In a significant ruling, a Mumbai Metropolitan Magistrates Court held that Section 354 of the IPC is gender neutral qua the offender, and thus convicted a woman for outraging another woman’s modesty. The court sentenced the woman to one year in prison with a fine of ₹6,000.
Metromolitan Magistrate Manoj Vasantrao Chavan noted, “Section 354 of the IPC, therefore, operates equality upon all persons whether males or females and it cannot be maintained that woman are exempted from any punishment under this section.”
The bench stated that Section 354 IPC is not a sexual offence but falls under the chapter of ‘Criminal Force and Assault’ and its necessary ingredients include using criminal force with the intent or knowledge to outrage a woman’s modesty.
Therefore, the bench convicted the accused Rovena Bhosale under Section 323 and Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code for assaulting the victim and tearing her nightdress in the building passage in front of several people on September 19, 2020.
During examining, two of the six witnesses narrated the whole incident to the prosecution. One of them stated that the victim was beaten with shoe and was completely naked after the accused tore her nightdress.
After all the charges were proved against the accused, her counsel contended that both women are neighbours and there was no intention to outrage her modesty. It was argued that IPC Section 354 is not applicable to a woman.
The Court held that the pronoun “he” used in section 354 IPC to mean a male or a female based on Section 8 of the IPC.
The bench added, “It is thus clear that under section 354 IPC, a man as well as a woman can be held guilty of the offence of assaulting or using criminal force to any woman with the intention or knowledge that the woman’s modesty will be outraged and be punished for the offence.”
Taking into account the evidence on record, the bench held that by beating the victim and tearing her night, the accused has infringed her right to privacy. The court ruled that force used against a woman becomes criminal when it is applied without consent or against her will.
The bench further refused any benefit to the accused under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958. The accused being woman should be protective and sensitive towards the informant, the bench said.
The prosecution case was that the accused was jealous of her mother and the victim’s closeness. The victim is a mother of two children and the accused has three children. Considering the age of her children, the bench awarded the minimum punishment to her.