Sexual Harassment in Public Spaces


Rahat Sharma is a final year Law student who is an ardent believer that every dark cloud has a silver lining. Through her words, she continues to pursue the same and is determined to bring about the change awaited.

Sexual Harassment in the Public Spaces

Recently while working for a campaign for Safecity, I got the opportunity to interact with the students of Miranda College of Delhi University. In a Q&A session regarding what safety meant to them especially when they stepped out in public places, one of the young girls of the college narrated a horrific incident of being “flashed” by a man, which made me realise the gravity of the issue at hand.

Although extensive content is available on this issue both in the spoken and written form, yet the seriousness revolving around it still remains untapped. This may be due to the lack of awareness amongst women about the laws against sexual harassment. First and foremost, sexual harassment is not restricted to only physical indecent/inappropriate touch. There lies an array of acts which involve no physical activity and still amount to Sexual Harassment. Public places are known to be the Unsafe or Danger zones for such incidents to occur. Women are known to be targets either in lonely or in overcrowded places such as metros, local trains, stations, buses and also shopping plazas.

This particular case occurred in front of a Girls’ College, which is also amongst the numerous target areas. Men are known to stand outside these colleges and harass the students. The young girl told us about an incident in which she and her friend were followed by a man who was publicly masturbating while they were walking back home. At first, they thought they had misjudged the man and what they saw. When he waved to them, they assumed he meant to apologise for his conduct. Sadly, that was not the case as he suddenly started to flash and expose his private body parts when they turned towards him. Afraid, they ran away as fast as they could without turning back. These young girls are not residents of Delhi but are studying at the University. Living in a rented accommodation they fear stepping out at times due to being harassed again and having nobody in this unsafe city to protect them.

Herein, I appeal to all such women not to be scared but rather be fearless. This is the time for us to educate ourselves of all that is covered under Sexual Harassment and thereby use our rights to fight this battle. These offenders must be made to pay the price of deriving pleasure from our discomfort. The Laws of the country make each of these acts punishable and thus give us all the remedies. 

The various acts that account as Sexual Harassment under the Indian Penal Code are-

As under the Indian Penal Code, 1860: 

Section 294 (OBSCENITY) states that if anyone acts in an obscene manner or sings/recites/utters any obscene song or words in any public place then the same is punishable under law with either  imprisonment for three months, or fine, or with both.

Section 326 A (ACID ATTACK) makes it punishable to Voluntarily cause grievous hurt by use of acid etc leading to permanent or partial damage to or deformity to or burns or maims or disfigurement or disablement of any part or parts of the body of the person or causes grievous hurt by throwing acid or by administering acid to that person or by using any other means with the intention of causing or with the knowledge that he is likely to cause injury or hurt with imprisonment from 10 years – Life + Fine.

Section 326 B (ACID ATTACK) makes it punishable to Voluntarily throwing or attempting to throw acid with the intention of causing permanent or partial damage or deformity or burns or maiming or disfigurement or disability or grievous hurt to that person with imprisonment between 5 to 7 years + Fine.

Section 354 specifically punishes all the acts of assault or criminal force with the intention to OUTRAGE THE MODESTY of any woman with imprisonment between 1 to 5 years + Fine.

Section 354 A lays down the acts by a man that amount to those leading to outraging the modesty of any woman:-

  1. physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures; or
  2. a demand or request for sexual favours; or
  3. showing pornography against the will of a woman; or
  4. making sexually coloured remarks

Section 354 B makes punishable all the acts by a man of assault or use of criminal force on a woman with intention to DISROBE or compelling her to be naked with imprisonment between 3 to 7 years + Fine.

Section 354 C makes VOYEURISM punishable. It means when any man who watches, or captures the image of a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed either by the perpetrator or by any other person at the behest of the perpetrator or if he disseminates such image.

Punishment for:- 

First conviction with imprisonment for 1 to 3 years + Fine ,

Second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment between 3 to 7 years + Fine 

Section 354 D makes STALKING punishable. Stalking is when a man follows a woman and contacts, or attempts to contact her to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by her or monitors the use of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication by her unless it is proved that it was the part of his job assigned to do the same, in case told by the state or any other authority.

Punishment for :-

First Conviction imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 3 years + Fine

Second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 5 years + Fine

Section 509 makes it punishable to insult the modesty of any woman through utterance of any word, making any sound or gesture, or exhibiting any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years + Fine.

In light of the above-mentioned, we must ensure that every female of this country will stand right back up after falling down. It’s high time that we shed being victimised and locking ourselves inside when faced with such atrocious incidents. Now the time is right to emerge stronger than ever, spreading hope for yourself and others and thereby making it loud and clear that the body of any woman is her own and not a public space, a fact that men fail to understand.  

All the legal provisions have been taken from the Statute (The Indian Penal Code, 1860)

Opinions expressed are of the writer. 



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