This article explains the legal consequences of eve teasing in India under the lens of Indian Penal Code (IPC). Various provisions of IPC along with the Judicial precedents have been used.
An American abolitionist once said, “All history attests that man has subjected women to his will, used her as a means to promote his gratification, to minister his sexual pleasures, to be instrumental in promoting his comfort; but never has he desired to elevate her to that rank she was created to fill.”[i]
Eve teasing can be understood to mean sexual harassment of women in public places such as streets, public transportation, workplace etc. A lewd stare, sly whistle, well-timed clap, a warranted bump, a seemingly casual touch, humming of a suggestive song, giving unwelcome call are some of the common methods of eve-teasing. [ii] A woman becomes a victim of such obscene behaviour of men daily. Studies reveal that when faced with such a situation most women choose to remain silent, many are not aware of the remedies they have. Women, as per the societal norms are supposed to be submissive, passive, and obedient. Retaliation is not her feature and if she dares enough to retaliate, the repercussion is daunting.
Meaning of Eve Teasing
Eve teasing is one of the forms of gendered crimes against women. It is one of the methods of enjoyment of men who sees women as mere objects. What makes eve-teasing more insidious than any other form of violence is that it is often viewed as a harmless crime. But the truth remains that sexual harassment of women by men in India is pervasive. This practice is apparently so routine that it has a special name: ‘Eve teasing‘.[iii]
Eve is believed to be the first woman that God made on earth. All women are therefore generically termed as eve.
The literal meaning of teasing is to make fun of a person, playfully, unkindly or annoyingly.
Sociologist, Pratikha Bakshicalls eve-teasing a euphemistic expression that lives in post-colonial India and refers largely to sexual harassment of women in public places, thereby constituting women as eves, temptresses who provoke men into sexual titillation. She goes on to say that the way sexual harassment is popularly perceived, belittles the phenomena as a joke where women are both a tease and deserve to be teased. [iv]
Supreme Court in Vishakha Vs State of Rajasthan [v] describes acts which amount to sexual harassment-
1. If there is unwelcome sexually determined behaviour, either directly or indirectly.
2. Any type of physical contact or advances,
3. Any demand or request for sexual favours
4. Sexually coloured remarks,
5. Any other type of physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct which is sexual will amount to sexual harassment.
Laws dealing with Eve teasing
IPC does not define eve-teasing as such. But the code carries the meaning of eve-teasing under several of its sections.
Section 294 IPC [vi]
The section penalizes certain acts of obscenity in public places i.e., whoever sings, recites, utters any obscene song, ballad, words to the annoyance of others is made punishable.
Punishment- Three months of imprisonment or fine or both.
It is for the prosecution to prove that the accused committed an obscene act or recited or uttered any obscene song, ballad, words and that this was done in or near a public place. It is often difficult to prove these facts in a court of law.
Section 354 IPC [vii]
This section prescribes punishment for such acts of accused which not only causes insult or outrages the modesty of a woman but also causes or threatens to cause physical harm to her.
The offence is non-bailable, cognizable and non-compoundable.
Punishment– One to five years of imprisonment and fine.
Section 509 IPC [viii]
This section penalizes all those acts which are intended at outraging and insulting the modesty of a woman.
- Whoever, through words, gestures, sounds, or any objects intrudes upon the privacy of a woman AND
- Does such an act with an intention that such word or sound shall be heard or seen by some women shall be punishable.
The burden is on the prosecution to prove that the accused had uttered words or made such a gesture that intruded into her privacy. It is very difficult to establish this. Complaints are filed, files languish for years and doers move freely, unpunished.
Section 509IPC is a cognizable and bailable offence. Punishment is simple imprisonment for three years or a fine or both.
India witnessed a national outrage after the Nirbhaya incident in December 2012. Justice Verma Committee was constituted in the wake of this outrage to provide a strong deterrent for crimes against women.
After the Criminal law amendment act 2013, stalking and Voyeurism became a non-bailable offence if repeated for a second time.
Section 354A [ix]
- Any man who shows pornography to a woman against her will,
- Makes sexually coloured remarks,
- Demands or requests for sexual favours etc. then he is said to have committed the offence of sexual harassment.
Punishment- Maximum 3 years or fine or both
In case of sexually coloured remark, punishment is 1 year of imprisonment or fine or both. The offence is bailable.
Section 354B IPC– Disrobing [x]
If any man uses criminal force against a woman with an intention either to disrobe her or compel her to be naked then he will be liable for punishment.
Punishment- Three to seven years of imprisonment and fine. It is a non-bailable offence.
Section 354C- Voyeurism [xi]
- Any man who watches or captures the image of a woman
- Who is engaged in either intimate behaviour or acts of undressing, sexual activity, or any acts that are considered private then he will be held liable under this act.
First conviction- Punishment may range from a minimum of one year which can extend to three years and fine, bailable offence.
Subsequent conviction- Punishment ranges from a minimum of three years imprisonment which can extend to seven years and fine, Non-bailable offence.
Section 354D – Stalking [xii]
- Any man who follows a woman and tries to contact her or
- monitors the use of the internet, email or any electronic communication by her repeatedly
- Despite a clear indication of disinterest shown by her commits the offence of stalking.
First Conviction- Upto 3years+ fine, bailable offence
Subsequent Conviction- Upto 5years+ fine, non-bailable offence
Apart from this, it is always advisable for women to call on 100 i.e., police control room or 1091 i.e., women helpline number at the time of the incident.
The victim or complainant should immediately visit the nearest police station to register an FIR.
FIR once registered shall be numbered and she should take the registration number or receipt for the same.
It is also important to note that no police station can refuse to register FIR citing jurisdiction issues. After the Verma Committee report which led to the criminal law amendment act 2013, the provision of zero FIR[xiii] came up which requires FIR to be filed in any police station and the same can be later transferred to the appropriate police station.
Immediate filing of FIR plays a crucial role in the efficient investigation and quick nabbing of the accused.
The impact of eve-teasing is severe. The offence begins initially as an attempt to catch the attention of a girl and thus appears harmless, but subsequently, it may also lead to abduction, kidnapping, rape and murder. Evil, therefore, needs to be nipped in the bud. Eve teasing is a traumatic experience that can leave deep psychological scars on the victim women. It also leaves negative consequences on the community at large. There is no specific legislation as such dealing with eve-teasing. In the absence of any law, the offence of eve-teasing was usually dealt with in sections 294IPC and 509 IPC. After the criminal law amendment act 2013, offences like stalking, disrobing, voyeurism etc. is recognized and thus scope for punishment for eve-teasing has been widened.
Dr Samuel Johnson says that nature has given women so much power that the law has given them very little.[xiv] Our laws have so far failed to curb the menace. Eve teasing laws in India requires an overwhelming antidote. Stricter punishment, better enforcement mechanism, gender sensitization, public education could be some of the effective methods to curb the evil.