Our laws can protect us when we know them!



Smriti Sharma- Is a volunteer blogger who is a law student in her third year. A passionate writer, she believes that pen is mightier than the sword and that one with the power to mould words has the power to bring about a revolution. She is a voracious read and a hardcore feminist.

Sexual Harassment and the Indian Penal Code

  Knowing our law and understanding its implementation can make a key difference when are faced with tricky situations, when we are a part of unfortunate circumstances or when we have to advice the people around us on the laws that can protect us against sexual harassment. Sections 354, 354A and 509 under the Indian Penal Code were enacted to protect the women from indecent behaviour and sexual harassment, the objective of which is to protect a woman against indecent behaviour of others, which is offensive to morality.   “354. Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty.—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 shall not be less than one year but which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine.” – Indian Penal Code, 1860   This section punishes an assault, or use of criminal force to any women with intention or knowledge that her modesty will be outraged. This offence is cognizable, bailable and compoundable (such offences, in which a compromise can be done and a trial can be avoided). Punishment for this may be extended till five years with fine. Ingredients To Constitute An Offence Under S. 354: (1)   A woman was assaulted and criminal force was used against her; (2)   The accused intended to outrage her modesty or knew that her modesty was likely to be outraged.   A female’s modesty has nowhere been defined and it will depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case. No abstract conception of modesty has been given in any law or case which can apply to all cases. It is important to note that the essence of her modesty is her sex. The intention of the accused is the crux of the matter. The reaction of the woman is very relevant, but its absence is not decisive. The scope of the section is wide enough to include a female of any age, young or old. In Major Singh’s case, the accused caused injuries to the vagina of a seven-and-a-half-month-old child by fingering, was held liable for outraging the modesty of the child under section 354. Also, it is important to note that intention is the gist of the offence. It is not that every act is criminal, the act should be done with the knowledge that it is likely to outrage the modesty of person with reference to whom the act is done.   “Section 354A – Sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment – (1) A man committing any of the following acts— (i) physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures; or (ii) a demand or request for sexual favors; or (iii) showing pornography against the will of a woman; or (iv)making sexually coloured remarks, shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment. (2) Any man who commits the offence specified in clause (i) or clause (ii) or clause (iii) of sub-section (1) shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both. (3)  Any man who commits the offence specified in clause (iv) of sub-section (1) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.” – Indian Penal Code, 1860   This section covers unwelcome physical contact and advances or a demand or a request for sexual favor, showing pornography. The offence under this section is again a bailable and cognizable offence. Section 354A was introduced in 2013 in order to deter criminals from indulging in sexual harassment. The offence in clause (i) or clause (ii) or clause (iii) of sub-section (1) under section 354A is punishable with imprisonment, which may extend to three years OR with fine OR with both.   “Section 509- Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman.—Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending 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.” – Indian Penal Code     The object of this section is to protect the woman’s chastity and modesty. The ingredients of this section are- (1)   Intention to insult the modesty of a woman (2)   The insult must be caused by uttering some word, or making some sound, or gesture or exhibiting any object so as to be heard or seen by such woman, or (3)   By intruding upon the privacy of such woman. The offence is cognizable and bailable but not compoundable. Section 509 specifically talks about infringing the modesty of women. If seen in general parlance then sexual harassment of a woman directly infringes the modesty of a woman. This harassment can come in the form of ‘words’, ‘gesture’, ‘act’ or ‘exhibit’ of objects. This gets covered by section 509.   Basically, Section 354, Section 354A and section 509 of The Indian Penal Code deal with the subject of sexual harassment. To be able to act, challenge and be a responsible citizen, we need to know our laws, let us spread the word.          


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