This article is written by Upasana Sarkar, a student at Jogesh Chandra Chaudhuri Law College. This article aims to provide an understanding of Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It provides a detailed analysis of the crimes and punishments that a man faces if he outrages the modesty of a woman.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
In this 20th century, where people are given various rights and freedoms, there is still a long way to go in safeguarding the modesty of women in India. Many laws and provisions are enacted by the legislature to protect women from any type of domestic violence, criminal force, rape, assault, molestation, sexual harassment, and many more. Women should be made aware of these rights so that they can protect themselves with the law. It is the duty of every citizen to respect women and act accordingly. But many people still try to violate those provisions.
In India, various provisions have been enacted for safeguarding the rights of women, like Section 304 (Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder), Section 312 (causing miscarriage), Section 313 (Causing miscarriage without woman’s consent), Section 314 (Death caused by act done with intent to cause miscarriage), Section 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), Section 354A (Sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment), Section 354B (Assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), Section 354C (Voyeurism), Section 354D (Stalking), Section 494 (Marrying again during lifetime of husband or wife), Section 498 (Enticing or taking away or detaining with criminal intent a married woman), Section 498A (Cruelty), and Section 509 (Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and many other provisions. Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code is an important provision that pertains to outraging the modesty of a woman with the use of criminal force or assault.
Section 354 of IPC
Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code deals with criminal force or assault with the intention of outraging her modesty. Section 354 states that whoever
- assaults or uses criminal force on any woman,
- With the intention to outrage the modesty of women or knowing that the act will most likely outrage their modesty,
The person will be punished with imprisonment for a term that shall not be less than one year but may extend to five years and will also be liable to a fine.
Essentials of Section 354 IPC
The circumstances that determine if the modesty of a woman has been outraged are given in Section 354 of the IPC. The essential ingredients are as follows:
Presence of assault or criminal force
Section 350 of the Indian Penal Code deals with criminal force, and Section 351 of the Indian Penal Code deals with assault.
Criminal force states that anyone who uses force intending to cause any harm, injury, fear, or annoyance to any person without his permission, knowing that it will create fear and cause harm is called criminal force.
Illustration: ‘A’ encouraged ‘B’ to throw a stone at ‘C’ with the intention of creating fear and causing harm to ‘C’. ‘A’ is guilty of using criminal force on ‘C’.
Assault states that any person who makes any gesture or any action with the knowledge that it will make the other person apprehend the meaning of the gesture is to harm, injure or create fear is said to have committed an assault. Assault is said to take place when the opposite party from the gesture of the person comprehends the danger.
Illustration: ‘X’ with the intention to create fear in the mind of ‘Y’ went towards him with a knife in his hand. ‘X’ has committed an assault against ‘Y’.
Therefore, the essential ingredient is the presence of intention and knowledge in criminal force and assault.
Assault must be on a woman
Section 10 of the Indian Penal Code defines a woman as a female human being of any age, which means a newborn to any old-age female. The victim of assault needs to be a woman, as it deals with crimes against women.
Presence of intention and knowledge
The intention is the main factor on the basis of which an accused is either convicted or acquitted. The presence of knowledge is also equally important for committing the act. On that basis, the charges are weighed, and the punishment is given accordingly.
Outraging the modesty of a woman
The definition of modesty is not given in the Indian Penal Code. The meaning of modesty for a woman is determined by various judgements of the Apex Court.
“Criminal force” and “modesty” defined
Section 350 of the Indian Penal Code states that if a person intentionally uses force against any other person, without the consent of that person, for the purpose of committing an offence or intending to cause harm by using such force, or knowing that the use of such a force will cause injury, fear, or annoyance to the person, it is said to be the use of criminal force against that person.
Criminal force against a woman is defined in Section 354B of the Indian Penal Code. A man is said to have used criminal force against a woman when he assaults or uses criminal force towards any woman or abets such an act with the intent to disrobe or compel her to be naked.
Illustration: ‘X’ intentionally pulls a woman’s veil. He uses force to do that without the woman’s consent, knowing it will create fear or annoyance. He has used criminal force against her, as his intent was to annoy her.
Modesty is not defined in any section of the Indian Penal Code. The court, from time to time, determines whether a woman’s modesty is being outraged by going through the facts and circumstances of a case.
The Supreme Court of India defined ‘modesty’ as female decency and a virtue that girls possess as a result of their sex. The punishment for such an offence is usually between one and five years in prison along with a fine. If the offence is more serious, it may even extend up to seven years. There was a lot of ambiguity regarding the meaning of a woman’s modesty and diverse speculations regarding the definition of modesty for a girl. Various cases were determined by various courts, but no exact definition of a woman’s modesty could be determined from them.
In Raju Pandurang Mahale v. State of Maharashtra (2004), the Supreme Court concluded that the essence of the woman’s modesty was her sex. The Apex Court in its judgement defined ‘modesty’ in the same manner as it is given in the Oxford Dictionary in relation to a woman since the word ‘modesty’ has not been defined in the Indian Penal Code.
Punishment for Section 354 IPC
In the past, stalking was not considered a criminal offence in India under the Indian Penal Code. The provisions that protected the rights of women were Section 354 of the IPC for sexual harassment and Section 509 for abusing the modesty of a woman.
Punishment for sexual harassment under Section 354A
This section states that a man is said to have committed sexual harassment against a woman when there is a:
- physical contact and advances that involve explicit sexual gestures; or
- demand or proposition for sexual favours; or
- display of pornography against the will of a woman; or
- sign that gives sexually coloured remarks.
