Section 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 may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

Modesty: The word “modesty” has not been defined in the Cr.P.C. In the leading case of Rupan Deol Bajaj v. Gill K.P.S., AIR 1996 SC 309: 1996 Cri. L. J. 381 (SC), referring to Oxford Dictionary, the Supreme Court observed that “modesty is the quality of being modest and in relation to woman means womanly propriety of behavior; scrupulous chastity of thought, speech and conduct. The word ‘modest’ in relation to woman is defined as decorous in manner and conduct; not forward or lewd; shamefast.
The Supreme Court, in Division Bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat and S. H. Kapadia, in a recent case has finally defined modesty. The definition came in a case where one Ramkripal, convicted of rape, had sought leniency pleading that he was, at worst, guilty of outraging the woman’s modesty. The Court, however, rejected the argument while pointing out that Ramkripal, against whom it was established that he had penetrated the female organ of the victim, was guilty of rape. The definition of modesty according to the Supreme Court: “The essence of woman’s modesty is her sex.”
“The act of pulling a woman, removing her sari, coupled with a request for sexual intercourse…would be an outrage to the modesty of a woman; and knowledge that modesty is likely to be outraged, is sufficient to constitute the offence,” the Bench said.
In other words, outraging a woman’s modesty, as mentioned in Section 354, will apply to crimes against women that stop short of penetration, in which event it becomes rape. In the same judgment, the court ruled that penetration alone was sufficient to qualify as rape whether there has been ejaculation or not. The court’s definition shows a growing sensitivity to a changing society in which relatively subtle acts of harassment of women have come to be viewed as crime worthy of punishment. The court also clarified that claims of lack of protest – a device often used by the accused to justify his violation – cannot be taken as an alibi. The Bench said,” The culpable intention of the accused is the crux of the matter. The reaction of the woman is very relevant, but its absence is not always decisive.”

‘Intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty’. - The Supreme Court has held that when any act done to or in the presence of a woman is clearly suggestive of sex according to the common notions of mankind that act will fall within section 354. It was observed by Bachawat, J in State v. Major Singh AIR 1967 SC 63: 1967 Cri. L.J. 1 (S.C.)]: -
“I think that the essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex. The modesty of an adult female is writ large on her body. Young or old, intelligent or imbecile, awake or sleeping, the woman possesses a modesty capable of being outraged. Whoever uses criminal force to her with intent to outrage her modesty commits an offence punishable under section 354. The culpable intention of the accused is the crux of the matter. The reaction of the woman is very relevant, but its absence is not always decisive, as for example, when the accused with a corrupt mind stealthily touches the flesh of a sleeping woman. She may be an idiot, she may be under the spell of anaesthesia, she may be sleeping, she may be unable to appreciate the significance of the act; nevertheless, the offender is punishable under this section.

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Replace Cr.P.C. with I.P.C.

Section 354 A, 354 B, 354C and 354D have now been inserted in the Indian Penal Code after the already existing section 354
Section 354A deals with the definition of “sexual harassment” which is very broadly defined and criminalizes acts like forcibly showing pornography, physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures, demanding or requesting sexual favours, any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature. This section further deals with the punishment to be awarded for the offence depending upon the act in question.
While demanding or requesting sexual favours and physical contact or advances which involve unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures is punishable with rigorous imprisonment of a term which may extend to five years or with fine or with both, the other three acts enumerated above attract a lesser term which may extend to one year or fine or both.
A bare reading of this section shows that it is gender neutral in nature.
Section 354B deals with offence where criminal force or assault is used up on a woman with the intention of disrobing her or compelling her to be naked in public and penalizes the same with an imprisonment term which shall not be less than three years but may extend to seven years and also attract fine. This section deals with a very specific offence and adds to and will supplement the provision dealing with the offence of outraging the modesty of a woman. This is a welcome provision in view of the fact that many cases have been reported in the news of women being stripped in public as an instrument of punishment mostly in backward areas.
Section 354 C also deals with the specific act of either watching or capturing the images of a woman engaging in a private act where she expects privacy and observation by the perpetrator or any other person at the behest of the perpetrator is not likely. Such watching or capturing images of a woman is criminalized and attracts an imprisonment term which shall not be less than one year but may extend to three years and fine. Also on a subsequent conviction the minimum imprisonment term shall be that of three years extendable to seven years and also fine.
For the purpose of this section the offence is widely defined and includes a situation where the victim may have consented to the capturing of images or any act but not agreed to the dissemination of the same to any third person.
Section 354 D criminalizes the act of stalking which interferes with the mental peace of a person or causes distress, fear of violence or alarm. The same is punishable with a minimum imprisonment term of one year which may extend to three years and also liable with fine. However, the offence is subject to certain exceptions like where a person can show that the acts done were in pursuance of some law, amounted to reasonable conduct or in order to prevention of some crime.


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