covers this offence. The essential ingredients of the provision are stated below: 

  1. Any person who voluntarily either causes or attempts to cause any person to perform acts which the person is not legally bound to do or to omit to do any act which he is legally entitled to do.
  2. By the way of inducing or attempting to induce the person. 
  3. To believe that if he does not perform the acts asked by the offender, then either the person or someone else in whom he has an interest, will become or will be rendered by some act of the offender an object of Divine displeasure.

The punishment is imprisonment for a duration which may extend to one year; or fine; or both. 

Classification of the offence: Non-cognizable, bailable and compoundable by the person against whom the offence was committed.

Triable by: Any Magistrate

Example 1: The messages that are forwarded on various social media platforms to share a particular text to twenty other people or abstain from something, otherwise a Divine entity would inflict pain or any other method of divine displeasure, fall into the category of this offence.

Example 2: If a person ‘A’ threatens ‘B’ that if ‘B’ does not perform a particular act, then A will kill one of his own children, under such circumstances that the killing would be believed to render B an object of Divine displeasure. In such a case, an offence has been committed by A under this section.

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Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace

Section 504 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 deals with intentional insult. The provision states that any person who intentionally insults and as a consequence provokes any person, intending or knowing, that it is likely that such provocation will induce the person to break the public peace or indulge into the commission of some other offence, then such person shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend up to two years; or with fine; or both.

Classification of the offence: Non-cognizable, bailable and compoundable by the person insulted

Triable by: Any Magistrate

In the case of Fiona Shrikhande vs. State of Maharashtra (2013), it was held that the intentional insult must be of such a degree that it should provoke a person to either break the public peace or indulge into the commission of any other offence. Merely abusing does not satisfy the ingredients of the offence.

In Ramesh Kumar vs. Smt. Sushila Srivastava (1996), the Rajasthan High Court held that the manner in which the accused addressed the complainant was prima facie such that it depicts that the person was insulted and provoked. The term ‘insult’ means to either treat with offensive disrespect or to offer an indignity to the person. The inference has to be drawn not solely from words but also from the tone and the manner in which they were spoken.

In the case of Abraham vs. State of Kerala (1960), it was clarified by the Kerala High Court that merely breaching good manners does not fall into the ambit of the section. The essential component of the offence is to figure out the intention of the offender.

In Philip Rangel vs. Emperor (1931), the accused was a shareholder in a bank and had requisitioned a meeting for the shareholders. In the meeting, it was proposed that he should be expelled. The accused reacted to this by uttering abusive words. The Bombay High Court clarified that the words should amount to something more than ‘mere verbal abuse.’ The language cannot be held to amount to intentional insult if the Court arrives at the conclusion that there was no intention of the accused that the words should be ‘taken literally’ by those to whom it was addressed.

The Orissa High Court in the case of Ram Chandra Singh vs. Nabrang Rai Barma (1998), the complainant stated that the accused had built a boundary wall over his roof. When the complainant protested, he was abused with filthy language. The Court held that whether mere abuse would amount to an offence under this section is dependent on various factors such as the status of the parties, the nature of abuse and several other factors. The Court held that such words are normally used by the parties in petty quarrels and hence did not amount to an offence under this provision.

It is not essential that there must be an actual breach of peace for the application of this section. The essential element is the intention of the offender to provoke the breach of the peace or he should have knowledge that his provocation is likely to cause the commission of an offence. This principle was observed in the case of Devi Ram vs. Mulakh Raj (1962).

In Mohammed Ibrahim Maracayar vs. Ismail Maracayar (1949), a father who lived in Vellore wrote an insulting letter to his daughter and her husband. The Court held that the reaction of the person insulted does not have to be considered. An intentional insult which would lead to provocation and subsequent breach of the peace would render the offender liable under this section.

Statements conducing to public mischief

Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 lays down the provision with respect to statements conducive of public mischief.

The provision in its first clause states that any person who makes, publishes or circulates any statement or rumour or report with the intention:

  1. To cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, sailor or airman in the Army, Navy or the Air Force of India to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty; 
  2. To cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the general public, or to any particular section of the public whereby any person may be convinced to commit an offence against the State or against public tranquillity;
  3. To incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any kind of offence against any other class or a community.

The perpetrator in all these aforementioned situations will be liable to be punished with imprisonment which may extend up to the duration of three years; or with fine; or both.

Classification of the offence: Non-cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable

Triable by: Any Magistrate

In Kalicharan Mohapatra vs. Srinivasa Sahu (1959) the Orissa High Court observed that although the provision is a definite restriction on the freedom of speech and expression, the offence committed should be construed in the favour of the defence. The Court held that legitimate display of grievances by means of publication of pamphlets, which some sections of the public may have against the authorities, cannot be brought under the ambit of this provision. It was held that such an act does not constitute an offence under this Section.

In the case of Kedar Nath vs. State of Bihar (1962), the constitutional validity of Section 505 and Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was called into question. The Apex Court in its judgment said that each constituent element of Section 505 of IPC,1860 has a reference to and a direct effect on the security of the State and the public order. It declared that Section 505 of IPC, 1860 did not exceed the boundaries of reasonable restriction for the purposes of the right of freedom of speech and expression.

Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes

The second clause of Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that any person who makes, publishes or circulates any statement or report which contains a rumour or alarming news on the following grounds:

  1. Religion
  2. Race
  3. Place of birth
  4. Residence
  5. Language
  6. Caste 
  7. Community

Such person shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend up to a duration of three years; or is liable to be fined; or both, for creating or promoting, or which is likely to create and promote, feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will among various religious, racial, linguistic or regional groups or castes or communities.

