The position and status of women has been a very dynamic concept since ages. Beginning from the Vedic period until today’s time, the status of women has gone through enumerable changes. The offences against women have rapidly gone up; there are varied forms of problems faced by women in society. To cope up with the changing needs of the society and to curb down the offences against women, Indian Legal system has undergone many changes. The legislature has time and again brought corrective measures and stricter laws for crimes against the women. One such Amendment was the Criminal (Amendment) Act of 2013. Which brought in many changes to the existing criminal laws and has also added few sections.
What are the changes made to section 354 by the Criminal (Amendment) Act of 2013?
On 22nd December 2012, Government of India appointed a three-member judicial committee headed by the former Chief Justice of India, Justice J.S. Varma. The Amendment was made based on the report given by Varma Committee. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 came into force on 3 February 2013. It amended as well as inserted new sections in the IPC with regard to various sexual offences. The new Act has expressly recognized certain acts as offences, This Act is popularly known as the Anti-Rape Act. One of the Important Changes made by this Amendment was that of Section 354 of IPC and insertion of Sections 354A, 354B, 354C and 354D.
Section 354 of IPC talks about Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty. Further the Sections 354A, 354B, 354C, 354D recognises and prescribes punishment for crimes of Sexual harassment, Assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe, Voyeurism and stalking respectively.
These were changes made in Section 354, all the newly inserted offences are Cognisable i.e., the person accused of this offence can be arrested without warrant and police can start investigation without the permission of court. The Amendment in Section 354 and insertion of four additional sections has widened the ways to capture those who disturb the woman’s freedom and act as threat to their free living.
What are the loopholes of Section 354?
Section 354 of IPC has some loopholes which needs to be addressed. It deals with Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty. However, what amounts to outraging Modesty has not been clearly mentioned. Various courts in India have interpreted this section differently.
The words used in the Section provides a wide ambit to interpret what constitutes the threshold of intention or knowledge required for outraging modesty. Lack of explicit explanation in Act will lead to varied interpretation by various courts. What might be an act of outraging modesty of woman according one judge might not be the same according to other. The difference in interpretation will exist until there is a prescribed guideline as to what amounts to outraging modesty of woman. This section clearly gives edge to a woman who wants to settle her personal scores. A woman can abuse this section under the pretext of outraging her modesty even on simple grounds of unintentional touching, pulling in a crowded place etc.
In the case, M.A.NayeemFarooqui v. state of Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Farqooui was arrested for offence under Section 354 on a false complaint lodged by Ms. Jabeena that he abused her, caught hold of her hand and threatened to pull her saree. Mr. Farooqui was arrested imprisoned for more than one month. He underwent torture and was termed as mentally ill, and forcibly sent to mental hospital. It was later proved that Mr. Farqooui was innocent and let free.
When a case comes to court against a man under Section 354, it is the court’s discretion to decide whether the act by man has amounted to outraging the modesty of woman. Thus, this gives high probability that the judge will have soft corner towards woman and might end up punishing innocent man. Learning this the woman can easily misuse this law to threaten man to get her work done or even use this to take revenge against the person whom she don’t like due to some other reason.
Further the newly inserted sections i.e., Sections 354A -354D, are surely a great move to include more offences and criminalise man’s wrong acts against woman. However, all the offences are Cognisable that means man can be arrested without warrant and an investigation can be initiated without seeking the permission of the court. Making such offences Cognisable has heavily acted against men. Woman can now can give a false complaint against any men according to her own whims and fancies. She can use this section to take revenge against innocent men.
Whether there is a need for further Amendment in Section 354?
Owing to the facts mentioned above it is clear that the Section 354 has certain loopholes. Thus, there is need for amendment for a better, fair and perfect implementation of the law. The amendments are needed not only to make the laws more gender neutral but also to make them more precise and clear. The existing laws are more inclined towards woman this was because, the amendment was made after the horrific incident of Nirbhaya. Many places in India especially the capital of the country was considered not safe for woman thus there was a urgent requirement of more laws and stricter punishments. But now these laws can made a bit neutral because the victims are men.
The following Suggestions can be taken into consideration to make the amendments
- Guidelines for Section 354: Section 354 is vague and unclear. What amounts to outraging the modesty of women is still a subjective matter. Providing with certain guidelines to court to decide the cases will surely reduce the difference of opinion amongst the judges.
- Making the offence Non-cognisable: It is very much a known fact that the police atrocities in India are very much prevalent. Common people are often ill-treated by police. In spite of knowing this if the offences under Section 354 are made cognisable then it gives more freedom for police to arrest men especially young boys even on slight doubt. And this coupled with women/girls who give false complaints against men makes their life a hell. A single act by women can ruin the career of young boys. Thus, the Offence should be made Non-cognisable.
The criminal (Amendment) Act of 2013 was enforced at very crucial time in India. At that point, in time there was urgent requirement of certain laws and changes in certain sections. Now it is also noted that women are misusing those laws. Though women are vulnerable in our country and they are supposed to be protected but it should made sure that it is not done at the cost of their counterparts. Since the modern society relies heavily on law, there is a need for change in those laws, the laws should be precise and clear in its definition, the law should not fail to achieve its goal for which it is enshrined. The achievements of these sections should be emancipation of women and full protection from sexual predators without harming the innocent men.
M.A.Nayeem Farooqui v. state of Andhra Pradesh, ALD 103 (AP HC: 1998) (India).