Legal Framework


In absence of any specific law to deal with the offence of sexual harassment, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is used to punish the offender with respect to the nature of the act committed by him. The following sections of Indian Penal Code, 1860 are cover acts of sexual harassment:

  • Sections 209, 292 and 294 which deal with Obscenity

  • Section 354 deal with Criminal Force or Assault Intended to Outrage Modesty

  • Section 375 deals with the offence of Rape

  • Section 509 deals with Word, Gesture or Act Intended to Outrage Modesty of women

Section 209: Obscene acts and songs, to the annoyance of others like:

a) does any obscene act in any public place or

b) sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words in or near any public place.

Punishment: Imprisonment for a term up to 3 months or fine, or both. (Cognisable, bailable and triable offense)

Section 354:

The erswhile Section 354 used to deal with a limited “Use of criminal force to outrage the modesty of a woman.” So an act involving criminal force, intending to ourage the modesty of a woman was covered under this act. Not strictly defined, but groping in public places, disrobing etc were covered under the same but after the infamous 16.12.2012 Delhi gang rape case, the criminal law pertaining to women has been amended to make it stricter and construe it as a deterrent.

Under the new amended act, the new section 354 has the following parts:

354A: If a man commits any of the following acts:

(i) Makes untowards physical contact

(ii) shows pornogrphy

(iii) demand/request sexual favors

(iv) make sexually colored remarks,

all without the ladies consent, of course, is covered under the said offence.

354B: If a man attempts to, or disrobes a woman.

354C: Deals with voyeurism, but the poorly drafted act defines it in a rather unprofessional manner. so if a man watches a woman, indulging in a private act, or records the same, against her will, shall be punished under this act.

354D: Stalking. Physical or virtual. Any man who follows a woman against her will or consent shall commit the offence as described under this section. unless such stalking is done with the authority of law.

Section 376: Punishment for Rape

Punishment for Rape : Imprisonment for life or 10 years and fine.

Section 375: Rape

The new section 375 IPC which defines rape and deviates from the old law that it shall be rape only when the female genitalia is penetrated by the male genitalia. Irrespective of the degree of penetration, penetration was mandatory to be defined as rape in the earlier form of the law.

Now, the new law makes its scope wider and goes on to say that sexual assault shall be constituted when any foreign body is made to penetrate any body part of a woman against her will and consent. Thus, effectively taking into consideration the other possible sexual offences that were not expressly taken care of by the previous law.

The punishment has also been enhanced from 7 to 10 years. The definition of rape also covers the various scenarios, where a woman subjected to a man’s power, where’s she’s working/lodged under his supervision is vulnerable to rape. A woman working in a hospital, or lodged there, is under the effective control and dominion o fthe male doctor/head of institution. The force exercised by them makes the woman incapable of much defence. Even such scenarios are covered by the various sub sections within the meaning of rape.

Though section 377 IPC says that unnatural sexual intercourse, that is anything beyond carnal intercourse, without a man’s will and consent shall be punishable, but the new definition under section 375 makes for a better deterrent. the punishment has also been enhanced from 7 to 10 years.

Section 326:  Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means

326A: It deals with acid attacks that cause, are intend to cause injury/hurt, grievous in nature.

326B: deals with acid attacks that cause or intend to cause permanent damage to the victim.

Fine shall be just and reasonable to meet medical expenses for treatment of victim, while in the Ordinance it was fine up to Rupees 10 lakhs.

Apart from the said sections, an amendment of section 166A says that if a police servant/official fails to record a complaint/FIR regarding a sexual offence committed against a woman, he shall be held liable for the same and punished for 2 years imprisonment. Thus ensuring that no offence goes unreported due to corrupt means.

Section 509: Uttering any word or making any gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman

         Punishment: Imprisonment for 1 year, or fine, or both. (Cognisable and bailable offense)

The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act (1987)

Although it is not known to have been used in cases of sexual harassment, the provisions of this act have the potential to be used in two ways:

  • If an individual harasses another with books, photographs, paintings, films, pamphlets, packages, etc. containing ‘indecent representation of women’; they are liable for a minimum sentence of two years

  • A ‘hostile working environment’ type of argument can be made under this act. Section 7 (Offences by Companies) – holds companies where there has been ‘indecent representation of women’ (such as the display of pornography) on the premises guilty of offenses under this act.

           Punishment: Minimum sentence of two years