Chapter XVI of the Indian Penal Code deals with offences affecting the human body. Under the said Chapter, Sections 349 to 374 are relating to offences committed using criminal force and assault. Section 354 provides for an offence which is committed against woman by using assault or criminal force to outrage the modesty of women.
The offence under section 354 is said to be constituted if the following essentials are present in the act committed-
1. Use of assault or criminal force against a woman
2. Intention to outrage the modesty of that woman.
3. Who is considered as a Woman under this section?
Section 10 of IPC defines the term ‘woman’ as a female human being of any age. Therefore, the offence under Section 354 can be committed against woman of all ages.
What is ‘modesty’?
In State of Punjab v. Major Singh[i], the Supreme Court held that the essence of woman’s modesty is sex and anyone who has committed an act against a woman which is clearly suggestive of sex, then such acts shall be punished under section 354 of IPC. In this case, the accused had walked into the room of a seven and half months old female child, he was held to have committed an offence under section 354 as he had intentionally outraged the modesty of the child by committing an indecent act. The Supreme Court held the accused liable as he had outraged the whatever modesty the little victim was capable of.
In R. v. Court[ii], the House of Lords have observed that a person is held to be guilty of an indecent assault if he intentionally assaults the victim and such an act is considered to be indecent by the right-minded persons of the society.
Therefore, the act shall be considered as an assault outraging the modesty of any woman if such an act is construed to be an indecent act by the common understanding of the right-minded persons of the society. Further, the word modesty as used in the section is attributed to the sex of the victim as decided by the Courts in various cases[iii].
Crux of the offence under section 354
It is the culpable intention that the accused possesses in using the criminal force or assault against the woman which is the crux of the offence. The Court affirmed that the act of merely touching a woman’s belly cannot be held as an offence of outraging the modesty of that woman, unless the culpable intention is proved and established beyond a reasonable doubt[iv].
Further, in the case of Divender Singh v. Hari Ram[v], the Court held that if a girl is pushed and beaten up by a man, it establishes the fact of assault and not the intention to outrage the girl’s modesty. Therefore, the proof of culpable intention to outrage the modesty of the woman is very vital in cases under section 354.
In the case of Aman Kumar v. State of Haryana[vi], the Apex Court clarified the necessary elements of the offence under section 354 and held that “the act of pulling a woman, removing her dress coupled with a request for sexual intercourse, with an intention to outrage the modesty of any woman or with the knowledge that such act is likely to outrage the modesty of a woman is sufficient to constitute an offence under section 354.”
The courts in several cases where the accused cannot be punished for the offence of rape owing to the lack of evidence as to that offence have convicted the accused for the offence of outraging the modesty of the victim.
In the case of State v. Musa[vii], the victim was a married woman, she alleged two men who had dragged her in her own home and had raped her one after the other. There were traces of semen on her clothes which was produced as medical evidence before the court, but there were no such traces on the clothes of accused persons. Therefore, the court with the opinion that there was no case of rape made out, but the accused were held guilty of an offence under section 354 as they had indecently dragged the victim with the intention of outraging her modesty.
Therefore, to establish the case under section 354, the prosecution must not only prove the use of assault or criminal force against the woman but also the intention to outrage the modesty of a woman must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. For the defence in the cases under section 354, it is very essential to establish that the woman was a consenting party in the act. It is a well-settled principle that if the woman is a consenting party to the act, there cannot be any outraging of modesty[viii].
The provision under section 354 also provides for punishment in case of any act resulting to use of assault or criminal force with an intention to outrage the modesty of a woman. Previously, the section prescribed imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years or fine or both. After the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, the punishment for the offence under section 354 is imprisonment which shall not be of a term less than 1 year but which may extend to 5 years and shall also be liable to fine.
The amendment has increased the punishment and the provision acts as a protective shield to the women who face any sort of violence, harassment, or indecency in the society. Thus, the acts of sexual harassment are condemned and are strictly punished to avoid further violence against women.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Is the offence under section 354 bailable offence?
The offence under section 354 is classified as a non-bailable and cognizable offence. This offence is triable by any Magistrate.
Edited by Sakshi Agarwal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] AIR 1967 SC 63
[ii] (1988) 2 All ER 221 HL
[iii] State of Punjab v. Major Singh, AIR 1967 SC 63
[iv] S.P. Mallik, 1982 Cr LJ 19(Pat)
[v] 1990 Cr LJ 1845 HP
[vi] AIR 2004 Sc 1497
[vii] 1991 Cr LJ 2168 Orissa
[viii] Sadananda, 1972 Cr LJ 658 (Assam)