Classification of the offence: Cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable

Triable by: Any Magistrate

If the aforementioned offence is committed by any person in a place of worship or in any assembly that is engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies, then such a person is liable to be punished with imprisonment which may extend to a duration of five years and shall also be liable for paying a fine.

Classification of the offence: Cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable

Triable by: Any Magistrate

The exception to Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that if a person who publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report, has some reasonable grounds for believing that such statement, rumour or report is true and he published or circulated it in good faith and without any malice or intention, then it is not an offence under this section. The term good faith has been defined under Section 52 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Under this provision, due care and attention are required to constitute good faith.

In Bilal Ahmed Kaloo vs. State of Andhra Pradesh (1997), it was held that publication of the words or expression is a sine qua non for establishing an offence under Section 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The Court further stated that the words ‘ whoever makes, publishes or circulates’ cannot be interpreted disjunctively. They are supplementary to each other.

In the case of Manzar Sayeed Khan vs. State of Maharashtra (2007), the Apex Court observed that merely inciting the feelings of one group or community without any reference to some other group or community, cannot be brought under the ambit of Section 505(2). It further emphasized that the effect of words should be judged from the standards of reasonable, strong-minded and courageous men. The perspective of weak and vacillating minds cannot be considered.

Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman

Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 lays down the offence of insulting the modesty of a woman through word, gestures or acts.

The provision states that any person who has the intention to insult the modesty of any woman and pursuantly utters any word; or makes any sound or gesture; or exhibits any object, with the intention that such sound or word shall be heard; or such object or gesture is seen by such woman, or if the offender intrudes the privacy of such woman – then such person is liable to be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to the duration of one year or is liable to be fined; or both.

The intention of the offender should be considered. Even if it is not possible to place the exact words on record, if the Court arrives at a finding that the accused had the requisite intention then the offender can be punished for the same.

Classification of the offence: Bailable, cognizable and compoundable by the woman who was insulted or whose privacy was intruded, with the permission of the Court.

Triable by: Any Magistrate

Article 51(A)(e) of the Constitution of India, 1950 states that all the citizens of the country should strive to renounce practices which are derogatory to the women in India.

In the case of Emperor vs. Tarak Das Gupta (1925), the accused sent a letter to an unmarried nurse, with whom he had no previous acquaintance. The letter contained indecent overtures. The accused was held liable for outraging the modesty of a woman by exhibiting the object. The Court held that it was not necessary that the offender themselves should exhibit the object. An agent, such as the post office, can also be employed for fulfilling this purpose.

In the case of State of Punjab vs. Major Singh (1966), the offender indulged into an act of unnatural lust. He ruptured the hymen and caused a ¾” tear inside the vagina of a seven and a half months old female child. The Supreme Court, in this case, held that the act of outraging the modesty of a woman was not restricted by the age of the victim. It was also not dependent on the fact that whether the victim knew or was conscious about the acts being performed on her. They held that the accused had committed the offence of outraging the modesty of a woman. Justice Bachawat held that the essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex, which a female of tender age also possesses. The crux of the issue is the culpable intention of the offender.

Justice Mudholkar stated that the reaction of the woman is not the sole criteria to see whether an act amounts to outraging the modesty of a woman.

These aforementioned views were reiterated in the case of Mrs Rupan Deol Bajaj & Anr. vs. Kanwar Pal Singh Gill & Anr. (1995). In this case, the complainant held the position of a senior IAS officer of the Punjab Government. It was alleged that, in a party hosted at a colleague’s house, the accused herein, who held the post of the Director-General of Police, Punjab slapped her posterior and behaved indecently with her in front of the gathering. The Apex Court held that the ultimate test for ascertaining if the modesty has been outraged is that – if the actions of the offender could be perceived as such which are capable of shocking the sense of decency of a woman. The Court held the accused guilty of the offence.

In the case of J.Jaishankar vs. Government of India & Anr. (1996), the Apex Court observed that the conviction of the offender under Section 509 of IPC, 1860 involved moral turpitude.

Misconduct in public by a drunken person

Section 510 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 deals with the offence of misconduct by a drunken person in public.

The provision states that any person who is in a state of intoxication appears in a public place, or in any place which constitutes trespass if he enters it and there if he conducts himself in a manner which may cause annoyance to any person, then such a person is liable to punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to a period of twenty-four hours or is liable to be fined for a sum which may extend to ten rupees; or both.

Classification of the offence: Non-cognizable, bailable and non-compoundable

Triable by: Any Magistrate

This provision covers the acts of an intoxicated person who causes annoyance to other people. It is essential to note that the provision governs an intoxicated person who causes annoyance. Mere intoxication is not covered by this provision. The nature of this offence could be that the offender is causing annoyance in public or they refuse to leave a certain place where they do not have a right to enter without the permission of the owner. It is also crucial to note that no mens rea is required for this offence.

Further, to analyse this section from a contemporary perspective, it can be observed that the punishment holds no value. Imprisonment for 24 hours is not sufficient. Even the amount of fine imposed on the offenders holds negligible value. It is necessary to revamp the status quo by introducing reforms in criminal law, which address these issues.

Conclusion

The substantive law aims to prescribe punishments for various offences through these provisions. Upon reading these sections, it can be observed that there is a dire requirement for reforms. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 is an archaic law and some of the provisions do not cater to contemporary needs. There have been several amendments to the legislation, but some issues still remain unaddressed. 

The scope of these provisions is ever-extending as the law has been constantly evolving due to judicial pronouncements. Legislative reforms in the area would help in achieving the aims in a better manner.


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