Sexual assault affects most of the women during their lifetime. There are several cases of sexual assault that have not been reported due to the fear of getting their reputation tarnished. Also, it has been observed that in most cases of sexual assault the culprit is known to the victims. Sexual assault can be committed to both men and women. Sexual assault is one of the major crimes prevalent in India and affecting the mental state of the individuals. There are several diseases which are the consequences of sexual assault like sexually transmitted diseases; mental depression, unintended pregnancy of the sexual assault survivors, and so on.
Sexual assault is a constant form of violence against women that is present in gender inequality. It infringes the honour of the victim. It is a crime where a victim has to face the humiliation and insult of the whole society. The reason for this perception is the patriarchal view embedded in the minds of individuals that a good woman is the wife who always lives under the shadow of her husband and always accepts all the decisions of her husband without asking anything. Only a good wife under this definition is considered to deserve respect. The women who do not follow this custom and norm is regarded as an open treasure and is assumed to be sexually available for everyone because of being unprotected by her husband.
“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”Elie Wiesel
In the present context, sexual assault is a very common crime prevalent in India. The quality of civilization can be assessed by the position a woman holds in the society. Various parameters justified by India’s vast ancient culture determines the dignity and place of a woman. Manu, the great law-giver, said long ago, ‘where women are honored there reside the Gods.’ According to Hindu scripters, no religious rite can be executed with purity by a man without the interference of his wife. Wives were thus called “Ardhangini” means better half and secure equal position like men.
In the later period, the position of women went on deteriorating due to some other religious interference. During the later period of history, they were deprived of their right to equality with men. Due to the patriarchal nature of the society, women were compelled to reside within the four walls of their houses with a long veil covering their face.
The Indian Constitution has secured for women equal status as men under Article 14 of the Constitution. There should be no discrimination between men and women. There is a very small distinction between a man and woman but they have proliferating effects on the position of a majority of women. Even the most significant, rich, and civilized empires have failed to give their wives equal treatment.
Culture plays a spontaneous factor in violence against women. Hence the roots of sexual harassment must be investigated within a diverse culture. According to the present culture, women are facing some challenging and oppressive cultural norms, and enunciating some cultural values that respect their human rights is of utmost importance. Violence against women has deep and devastating consequences on women, their children, the community and society in toto.
Sexual harassment contains part of coercion, threat, and undesirable consideration in a non-mutual relationship. Sexual harassment follows the subsequent form when a man holds a position of control and who influences or affects a woman’s job and career. He misuses his authority and uses his power to suppress the woman into sexual relations or to punish her in case of rejection. In these cases, the superior tends to take advantage of his position and the economic pressure leads to suffering for the woman.
Molestation of a female particularly of lower age is one of the most heinous crimes. Her body is immature, her sexual powers are still passive and she has not developed an understanding of her sexuality. From her birth, she acquires the modesty which is so intrinsic in her actuality of an individual of the fairer sex. This modesty is violated by such acts and leaves deep scars on her memory.
These acts are accomplished by the normal prudent male members or known acquaintances on nubile females. Such nubile females find it difficult to understand the reason behind such acts of assault and are not able to inform and express their misery. Molestation and sexual assaults against women and children are covered under Sections 354 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code.
· Section 354 of IPC: Outraging the Modesty of Women
So far as the offence under Section 354 IPC is concerned, it covers an act intended to outrage the modesty of the women or apprehension that the act of the accused would be the consequence in outraging her modesty. The basis of a woman’s modesty is her sex. The main intention of the accused is the gist of the matter. The reaction of the woman is very significant, but its absence is not always conclusive.
Modesty is an aspect related basically to women as a class. It is a quality which adheres to a female owing to her sex. ‘Modesty’ is defined as “womanly propriety of behavior, scrupulous chastity of thought, speech and conduct (in man or woman); reserve or sense of shame proceeding from instinctive aversion to impure or coarse suggestions”. The final attempt for determining if the modesty of a woman has been outraged, assaulted or insulted is that the activity of the accused should be such that it may be recognized as one which is competent of shocking the sense of decency of a woman. A person slapping the posterior of a woman in public amounts to outraging her modesty for it was not only a provocation to the normal sense of feminine modesty but also a provocation to the dignity of the lady. The word ‘modesty’ is not to be understood with reference to the specific victim of the act, but as an aspect related with female as a class. It is a virtue which is attached to a female on account of her sex.
