Delhi High Court recently observed that calling a woman “Gandi aurat”, insulting her, being rude to her, or not behaving in a chivalrous manner, will not amount to the offence of “outraging the modesty” under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
“The Courts will also have to consider, while adjudicating the cases of Section 509 IPC, the background of the complainant before it, as that can also guide the Courts in deciding as to what the complainant in a case, in given circumstances, would have interpreted or would the complainant’s modesty with those words could be said to be outraged,” Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma stated.
The bench set aside the trial court order which framed charges against a man under IPC Section 509 for using vulgar language against a female employee. The accused in the case who was the boss of that woman called her “gandi aurat”.
The High Court bench stated that the word “Gandi Aurat”, read without context or any preceding or succeeding words indicating intent to outrage the modesty of a woman, will not bring the said words within the ambit of Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code.
The bench added, “Had there been any mention of any other words used, context given or any other gesture etc. made accompanying, succeeding or preceding these words, reflecting criminal intent to outrage the modesty of a woman, the outcome of the case would have been different.”
Justice Swarana recognised that a woman’s response to a word or gesture can vary, necessitating courts to carefully assess the unique circumstances of each case before applying the offence to an individual.
Justice Sharma further emphasized that the expression “Gandi Aurat” can carry diverse interpretations for different individuals. In situations like these, courts must employ the standard of gauging the response of a “reasonable person” to ascertain the implications and intentions conveyed by the words or actions.
The Court went on to add that the words “Gandi Aurat”, which translates to “dirty woman”, do not have the potential to elicit a strong feeling of shock in a reasonable person, whether male or female.
“The term ‘outrage’ implies a profound emotional response, often associated with a feeling of shock. In this context, the words used, ‘Gandi Aurat,’ while certainly impolite and offensive, do not rise to the level of criminal intent driven words that would typically provoke shock in a woman so as to be covered in the definition of criminal offence under Section 509 of IPC. It is essential to consider the threshold of emotional response that is required for an act to be considered as an outrage,” the bench added.
The Court also highlighted the necessity for courts to find a “subtle balance” when interpreting the accused’s intent in instances involving the violation of a woman’s modesty. It cautioned against prematurely assuming the presence of such intent without comprehensive deliberation of the numerous intricate factors at play.
“Crucially, the interpretation of what constitutes an outrage to modesty can be context-specific, as it depends on societal norms, cultural values, and individual perspectives. What may be considered an affront to one person’s sense of modesty might not be the same for another. Therefore, legal systems often rely on objective standards to evaluate these violations, taking into account the reasonable person’s reaction in a given situation,” the bench said.
Justice Sharma noted that the woman and the man were in the capacity of the employee and superior officer respectively and the former was neither attending the meetings nor coming to the office on time nor complying with any of her duties as she was required to do.
“There is no mention apart from a single word that the accused had called her dirty woman since they were having dispute which is apparent from a number of e-mails shared by them wherein he be being her boss and continuously asking her to attend meetings and office,” she added.
The bench added that even if the allegations against the man were taken at their face value, the same do not prima facie constitute the offence alleged. It added that the proceedings were maliciously instituted with an ulterior motive for wreaking vengeance on him and thus, they were liable to be set aside.