If a man commits the first three offences listed in the above-mentioned bullets, he shall be punished under Section 354A of the IPC with rigorous imprisonment for a term that may extend to three years, or with a fine, or both. But if a man commits the offence of the last bullet, he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend up to one year, or with a fine, or both. An offence under Section 354A is cognizable, bailable, and can be tried by a magistrate.
Punishment for assault or use of criminal force against a woman under Section 354B
This section deals with the protection of women against men who assault or use criminal force towards any woman or encourage such an act with the intention to disrobe or compel her to be naked.
If a man commits such an offence, he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of three years, which may extend up to seven years, and shall also be liable to a fine. An offence under Section 354B is cognizable, non-bailable, and can be tried by any magistrate.
Punishment for voyeurism under Section 354C
This section deals with the privacy of a woman. Voyeurism is an act committed when a man watches or takes photos of a woman engaged in a private act without her knowledge.
If a man commits such an offence, he shall be imprisoned for a minimum period of one year, which may extend up to three years, and shall also be liable to a fine in case of a first conviction. In case of a second or subsequent conviction, he shall be imprisoned for a minimum period of three years, which may extend up to seven years, and also be liable to a fine.
This section punishes a man who captures images of a woman or intentionally watches her doing a private act. Nevertheless, if a woman consents to have her photos taken or allows for any activity but does not consent to disseminate the same to any third party, and where such image or act is disseminated by any other person, he shall be liable under the Code. An offence under Section 354C is cognizable and bailable at the first conviction but cognizable and non-bailable at the second or subsequent conviction.
Punishment for stalking under Section 354D
This section deals with the protection of women against stalking. Stalking refers to a form of harassment that involves repeated and persistent intent to cause fear or harm to the person who is being followed. It can be in any form, be it physical or online. Thus, Section 354 is not a gender-neutral offence. Only a woman can seek justice under this section. Stalking was introduced as an offence under Section 354D in the Amendment Act of 2013 along with other offences such as trafficking, voyeurism, and others.
If a man commits such an offence, he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend up to three years and shall also be liable to a fine for his first conviction. For his second or subsequent conviction, he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to five years and shall also be liable to a fine.
Landmark case laws
- In the case of State of Punjab v. Major Singh (1967), the offender interfered with the epithelial duct of a seven-and-a-half-month-old female child, which led to an injury in the vagina of the infant. The accused was held guilty under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code. It was observed that there is no age limit, no measure of understanding of the abusive act and that the consciousness of a female is not essential to constitute the offence. The criminal intention and knowledge of the offender are at the crux of the matter. The provision of Section 354 would be applicable when a reasonable man believes that the act he is committing is sufficient to tarnish the modesty of the victim. The court further stated that the act of removing a woman’s saree coupled with a request for sexual intercourse would be an outrage to the modesty of a woman.
- In the case of Rupan Deol Bajaj v. Kanwar Pal Singh Gill (1995), the accused hit the back of a lady at a public gathering. The petitioner was an I.A.S. officer who lodged an F.I.R. against the accused. The learned Chief Judicial Magistrate of Chandigarh held the accused guilty under Section 354 and Section 509 of the IPC. The Supreme Court referred to the Oxford Dictionary to find the meaning of the word ‘modesty’. It was observed that the behaviour of the offender outraged the decency of the woman. This case is also known as the “butt-slapping case” in the media.
- In the case of Ram Pratap v. State of Rajasthan (2001), the offender entered the victim’s house when she was alone at home. The accused made her lie on a cot and misbehaved along with her. It was observed that no preparation for committing rape was done. So instead of convicting him under Section 376 or Section 511 and Section 452 of the IPC, he was held guilty under Section 354 and Section 451 of the IPC. He was sentenced to simple imprisonment for a period of six months, along with a fine.
- In the recent case of the State of Maharashtra v. Rovena Aadnya Amit Bhosle (2020), it was held that women could also be held guilty of outraging the modesty of women. The accused was a woman who assaulted her neighbour by tearing her nightdress in the passage of the building in front of several people. The victim was left completely naked and was beaten with a shoe. The metropolitan magistrate of the Mumbai Court held the accused guilty under Section 354 of the IPC as being gender neutral. She was convicted and sentenced to one year of rigorous imprisonment for outraging another woman’s modesty. As she was the mother of three, the youngest being only one and a half years old, she was awarded the minimum punishment stated under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code.
Section 354 is a special section that protects women from the criminal acts of men. It safeguards the ‘modesty’ of women by giving rigorous punishment to those men who try to outrage the modesty of women. As crimes against women are rising rapidly day by day, the provisions of this section act as a shield and protect women from exploitation. Therefore, this section serves its purpose by granting these rights to women and punishing those men who commit indecent and immoral acts and try to exploit them.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is Section 354 of the IPC a compoundable offence?
Compoundable offences are those that can be compounded or compromised outside of court. Offences that are committed under Section 354 of the IPC were, in the beginning, compoundable. But the same has been made non-compoundable after the amendment to the code that was made in 2009.
When was Section 354 added to IPC?
Section 354 of the IPC was already there in the original Indian Penal Code, 1860. But the nature of offence has changed after criminal law amendments. The ambit of Section 354 has been expanded with the Amendment of 2013 with the insertion of Sections 354A, 354B, 354C and 354D.
What is the punishment for molestation under Section 354 of the IPC?
The punishment for molestation under Section 354 of the IPC is rigorous imprisonment for a term that may extend up to three years, or a fine, or both. There are various offences under this heading, such as physical contact, making sexual remarks, showing pornography, and many more. So the punishment also varies accordingly.
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