“Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits 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 imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both”, reads Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code.
Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code prescribes a maximum sentence of two years in prison to a person convicted for outraging the modesty of a woman.
The Supreme Court of India has, on various occasions, elaborated on what modesty of a woman means. According to the apex court,
- Modesty is a virtue which is inherent to a female owing to her sex;
- Modesty is an attribute associated with female human beings as a class;
- A woman, young or old, intelligent or imbecile, awake or sleeping, possesses modesty, which is capable of being outraged;
- Modesty of a woman is outraged when the act of the offender is such that it is shocking and can be perceived as an affront to feminine decency and dignity. Example: slapping a woman on her butt, disrobing her, asking her for sexual favour etc.;
- Mere knowledge that the modesty of a woman is likely to be outraged is sufficient to constitute the offence without any deliberate intention of outraging her modesty.
- Section 354 will apply to all sexual acts committed or intended against a woman that stop short of penetration. (Note: The latest Criminal Laws Amendment Bill 2010 proposes to include ALL sexual acts as rape);
- Lack of protest by a woman cannot be an alibi for the “offender” who has “outraged her modesty”.
Women’s organizations are also constantly up in arms about beauty pageants, movies and commercials indulging in “objectification” and “commodification” of women and outraging the modesty of women as a class. These gender zealots are of the firm conviction that female models and actresses are rather forced to trade their bodies and prance around half-naked purely to satisfy the perverse desires of men.
I will reserve my comments on how much I agree or disagree with the above laws or views on the modesty of a woman for a later time.
What I wish to point out here is the popular, egregious notion that men have no modesty to outrage, and the reinforcement of this view by our legislature, executive and the judiciary.
A more recent, very alarming trend spreading in India is the full blown attack on maleness and male sexuality in the print and electronic media, a phenomenon I found quite common in the United States.
Today, men and boys are routinely portrayed as idiotic, pathetic, uncouth and inferior creatures who are constantly in need of rescue by their “superior” wives, girlfriends or female relatives who are all set to overhaul them.
The society considers kicking, punching and slapping men as acceptable and even laudable behaviour on the part of women and girls.
Ridiculing male sexuality is considered harmless entertainment, and the few men and boys who protest are considered peevish and lacking in humour.
There are scores of men who, upon their modesty being outraged, resort to self-destructive behaviours such as giving in to substance abuse, depression and suicidal urges. One such “humourless” young man, incapable of handling “innocuous” attacks on his dignity and modesty, recently ended his life.
When I was growing up, I noticed that every time a woman or girl suffered injustice, insult or attack (real or perceived), in the hands of a male, someone would promptly ask the offender, “Don’t you have a mother or sister?” Men and boys in India are constantly reminded of their mother, sister and daughter no matter what another woman is pained about.
I eagerly wait for the day when women will be reminded of their fathers, brothers, sons, partners, male colleagues and friends every time they cause, commit or witness injustice, insult or injury against a man. I look forward to the day when men will shed their silence, stand up and thwart the slightest attack on the sexuality, dignity and modesty of men.