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Using Abusive Language Can't Be The Accepted Norm Of The Indian Society?

Abusing someone is an act of using foul language intended to disrespect the victim of such abuse. It is often verbal in nature but can assume other forms too. Such a practice is not acceptable in the Indian orthodox society, but increased Western influence has made the younger generation habitual to the use of such words.

Such instances harm the social fabric of our country and threaten the public order situation, if they get aggravated. There are various penal provisions which can be used against an abuser, but the absence of issue-specific provision has hampered the effective remedying of this malpractice.

By the term 'abusing' we generally refer to the use of curse or derogatory words which are generally disgraceful, immoral and are often aimed at harming the sentiments of the opposing party with a view to reduce their morale and create a farce of superiority to uphold one's "superior" position in a relationship or during an argument.

While it is fast becoming an accepted norm due to rapidly changing social conditions, the main question remains whether such abuse should be an accepted norm and whether it can be considered as a penal offence, if it is not already so.

Stand on a Street Corner/Paan Shop/Railway Station/Bus Stop in India for a little bit and keep your ears open (and the Mobile Phone switched off). You are bound to hear banter amongst friends, some irate person describing his/her boss, conversation about the state of the Nation, discussions about home and Office Politics and numerous other such.

For most part these differing conversations might well have nothing in common save one thing peppering these conversations will be the choicest of abuses. The abuses will detail various parts of the human anatomy, make the vilest of accusations about close relatives and refer to acts of reproduction in a rather crude manner.

The only cuss words that you will find in Hindi films is bastard or the Hindi equivalent haraamzada, both of which are among the tamest of abuses in our pantheon of MC- BC laced languages.

What is Abusing?

In general sense, abusing refers to the uttering of such degenerate words which are used during a verbal fight, often to downgrade the person or to further ignite the raging spirits of the person to provoke him to commit an act of aggression. The words generally considered to be abusive are directed towards the person itself or his/her family members, particularly the female members of the family, and are so derogatory in nature that it either arises the hostility in the behavior of the victim, or renders them speechless by the sheer audacity of the opposite party, which eventually makes them embarrassed to the point where they end up believing that the opposing party is superior to them.

Normally, when we talk about abuse, we consider only verbal abuse, and that too in a free-fight or an argument between or among parties. While this is partially true, considering that the intensity and recurrence of verbal abuse is generally higher in the society, there are other kinds of abuses also which should be considered while discussing about abuses and which are at par with verbal abuses, as each kind of abuse has a particular impact on the victim of such abuse.

There are two main kinds of abuses:

  1. Physical Abuse:

    It includes the use of oppressive force on the victim of such abuse. The use of such physical force is done to injure the victim and make them submissive to the stance of the oppressor. Examples of physical abuse include punching, hitting, kicking, etc. In this case, the abuse takes place till the oppressor is convinced that the victim concedes to his/her superiority.
  2. Psychological abuse:

    This kind of abuse involves harming the mental health of a person by repeated insistence on the fact that the victim is inferior to the oppressor and that they should be submissive to the wishes and commands of the oppressor. Such abuse may include verbal abuse, as the main insistence in such a kind of abuse is to make the victim submissive and consolidate the position of the oppressor. Such abuse can be done by constant name calling, regularly finding faults in the efforts of a person etc.

It is pertinent to note here that when we talk about an abusive relationship, it not only includes the relationship of an oppressor and a victim, but also includes a relationship of two persons who are in an equal position to suppress the opposing party and use abuses as a means to oppress the opposing party. While the former has been in existence for quite some time now, the instances of the latter have assumed alarming levels in recent times. This 'free-fire volley' of abuses has assumed such proportions wherein it threatens the social fabric of our society and promotes hatred, enmity between and among people.

Dire Need Of regulating The Act Of Abusing In India

Generally, we can say that abuses are those words which are too bad for the ears and needless to say, do not conform to the values of the society. In a conservative society like ours, such abuses or abusive language should not find any place in the social spectrum. But, the socio-cultural blend of the conservative Indian culture with the openness of the Western culture has given rise to a new hybrid culture where abusing each other is fast becoming an accepted norm.

Various instances of the western influence can be observed in the movies and other mediums which contain unrestricted abuses, drug-use etc. Indian viewers, especially the younger generation see such movies and feel that it is something that can be done openly.

This thing does not pose a problem in the initial stages, but when it aggravates to the extent where people, even young children deem it normal to abuse someone either in public or even in private, it poses some serious problems, as it not only threatens the peace and order of the society, but it also deteriorates the quality of the population and threatens the future of the nation. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to regulate and prevent such behavior, at least in public places.

