Harassment of woman is an offence under IPC even if it has not occurred at a public place: Madras High Court

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The Madras High Court recently refused to quash a sexual harassment case registered against a man under the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Woman Act, 2002 saying that even if such harassment had not taken place at a public spot, it would still constitute an offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) [MR Sivaramakrishnan v State].

Justice RN Manjula agreed with the victim’s submission that irrespective of the location where such incident occurred, one must remember that the purpose of the special Act was to prevent harassment of women.

“Even for the sake of argument, if it is understood that in order to punish the accused for the offence under Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, the occurrence ought to have occurred in a public place, still the harassment of a woman is an offence and the accused can be punished under Section 354 Indian Penal Code,” Justice Manjula said.

The Court was hearing a plea filed by one MR Sivaramakrishnan, who had argued that he and the complainant were neighbours and relatives, and were engaged in a civil dispute over the pathway leading to their respective houses. On the date of the incident, they got into a verbal argument over him having parked his bike in front of the complainant’s house. As per the prosecution case, the accused began threatening and verbally abusing the complainant and her sister. A complaint was then registered under the Act and a chargesheet was filed subsequently.

However, the accused argued before the High Court that Section 4 of the 2002 Act, under which he was booked, is applicable only in cases that occur at a public place.

Section 4 of the 2002 Act provides for imprisonment for up to three years for anyone found guilty of having harassed a woman “in or within” the precincts of public spots such as “temples, bus stops, roads and streets, beaches, theatres, inside a public vehicle, or any other place.”

The accused argued that since the incident had occurred within the compound of the complainant’s house, it must be treated as having occurred within the house and not outside.

He argued that the definition of the term “public places”, and the use of the term “any other place” in the Act must be read ejusdem generis (of the same kind).

The Court, however, agreed with the complainant’s submission that the definition could not obscure the fact that sexual harassment anywhere was an offence in itself.

Justice Manjula stated that the exact location of where the incident took place can be decided on merits by the concerned court at the time of the trial.

Advocate S Rajendrakumar appeared for the petitioner. Additional Public Prosecutor A Damodaran appeared for the State. Senior Advocate R Vaigai represented the complainant.

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