India shall be celebrating its 75th independence day this year. Since its freedom, our country has undoubtedly progressed with huge leaps and bounds in multiple fields, whether it be trade, diplomacy, technology, or military, India is well-known on the global level for these, as infamous as it is for the safety of its women or actually, the lack thereof. What use is such progress when the women of our country still face so many incidents of harassment on a daily basis? Hence, the lawmakers, taking cognizance of this fact, have introduced a number of provisions for the justice of women. One such provision has been Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code.
IPC SECTION 354 FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT
Section 354 of the IPC deals with the cases of sexual assault against women. As per the Code, any person who assaults or uses criminal force against any woman with the purpose of compromising her dignity shall be punished with imprisonment up to five years and shall also be liable to pay a fine for it.
This Section includes the following clauses, inserted via the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, listing out the actions that shall amount to the offence of sexual harassment:
- Section 354(A)– Any man making sexual advances or physical contact, like sexual remarks, demands, or requests, despite it being clearly unwelcomed or resisted, shall be liable to rigorous imprisonment up to three years or a fine or both.
- Section 354(B)– Any man who performs or abets for assault or the usage of criminal force on any woman with the intention of sexually exposing her or forcing her to be naked, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to seven years along with a fine.
- Section 354(C)– Any man who dishonestly watches or captures the images of a woman, engaging in a private act where she does not expect to be viewed, does so without her knowledge, shall be punished for one to three years of imprisonment along with a fine at the first conviction, and with imprisonment for three to seven years plus a fine at the event of a second or subsequent conviction.
- Section 354(D) – Any man who follows, stalks, contacts, or tries to interact with a woman, despite being shown explicit disinterest or resistance by her, or monitors her activity on the internet or the usage of any other means of communication, shall be liable to imprisonment up to three years plus fine upon first conviction and a term up to five years plus fine at a second or subsequent conviction.
The offence of sexual assault is cognizable, non-bailable, and compoundable only at the discretion of the Court. As the courses of action taken here are so stringent, such provisions are likely to be misjudged or misused. There have been allegations that these statutes are being abused by evil women to fulfill their immoral intentions. Indeed, there have been cases before the Court where this Section had been called for rather casually.
CASES OF IPC SECTION 354 MISUSE
- Akil @ Javed v State of NCT of Delhi, 2016[[i]]– In this case, the accused had been alleged to have molested a female resident while committing robbery. He had further been identified by a prosecution witness, but upon cross-examination, the testimonies had been found to be inconsistent and unreliable, hence, the Delhi High Court had acquitted the accused from Section 354 due to lack of evidence.
- Mahesh Prasad Soni v The State of Madhya Pradesh, 2012[[ii]]– Here, the prosecutrix had been inconsistent in her testimony regarding the details of the offence and the reasons as to why the accused had made physical contact with her. A prosecution witness (PW-2) had even opposed the statements of the prosecutrix so, the accused had been acquitted from the charge of Section 354 by the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
- State of Karnataka by Town Police, Tumkur v Saif @ Saifuddin, 2013[[iii]]– The High Court of Karnataka had acquitted the accused from the charge of Section 354 as the alleged act he had done had been too trivial to fall under the purview of sexual harassment.
- Raghunath S/O Bondraji Beldar v State of Maharashtra, 1987[[iv]]– The Bombay High Court had noted, “an interesting point is when an accused has been acquitted of the offence under section 376of the Indian Penal Code, i.e. for rape whether he can be convicted of the offence under section 354 of the Indian Penal Code on the same set of facts.” The Court had concluded that the prosecutrix “had exaggerated and did not give evidence which was reliable enough, then every part of the story given by her should have been disbelieved and the appellant should have been also acquitted of the offence under section 354, P.C.”
The Rule of Law is the supreme rule in our country. Accordingly, our legal system has strived to make reforms in the best interests of our people. When such a law gets cheated by the very people it had been created to protect, the law shall take action there as well. The Constitution of India guarantees equality before the law and the equal protection of the law to each of its people. Hence, the Court shall adhere to that responsibility and judiciously examine the facts of each case to find the truth and provide true justice.
Author’s Name: Shruti Sinha (Government Law College, Mumbai)
[i] Akil @ Javed v State of NCT of Delhi (2013) 7 SCC 125
[iv] Raghunath S/O Bondraji Beldar v State of Maharashtra, 1987 (3) BomCR 106