What are the laws against foul language and indecent verbal abuse in India?

A very important question in the context of regulating the acts of abusing is the aspect of criminalization of an act of abusing. This question arises from the fact that people consider abusing as a part of their freedom of speech and expression as enshrined under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of India and see any action towards regulating such behavior as a violation of their freedom.

Even if that is the case, then the restrictions on such freedom as mentioned under Article 19 (2) give the power to the Governments to restrict the freedom if it disturbs public order or is not within the established standards of decency and morality. Therefore, the Government would be well within its rights to criminalize the instances of abusing as it violates the standards of decency and morality of our society and also threatens public order, if the situation intensifies.

While there are no separate penal provisions on abusing, there are some provisions in the Indian Penal Code which can be employed to punish the acts of abusing. Some of the provisions are:

Section 268 of Indian Panel Code, 1860:

According to this Section, if any person does or does not do something which eventually leads to a common injury or annoyance to the public in general, such a person would be considered guilty of creating public nuisance.

So, if any person hurls any abusive words in a public place, he/she would be causing annoyance to the people living around the area and, therefore, he/she can be held liable under this Section.

Section 294 of Indian Panel Code, 1860:

It lays down that if any person does any act in a public place which is considered as obscene as under Section 292 of Indian Panel Code, 1860, shall be punishable.

It is to be noted that in general sense, we link obscenity with nudity or any act which arouses the sexual pleasures in a person. In its present form, it seems to exclude abusive words from the ambit of obscenity. But if a broader view of the term 'obscenity' is taken, it shall be found that obscenity includes depiction of people, mainly women in a derogatory manner, which is similar to what is done when a person hurls abuses towards the other. Further, the impact of dissemination of obscene material is the same as the propagation of abusive language: it degrades the image of the victim and creates a feeling of hatred and enmity in the society. Therefore, even hurling abuses can be considered to be an obscene act, and made punishable under Section 294 of Indian Panel Code, 1860.

It should be noted that in Criminal Revision No. 175/2010 titled [Jaichand Vs State Of Maharashtra], decided on 31.03.2010, the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court held that verbal abuse need not necessarily be in a public place to punish the offender under Section 294 of Indian Panel Code, 1860. This means that if a person hurls abuses at some other person while staying in their own premises, they can be charged under the Section for spreading obscenity.

Section 354 of Indian Panel Code, 1860 defines that whosoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, such an act would be punishable with imprisonment as well as a fine.

An act of wanton violation, any gross violation of law or decency, anything that outrages the feelings, passionate or violent behaviour or language, fury or insolence, to subject to grievous violence or indignity, to anger or offend, to make resentful, shock, to offend against right, decency, feelings etc. grossly or shamelessly; to rape a woman.

Modesty is to woman, what fragrance is to flower. Modesty is an attribute associated with female human beings as a class. Modesty is defined as the quality of being modest and in relation to woman "womanly propriety of behaviour, scrupulous chastity of thought, speech and conduct". Webster's New International Dictionary of English language amplifies the definition of "modest" by adding "observing the proprieties, free from undue familiarity, indecency, or lewdness."

It goes without saying that an abuse hurled at a woman, or which includes the name or depiction of a woman, is sure to outrage her modesty. While modesty has not been clearly defined in the Code, it is often related to the dignity, respect, reputation of a woman, and any such word/gesture which harms the dignity of the woman can and should be penalized.

To commit an offence under this section, insult is necessary. The term 'insult' means that the words used must be of such a nature that causes contempt to the dignity of a person or which causes a sense of humiliation to the person. These words even include the daily slangs people use in their daily lives as well such as- bastard, foolish and so on.

To bring a case under this section, it would be necessary to decide whether the use of such words led to an intentional insult or not. A person cannot be held liable under this section unless insult was intended.

Now the major question arises, how to determine whether the insult was intentional or not?
So, the answer to this question is, an intention of insult is a matter of facts and circumstances which differs from case to case and situation to situation. Nature of insult is more of a question of fact and not of law. Insult caused should give provocation to cause a breach of public peace.

Say for an example- when the accused abused the complainant in such a manner which involves the chastity of his mother or sister, such an act falls under the ambit of as held in In re Karumuri Venkatratnam, (1947) 1 MLJ 359.

