Section 354 IPC: Laws against Sexual Harassment & Acts outraging modesty of a woman

14 Jun 2023  Read 8240 Views

Section 354 tackles the grave issue of outraging the modesty of women, bringing to justice those who dare to assault or use criminal force against them. Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is a vital provision that addresses the issue of outraging the modesty of women. It is a powerful weapon in the fight against assault and criminal force inflicted upon women. 

As per the NCRB report, the sexual abuse cases at shelter homes rose to 30% in recent years, and at least 45 complaints of sexual abuse were reported at government-run sports institutions, with the most recent instance being the ongoing wrestler's protest in Delhi. 

With such a spike, it gets important to study Section 354 in detail as it recognises and provides legal protection against sexual harassment and assault, particularly those targeting women. So, let’s get started.

What is Section 354 IPC?

Section 354 says that whoever assaults or uses criminal force on any woman intending to outrage her modesty or knowing it to be likely outraging her modesty shall be liable for punishment under this section. The language of Section 354 IPC focuses on offences committed against women and aims to protect their modesty and dignity. It does not encompass offences committed against men in the same manner. 

Example: Say there is a woman who works at a corporate office. A male colleague has consistently made inappropriate comments and gestures towards her, creating a hostile work environment. Even after expressing her discomfort, the guy continues with such acts. As time passes, the guy’s actions escalate. He starts sending explicit and threatening messages to her personal phone number, explicitly mentioning harming her or her family if she doesn't comply with his demands & even starts following her. Such an act will be punishable under this section.

Section 354 IPC talks about assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty & under its domain, also includes Section 354A, 354B, 354C, 354D, and 354E relating to the offences of sexual harassment, stalking, voyeurism, etc. 

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Is Section 354 gender-neutral?

“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”

However, Sections 354A, 354B, 354C, and 354D are not gender neutral as they refer to a man as the perpetrator who commits the offence.

  1. Section 354A IPC: Sexual Harassment against Women & Punishment

    • This sub-section deals with the offence of sexual harassment.

    • What constitutes sexual harassment as per this provision is physical contact and advances, making sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, etc.

    • It also provides punishment, such as imprisonment and/or fine.

Example: Consider a workplace scenario where a male employee constantly makes unwelcome sexual advances towards a female colleague. He passes comments on her looks, sends explicit messages, and touches her inappropriately without her consent. The female colleague feels harassed and uncomfortable due to his behaviour. These type of acts can be considered “sexual harassment under Section 354A of the IPC”.

  1. Section 354B IPC: Assault or use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe & Punishment

    • This section focuses on the offence of assaulting or using criminal force on a woman with the intention of disrobing her.

    • It criminalizes actions intended to outrage the modesty of a woman by forcibly removing her clothes.

    • It prescribes imprisonment, which may extend up to three years, and/or a fine in case of such an offence

Example: Consider a scenario where a woman, “Y”, is walking alone at night when she gets approached by a man “, Z”. Z has malicious intent and intends to harass Maya by disrobing her. So, he forcefully grabs Y, tears her clothes, and attempts to remove them against her will. Such an act will be punishable under this section..

  1. Section 354C IPC: Voyeurism & Punishment

    • Section 354C deals with the offense of voyeurism, which involves capturing or recording the image of a private body part of women without their consent.

    • The act of watching or capturing someone's private activities without their knowledge or consent is punishable under this section with imprisonment and/ or fine.

Example: Remember the scene from Drishyam when the boy took a video of a girl taking shower and then started blackmailing her. The entire plot was based on the concept of voyeurism and murder in self-defence which later turned out to be a cat & mouse chase with Ajay Devgan giving his best to hide the body of the dead culprit. Such an act of taking photos or videos of a girl’s private act, which she does not expect to be seen by anyone, is voyeurism.

  1. Section 354D IPC: Stalking & Punishment

    • Section 354D deals with the offence of stalking, which refers to willfully and repeatedly following, contacting, or attempting to contact a person to foster personal interaction against their wishes.

    • It provides for imprisonment and/or fine for the offence of stalking.

    • It also includes provisions for restraining orders to protect victims from further stalking.

Example: Consider a scenario where a woman, “Z”, begins to notice a man, “J”, who constantly follows her wherever she goes. Initially, she sees him at the grocery store, then spots him at her workplace, at the park, and outside her home. Also, J starts sending her numerous text messages and calls her multiple times a day despite her indications that she is not interested in him. Such an act is called stalking.

Essentials of Section 354 IPC

  1. Assault or criminal force: Accused must commit an act of assault or use criminal force against a woman. Assault refers to intentionally causing harm or creating an apprehension of harm. Criminal force involves the use of force against the will of the woman without her consent.

  2. Intent to outrage modesty: The act of assault or criminal force must be accompanied by the intent to outrage the woman's modesty. The term "modesty" means a woman's sense of decency and propriety, and what is considered offensive or insulting to her modesty varies depending on the specific circumstances and cultural context.

  3. Knowledge or likelihood of outraging modesty: Not only the intent, but the accused must either know that his actions are likely to outrage the modesty of the woman or reasonably expect it to happen. This means that even if the accused did not have a specific intent to outrage modesty, if he knew or should have known that his actions were likely to have that effect, he could still be held liable under Section 354.

Punishment under Sec. 354 IPC

The punishment under this section has been subjected to a lot of criticism as it prescribes imprisonment of either description, which shall be a minimum of 1 year and may extend up to 5 years. Additionally, the fine shall also be levied. Hence, imprisonment can be simple or rigorous, depending on the Judge’s discretion. Additionally, a fine shall be levied along with such imprisonment, which means that the offence is non-compoundable. The punishment may also vary under state laws. Also, in cases of Section 354 false allegations, the accused will have the right to defend himself legally or file a counter-complaint.

Sec. 354 & Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, was brought after the Nirbhaya Rape case, which shook the entire country. The government constituted the Justice J.S. Verma Committee in order to revisit the laws and make amendments. Under this Act, the punishment in Section 354 IPC was enhanced to a minimum term of one year which may extend up to five years and also liable for a fine. But even after the Section was amended, there is still a significant rise in the number of rape cases

Landmark cases on Sec. 354 IPC

Several landmark cases have been related to Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Few of these are as follows

  1. State of Maharashtra v. Madhukar Narayan Mardikar (1991): The Supreme Court of India defined the term "outraging the modesty of a woman" and held that the act must be of such a nature that it is likely to or actually causes an offence to the modesty of a woman.

  2. State of Punjab v. Major Singh (1967): This case clarified that touching a woman's waist does not per se amount to an offense under Section 354, as the offense requires a specific intent to outrage modesty.

  3. State of H.P. v. Mango Ram (2000): The Supreme Court held that forcefully pulling a woman's clothes amounts to an assault with intent to outrage modesty under Section 354.

  4. Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997): It is though not directly linked to Section 354 IPC, this landmark case addressed the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. The Supreme Court laid down guidelines for preventing and redressing instances of sexual harassment (Vishaka Guidelines), which later led to the enactment of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act in 2013.


Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with the offence of assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty and also sets out the punishment for such offences. However, there are different sub-sections under Section 354 which specify varying degrees of the offence and corresponding punishments.

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 269 Post(s)

Kakoli Nath is a legal Content Manager at Finology Legal who pursued BBA.LL.B (5 years integrated course). She is a patent analyst & had also done advanced certification in Forensics Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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