Section 354: Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty.

Section 354 IPC states the act of any criminal force committed on a woman with the intention to outrage her modesty. The ambit of IPC 354 widened with the insertion of four new sections through the Criminal Law Amendment Act (13 of 2013). These sections are Section 354 A, Section 354 B, Section 354 C, and Section 354 D respectively.

Sec 354 IPC,  as defined states that “ 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.

The term ‘assault’ means to cause a physical attack. Assault not only means the situations where a woman is physically assaulted. It also includes any verbal acts as well as gestures of a person intending to outrage the modesty of a woman. 

The concept of Modesty is not defined anywhere. The question that arises is what does the term Modesty mean in context to a woman? 

In the case of Raju Pandurang Mahale v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court defined the ingredients that constitute the essence of a woman’s modesty.

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In the case of State of Punjab v. Major Singh, the Supreme court held and stated as, “Outraging the modesty of a woman is an offence- indecent behaviour and not the age of the woman is the criteria to determine the offence of outraging the modesty punishable under section 354, IPC”. 

The only and the major thing that constitutes the essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex. The guilty intention of the accused plays a major role in determining the crux of the offence. The court further explained, the act of pulling a woman, removing her saree, coupled with a request for sexual intercourse, is such as would be an outrage to the modesty of a woman. Also, mere knowledge of the fact that the modesty is likely to be outraged, is sufficient to constitute the offence and needs no further explanation on the intention of the offender.

In the above-mentioned case, the court very efficiently defined the term Modesty of a woman. The act caused with the intention to outrage the modesty of a woman ultimately leads to sexual assault.

The ambit of Section 354 Indian Penal Code is way wide. Also, it is a cognizable offence and Non-bailable as well. In order to provide protection against the act of sexual assault further sections were added. The four newly added sections are mentioned below:

  • Section 354 A- Sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment
  • Section 354 B- Assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe
  • Section 354 C- Voyeurism
  • Section 354 D- Stalking

A person can be tried for both, causing assault with the intention to outrage the modesty of a woman and for causing sexual harassment.

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After the insertion of new sections, Delhi High Court in the matter of T Manikadan v. The State ( Govt of NCT of Delhi)  held that there is no illegality in convicting accused under the Sec 354, 354 A IPC simultaneously. It was observed by the court that the modesty of the victim was outraged by the accused and it was an act beyond physical contact, thus all the basic essentials that are required to constitute the offence under Sec. 354 Indian Penal Code and  Section. 354 A were duly fulfilled and the person was held guilty for both the offences.

Further, the following sections are defined as follows:

  • Section 354 A- Sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment:

1. A man committing any of the following acts- 

  • Physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures; or 
  • A demand or request for sexual favours; or
  • Showing pornography against the will of a woman; or
  • 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 subsection (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 the clause (iv) of subsection (1) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

This section clearly states that the act of sexual harassment caused by a person is punishable. Sexual harassment is not only an offence against an individual woman, rather it is a wrong against public morals and decent behaviour. The term of imprisonment differs on the basis of the gravity of the offence.

Section 354A is a cognizable offence, bailable as well which can be tried by any magistrate.

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  • Section 354B- Assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe:

Any man who assaults or uses criminal force to any woman or abets such act with an intention of disrobing or compelling her to be naked, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

This section clearly states that a man with intent to disrobe(undress) a woman, using the criminal force shall be liable for a prescribed term of punishment. Offence under this section is also a cognizable offence, but Non-bailable. Cases under this section can be tried by any Magistrate.

  • Section 354C- Voyeurism:

Any man who watches, captures the image of a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed either by the perpetrator or by any other person at the behest of the perpetrator or disseminates such image shall be punished on first conviction with either description for a term which shall not be less than one year, but which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine, and be punished on a second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years, but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation to this section as provided under the Act is as follows-

  1. For the purpose of this section, “private act” includes an act of watching carried out in a place which, in the circumstances, would reasonably expected to provide privacy and where the victim’s genitals, posterior or breasts are exposed or covered only in underwear; or the victim is using a lavatory: or the victim is doing a sexual act that is not of a kind ordinarily done in public.
  2. Where the victim consents to the capture of the images or any act, but not to their dissemination to the third persons and where such image or act is disseminated, such dissemination shall be considered an offence under this section.

This section makes a man liable if he intentionally watches or captures the picture of a woman doing private acts, which are to be performed in the utmost privacy and the woman believes that she is not observed by anyone. 

Also, if a woman gives her consent to capture her image or allows to do any act, but not with the purpose that it will be exposed to a third person. If the person shares the picture or spreads it on a wide scale, his act will amount to the offence under the purview of this section and shall be liable to punishment.

The offence committed under this section is a Cognizable offence and bailable at the time of first conviction. However, if the offender repeats the offence, the nature of the offence is cognizable and non-bailable at the time of second conviction.
In both the cases, the offence is triable by any Magistrate having the jurisdiction of the matter.

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  • Section 354 D- Stalking:

1. Any man who-

  • Follows a woman and contacts, or attempts to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman; or
  • Monitors the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication,

Commits the offence of stalking:

Provided that such conduct shall not amount to stalking if the man who pursued it proves that-

  • It was pursued the purpose of preventing or detecting crime and the man accused of stalking had been entrusted with the responsibility of prevention and detection of crime by the State; or 
  • It was pursued under any law or to comply with any conditions or requirement imposed by any person under any law; or
  • In particular circumstances, such conduct was reasonable and justified

2. Whoever commits the offence of stalking shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and also shall be liable to fine; and be punished on a second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine.

This section clearly explains that the act of a person, where despite the interest of a woman, if  he is found continuously stalking her, using different measures, such as by following, contacting, stalking her activities on internet and so on, shall be liable for committing the offence of Stalking under the Indian Penal Code.

With respect to the acts that amount to stalking, there are certain exceptions provided in lieu of this section. If the person was continuously doing an act in relation to prevent or detect a crime, where he was bound by the law, or if he justifies the reason for following or keeping a check on the activities of a woman, shall not be liable for the offence of stalking.
 

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