In State of Kerala v. Hamsa, it was stated as under; “What the legislature had in mind when it used the word modesty in Sections 354 and 509 of the Penal Code was the protection of a characteristic which is distinctive to woman, as a result, which attaches to a female on account of her sex.
Modesty is the characteristic of female sex and she acquires it irrespective of her age, caste. The two offences i.e. outraging the modesty of a woman and sexual harassment were constituted not only for the woman concerned, but in the interest of public morality as well. The issue of breaching the dignity of a woman would indeed depend upon the customs and manners of the people. Acts which are inhuman to morality would be heinous to the modesty of women. A specific norm of universal application cannot be formed for measuring the extent of modesty of woman, as it may vary from society to society and place to place.”
The High Court of Delhi in the case of Jai Chand v. State ruled: “The accused in another case had coercively laid the prosecutrix on the bed and broken her pajama’s string but made no attempt to undress himself and when prosecutrix pushed him away, he did not make any efforts to grab her again. It was held that it did not amount to rape but only outraging of the modesty of a woman and conviction u/s 354 was proper.
Even nuptial relationships begin with the assertion to “Love” and “Honour” each other but its outcome is violence. Women are always treated as weak, vulnerable and in a status to be exploited. Several families that were regarded as an arena of love, affection, gentleness and the center of solidarity and warmth have now become the center of assault, exploitation, and violence ranging from slapping, hitting, homicidal assault, etc.
Other crimes of violence against women include forced pregnancy, abortion or sterilization, and harmful rituals and custom practices such as dowry-related violence, sati, and killings in the name of honour. Widows and elderly women are also subject to different kinds of abuse.
The impact of physical abuse is more ‘evident’ than psychological scarring, repeated humiliation and insults, forced isolation, limitations on social mobility, constant threats of violence and injury, denial of monetary resources are more profound and heinous forms of violence. The unreal situation of psychological abuse which makes it harder for a woman to define and report, often compels her to feel that she is mentally destabilized, powerless and helpless. The society which dictates what a woman should wear, fails to give out a strong notice to the accused who are indulged in violence against women. Today India is listed in the top 10 most dangerous countries for women to live in. It is high time to raise our voice and join hands to restrain those unwanted threats from the society. Every man should boost up and empower his daughter, sister, wife to follow their dreams confidently with no fear.
“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become”Carl Jung
The differences between men and women were socially and legally defined since centuries. It has been distorted into a form of sexism in which men assumed superiority over women. This superiority has been maintained through dominance.
With the goal of equality gaining immense attention, the differences between men and women are gradually declining. In the eyes of a normal prudent person and a politically correct thinking population, crucial discussion are eradicated along with our consciousness about the similarities and differences between men and women.
The delusions about women in the interest of society have been reduced gradually from the past few decades. The power and ability within a woman to lead many activities whether it is in politics, sports or social issues has been proven beyond doubt.
To get rid of violences against women and to empower them to take part in the affairs of the society, the mentality that women are dependent on men for survival must be eliminated first. The fact that women are achieving excellence in different fields serves as a confirmation that women can showcase their success in every possible field even in politics if they are given the opportunity.
- What is sexual assault?
- What are the different types of sexual assault?
- How does it impact the mind of a woman?
- How has the judiciary interpreted the term “modesty” in matters of sexual harrsment?
- What does Section 354 of IPC entail?
-  Article 14 of the Constitution of India, 1950.
-  20 See Raday, F., “Culture, Religion and Gender”, 1(4) Icon, (2003), Pp. 663-715.
-  Section 354IPC, 1860.
-  170 AIR 1974 SC 902,1974 CriLJ 755,,(1974) 4 SCC 479, https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/118951/10/10_chapter%204.pdf
-  173 1974 (1) I.L.R. Delhi 494(1), https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/118951/10/10_chapter%204.pdf
-  www.lawoctopus.academike.in