Law relating to outraging the modesty of woman

Condition of women in India:

Ancient Indian society (Vedic period) women were highly regarded and had positions of power in society. According to RigVeda,

“यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवता”

which implies where Women are honored, divinity blossoms there, and where women are dishonored, all action no matter how noble remain unfruitful.
During post vedic period, condition of women started deteriorating. With the arrival of Mughals and other invaders, conditions worsened. Women was treated like an object to play. However during British era, English administration passed some laws to improve the conditions of women.


Crime against women in India-

According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India (NCRB), top 10 crimes against women in India in 2021 are:

  • Rape: There were 32,033 cases of rape reported in India in 2021, an increase of 12.2% from 2020.
  • Kidnapping and abduction of women: There were 28,092 cases of kidnapping and abduction of women reported in India in 2021, an increase of 15.3% from 2020.
  • Dowry deaths: There were 7,096 cases of dowry deaths reported in India in 2021, a decrease of 2.4% from 2020.
  • Assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty: There were 331,374 cases of assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty reported in India in 2021, an increase of 18.6% from 2020.
  • Insult to the modesty of women: There were 38,852 cases of insult to the modesty of women reported in India in 2021, an increase of 10.2% from 2020.
  • Cruelty by husband or his relatives: There were 1,41,223 cases of cruelty by husband or his relatives reported in India in 2021, an increase of 6.5% from 2020.
  • Immoral trafficking of women and girls: There were 14,546 cases of immoral trafficking of women and girls reported in India in 2021, a decrease of 1.7% from 2020.
  • Importation of girls for immoral purposes: There were 41 cases of importation of girls for immoral purposes reported in India in 2021, a decrease of 27.3% from 2020.
  • Eve teasing: There were 17,982 cases of eve teasing reported in India in 2021, a decrease of 10.4% from 2020.
  • Acid attacks: There were 249 cases of acid attacks reported in India in 2021, a decrease of 13.5% from 2020.

Helpline numbers:

  • The National Commission for Women (NCW): 1-888-200-7590
  • The All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA): 1-800-220-4910
  • The Centre for Social Research (CSR): 1-800-222-7152
  • The Human Rights Law Network (HRLN): 1-800-222-7152

Crime of Outraging the modesty of woman:

The Supreme Court stated 'modesty' as female decency and a virtue that girls possess as a result of their sex. The word modesty has not been defined in IPC or any other law. In common parlance, "modest" means freedom from vanity or propriety in dress, speech and conduct. The word "outrage" means extremely rude, violent, injurious or insulting act connected with guilt, culpability, criminality. As per the NCRB data, the sexual abuse cases at shelter homes rose to 30% in recent years, and at least 45 complaints of sexual abuse were reported at government-run sports institutions, with the most recent instance being the ongoing wrestler's protest in Delhi.
Section 354 IPC criminalizes assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty & under its domain. It includes-

  • Sexual Harassment (sec 354A)
  • Disrobing a woman (sec 354B),
  • Voyeurism (sec 354C),
  • Stalking (sec 354D), and
  • Sextortion(sec 354E)
(These sections are discussed in separate articles on the website)

Interpretation of term “Woman”:

Sec. 10 of the IPC, 1860 defines woman –
A female human being of any age. Therefore irrespective of the age, woman’s modesty can be concluded as outraged if assault or criminal force is done to her with intent to outrage her modesty.

Legislative provisions under Indian Penal code:

Outraging modesty of a woman [S. 354]

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.]

Essentials of Crime u/s 354:

  1. Use of assault or criminal force to a woman;
  2. With the intention and knowledge of;
  3. Outraging the modesty of woman.

Punishment u/s 354:

Imprisonment for a term of 1 year which may extend to 5 years ; and

Intention and knowledge:

Intention and knowledge of doing a criminal act is in the mind of the person doing it and therefore, it has to be deduced from the acts itself. For example,where a man was trying to pull a woman's saree and asking for sexual favours. Here, his act of asking for sexual favours combined with pulling the saree clearly shows his guilty intention.

Case Laws:

State of Punjab v. Major Singh (1966 SC)

In this case, victim was an infant girl of seven and a half months. He stripped himself naked and caused injuries to the vagina of the victim by fingering. The question arised whether a girl of 7 months carries modesty to outrage.
The court held that "The essence of a woman's modesty is her sex. Young or old, intelligent or imbecile, awake or sleeping, the woman possesses a modesty capable of being outraged. A female of tender age who has not yet developed a sense of shame and has no awareness of sex, also from her very birth possesses the modesty which is the attribute of her sex capable of being outraged."

Rupan Deol Bajaj v Kanwar Pal Singh Gill (1995 SC)

The victim was an IAS officer, registered a FIR against the accused, who was an IPS officer for slapping the victim in the presence of friends and family and thereby outraging her modesty. The High court quashed the FIR. The matter went to the Supreme Court, in which The Supreme Court held the quashing of FIR as illegal. It further held that when a matter is related to the modesty of a woman, under no circumstance it can be termed as trifling.

Ram Pratap v. State of Rajasthan (2001 SC)

In this case, the accused entered the victim's house when she was alone and misbehaved along with her, however no preparation to commit rape was done. The accused was held guilty of outraging the modesty of woman under Section 354 of the IPC, 1860.

Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan (1997 SC)

This landmark case addressed the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. The Supreme Court laid down guidelines for preventing and redressing instances of sexual harassment (Vishakha Guidelines), which later led to the enactment of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act in 2013.

Steps taken by the Indian government to strengthen provisions for outraging female’s modesty:

  • The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013
  • The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012
  • The Nirbhaya Fund
  • The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2020
  • The Suraksha Setu App

Factors contributing to improvement of condition of women in India:

  • The passage of laws to protect women's rights: The Indian constitution guarantees equal rights for women, and there have been a number of laws passed to protect women from violence and discrimination. These laws include the Dowry Prohibition Act, the Domestic Violence Act, and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act etc.
  • The increase in the number of women in education and employment: There has been a significant increase in the number of women attending school and college in India. No one can deny from the fact that all the examinations are topped by women when they are given with education facilities. This has led to an increase in the number of women in the workforce. In 2021, women made up 24% of the Indian labor force.
  • The rise of women's movements: There have been a number of women's movements in India that have fought for women's rights. These movements have raised awareness about issues such as violence against women, discrimination in the workplace, and the lack of access to education and healthcare.

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