It should be noted here that the above-mentioned provision can be employed even in simple cases of abusing, wherein, a person abuses someone in public, or as stated above, even in private. There may exist a situation, wherein, the abuses by a person is given to their own family member, mainly by a husband to his wife, and such abuse reaches such alarming levels and become so recurring in nature, wherein, they can be considered as being an act of cruelty being inflicted by a husband upon his wife, the victim can take the help of Section 498-A Indian Panel Code, 1860 to punish the oppressor.

Section 498-A of Indian Panel Code, 1860 lays down the offence of cruelty and says that if a husband commits any act which drives the wife to suicide or for any other purpose, such an act would be considered as cruelty. In various Judgements, the Apex Court has held that even mental cruelty is a part of cruelty under the Section. So, if a husband regularly abuses his wife, such actions of the husband can be considered as cruelty upon his wife.

Expanding the ambit of the provision, the Supreme Court in [Smt. Mayadevi Vs Jagdish Prasad,[2007 AIR SCW 1803], held that if a husband suffers mental cruelty from the acts of his wife, it would serve as a ground for divorce. By this Judgement, the Supreme Court expressly laid down that cruelty can be both physical and mental.

Section 504 Indian Penal Code, 1860:

As defined in the Code provides punishment to, "whoever intentionally insults, and, thereby, gives provocation to any person, intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause him to break the public peace, or to commit any other offence, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both".

For a better understanding of Section 504 Indian Penal Code, 1860, it is necessary to know what does the term 'insult' actually mean and how it become severe in nature that can even make a person liable for committing a criminal offence.

The objective of Section 504 Indian Penal Code, 1860 is to prevent the intentional use of abusive language amounting to insult, giving rise to provocations causing the person against whom such words are used to commit breach of peace. In this Section, it is showed how a person can provoke another to commit an offence that is criminal in nature and which can also harm the public peace at large.

In our daily lives also, we hear a lot of words that are offensive in nature but somehow ignore to manage them, but in cases, if a person intentionally uses abusive or offensive words in order to humiliate a person or provoke him, he is said to commit an offence under the purview of Section 504 Indian Penal Code, 1860.

In order to establish an offence under this Section, the following ingredients must be proved:

  • That the accused insulted some person intentionally.
  • That the intention of the person is such which is likely to give provocation to the person insulted.
  • The accused has the knowledge that such provocation would cause the person to break the public peace or under the influence of which, he can commit an offence.

Section 509 Indian Penal Code, 1860 contains provisions related to insult of the modesty of a woman and lays down that if someone says any word or makes any sound which insults the modesty of a woman, such an act can be made punishable under the Section.

Section 509 Indian Penal Code, 1860 contains provisions related to insult of the modesty of a woman and lays down that if someone says any word or makes any sound which insults the modesty of a woman, such an act can be made punishable under the Section.

Glancing the above provisions of Indian Panel Code, 1860 gives rise to the argument that even abusing can be criminalized, and judging by the rise in frequency of such undesirable instances, it is necessary to criminalize it.

If everyday language is like the earth's crust and the soil we garden our lives in, strong language is like volcanoes and geysers erupting through it from the mantle below. Our social traditions determine which parts of the crust are the thin points. It's not enough to feel strongly about something; it has to have a dominating societal power and control structure attached to it. Strong language often involves naming things you desire but aren't supposed to desire; at the very least, it aims to upset power structures that may seem a bit too arbitrary.

We tend to think of swear words as one entity, but they actually serve several distinct functions. Steven Pinker, in The Stuff of Thought, lists five different ways we can swear: "descriptively (Let's fuck), idiomatically (It's fucked up), abusively (Fuck you…!), emphatically (This is fucking amazing), and cathartically (Fuck!!!)."

Sex, though desired, is - in the angry, aggressive part of the mind - a dominating act, something performed upon a weaker recipient. Functional equivalents to the F-word are found in many languages. This is quite evidently linked to male aggression. Females are cast in a submissive role. But men are also attached to their nurturing mothers (let's just take the Freudian stuff as read, shall we?).

After going through the above material, it can be observed that while abusing is held in disregard by the society, there is a dearth of specific laws related to the activity. Though there are laws under which any such activity which disrespects an individual or the society at large, a specific law is necessary to effectively the mess created by this menace.

Further, it is also essential that in the absence of specific laws, the Courts of the land sufficiently widen the ambit of 'obscenity' to include abusive language within its meaning. This degenerate practice cannot be allowed to become a commonly accepted norm of the society because if it is allowed to become so, it will be at the cost of the cultural values of Indian society.

Written By: Dinesh Singh Chauhan, Advocate - High Court of Judicature, J&K & Ladakh, Jammu.
Email: [email protected], [email protected]

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