Section 354 IPC, makes penal the assault or use of criminal force to a woman to outrage her modesty. The essential ingredients of offence under Section 354 IPC are: (a) that the assault must be on a woman; (b) that the accused must have used criminal force on her; (c) that the criminal force must have been used on the woman intending thereby to outrage her modesty.
In Raju Pandurang Mahale v. State of Maharashtra, (2004) 4 SCC 371, it has been observed that : “What constitutes an outrage to female modesty is nowhere defined. The essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex. 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.
Modesty in this Section is an attribute associated with female human beings as a class. It is a virtue which attaches to a female owing to her sex. The act of pulling a women, removing her saree, coupled with a request for sexual intercourse, is such as 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 without any deliberate intention having such ourtrage alone for its object.
As indicated above, the word ‘modesty’ is not defined in IPC. The shorter Oxford Dictionary (Third Edn.) defines the word ‘modesty’ in relation to woman as follows: “Decorous in manner and conduct; not forward or lowe; Shame-fast: Scrupulously chast.”
Modesty is defined as the quality of being modest; and in relation to woman, “womanly propriety of behaviour; scrupluous chastity of thought, speech and conduct.” It is the reserve or sense of shame proceeding from instinctive aversion to impure or coarse suggestions. As observed by Justice Patterson in Rex v. James Llyod, (1876) 7 C & P 817.
In order to find the accused guilty of an assault with intent to commit a rape, court must be satisfied that the accused, when he laid hold of the prosecutrix, not only desired to gratify his passions upon her person but that he intended to do so at all events, and notwithstanding any resistance on her part. The point of distinction between an offence of attempt to commit rape and to commit indecent assault is that there should be some action on the part of the accused which would show that he was just going to have sexual connection with her.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language defines modesty as “freedom from coarseness, indelicacy or indecency, a regard for propriety in dress, speech or conduct”. In the Oxford English Dictionary (1933 Edn.), the meaning of the word ‘modesty’ is given as “womanly propriety of behaviour: scrupulous chastity of thought, speech and conduct (in man or woman); reserve or sense of shame proceeding from instinctive aversion to impure or coarse suggestions.”
In State of Punjab v. Major Singh, AIR 1967 SC 63 a question arose whether a female child of seven and a half months could be said to be possessed of ‘modesty’ which could be outraged. In answering the above question the majority view was 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 must fall within the mischief of Section 354 IPC.
Needless to say, the “common notions of mankind” referred to have to be gauged by contemporary societal standards. It was further observed in the said case that the essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex and from her very birth she possess the modesty which is the attribute of her sex.
From the above dictionary meaning of ‘modesty’ and the interpretation given to that word by this Court in Major Singh’s case the ultimate test for ascertaining whether modesty has been outraged is whether the action of the offender is such as could be perceived as one which is capable of shocking the sense of decency of a woman. The above position was noted in Rupan Deal Bajaj v. Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, (1995) 6 SCC 194.
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