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Case study on outraging modesty of women

For a woman, her self-respect and dignity have consistently been her topmost priority. Thus considering it under the Indian Penal Code (1860) Section 354 has been enacted to safeguard the dignity of the woman from disparaging remarks and other obnoxious assault which may either expressly or implicitly outrage her modesty.

According to Section 354:
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 or with fine, or with both.
Thus it has been made a non-bailable offence under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013.

Provision of Punishment
2013 act 13 has substituted the punishment and fine provided underneath the aforesaid and Section 6 provides:
Shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine or with both.

The following essentials are sufficient to establish the offence:
From the side of an accused, section 354 requires basic knowledge on his part that his act is likely to cause harm to a woman's modesty.
The act on his behalf must be an outcome of the criminal force or an assault used by him.

The expression outrage the modesty is a sensitive term that has been reliant upon various understanding and interpretations since what constitutes an outrage to female modesty is nowhere defined thus what goes inside its ambit depends upon the facts of a case.

Modesty is defined as something lewd or scrupulously chaste as per the Oxford dictionary.
In general, the term modesty means the sexual dignity of a woman which is acquired by her since the time of her birth. The word �outrage� implies a physical act.

Meaning of term modesty in the context of Section 354 of IPC
The Supreme Court defined modesty "as the essence of a woman�s modesty is her sex. The culpable intention of the accused is the crux of the matter".
Examples- include demand for disrobing her, defamatory remarks, forcefully dragging her to commit sexual assault and not limited to voyeurism are acts that would come under the ambit of outraging the modesty of a female.

Case: The State of Punjab V. Major Singh AIR 1967 SC 63
Court: Supreme Court of India
Appellant: The State of Punjab
Respondent: Major Singh
Bench: Justice A.S.Sarkar, Justice J.R. Mudholkar and Justice R.S Bachawat.
Disposition: in favour of the appellant

Statutory Provisions:
Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code,1860.

Facts in brief
It was about 9:30 pm when the baby was sleeping in the room. Major Singh (accused) found the baby alone in the room he entered and turned the lights off. Then he strips himself bare beneath the midriff and stoops over her. In this obscene stance, he gives vent to his unnatural craving, and in the process breaks the hymen and causes a tear 3/4" long inside her vagina. He escapes when the mother enters the room and puts on the light.

Case History
The case was an appeal from the judgment by 2:1 ratio of the Punjab High Court dated May 31, 1963. Wherein the two judges acquitted the accused. Thus the appeal was preferred by the State Government.

  • Is the respondent, who caused an injury to the vagina of a seven and a half month infant, liable for an offence under section 354?
2 out of 3 judges in the present case observed that every woman, regardless of her age, has modesty that is capable of being outraged." Every woman possesses modesty from her very birth thus the essence of women modesty is her sex".

In a society where a crime committed against a woman is a reasonable sign of immodesty. It has become crucial to secure decency that we need to consider "modesty" as an essential attribute regardless of the fact that a female has fostered a comprehension of her modesty or not.

The three judges unanimously agreed with the view that "reaction or the feeling of a female cannot be a test to determine if her modesty is outraged or not". Thus the criminal force or any such kind of assault by an accused with intent or any sort of knowledge as mentioned is itself a sufficient ground and such acts are liable for punishment.

The court held that modesty is applied without any age limit thus in the present case a girl of seven and a half years has modesty that can be outraged thus from her very birth, she possesses modesty and it's an attribute of her sex. The respondent (Major Singh) was held guilty for outraging the female child's modesty through his act and was liable guilty under section 354.

The point of view of the Judges
According to Justice A.K Sarkar:
If the reaction of the woman is made a test for the determination of the outrage of modesty, then the difficulty may arise to establish the intention or the knowledge of the accused to outrage the standard of modesty set up by the concerned woman.

Justice J.R Mudholkar and Justice R.S Bachawat upheld the perspective of Justice A.K Sarkar expressing that the ones who are lunatic or are under stupor, stupid, unconscious (including sleeping) are only exempted if the reaction or the feeling of the woman determines the outrage of her modesty.

They unanimously concurred that:
This makes it difficult to satisfy the goal of the concerned provisions of the code.

The appellant appeal was allowed and the respondent was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment under Section 354 of Indian Penal Code,1860 for a time period of two years with fine of Rs. 1,000/-, and in default, rigorous imprisonment for six months.

State Amendments
  1. Andhra Pradesh Act 6, 1991 imposed the said imprisonment of either description for not less than 5 years which may put forth to 7 years including fine.
  2. Madhya Pradesh Act 14, 2004 (Section 3) an accused will be punished not less than 1 year extending to 10 years of imprisonment and also be liable for fine.
  3. Chattisgarh Act 25, 2015 (Section 3) inserted punishment not less than 2 years which may extend to 7 years including fine.
  4. Orissa Act 6, 1995 under (Section 3) the word 'bailable' substituted the word 'non-bailable.

The above-mentioned case is the harsh reality of our contemporary society that even though a tender age girl child whose body is not fully developed yet, her sexual powers are dormant becomes a survivor of such immoral crime. It is thus the need of an hour to have a comprehensive understanding and interpretation of the articulation "outrage modesty of women'' to tackle the sexual offences the term "outrage the modesty" must to be unequivocally defined and clarified under the IPC which will be further sought by the courts.

The period of punishment anticipates changes wherein the base detainment requires an expansion from two years. The present case will be considerably simplified to conclude if a clear and an all-inclusive definition and meaning of women is given, which says explicitly that it includes women of all ages, physical and psychological conditions.

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