Interview

State of Punjab vs Major Singh

Author: Dhriti Bhutani, a student at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University

Introduction

State of Punjab v. Major Singh is a landmark judgment related to section 354 of the Indian Penal Code. This judgment was passed by a 2 judge bench on April 28th, 1966. The question that arises, in this case, was whether the age and reaction of the victim are relevant in section 354. An appeal was filed in the Supreme court as a question of law arose after the High court and sessions court made similar judgments and the respondent was announced rigorous imprisonment for 1 year and a rupees 1000/- fine. 

Essential details

Petitioner: State of Punjab

Respondent: Major Singh

Citation: 1967 AIR 63, 1966 SCR (2) 286

Court: Supreme Court

Bench: Sarkar, A.K. (CJ)

Date of Judgment: 28/04/1966

Current Status: Valid

Facts of the case

  1. At half past 9 at night, the respondent enters the seven-and-a-half-month-old baby’s room and strips himself naked from the waist down, and switches off the lights of the room. 
  2. He gets into an indecent position as he kneels over her half-naked and performs unnatural lust by fingering the baby’s vagina which ruptures her hymen and causes a three-fourth-inch tear inside her vagina. 
  3. He leaves the crime scene upon hearing the mother of the baby entering the room and switching the lights back on.

Issue of the case

  • Whether the age and reaction of the victim are irrelevant in section 354 of the Indian Penal Code. 
  • Was the victim’s modesty outraged even though she has not reached the age of puberty?

Relevant sections

  • Section 354 of Indian Penal Code 
  • Section 293 of Indian Penal Code 
  • Section 294 of Indian Penal Code 
  • Section 288 of Indian Penal Code  
  • Section 289 of Indian Penal Code  
  • Section 323 of Indian Penal Code 

Judgment 

The Supreme Court overruled the judgment passed by the High court and the Trial court stating that the test for outrageous modesty is not based on the sense of modesty of the victim and her reaction and age. The environment the victim was raised in and the circumstances surrounding her life are major factors that can alter her sense of modesty. It was considered a variable test that was rejected in this case. The reaction of the woman is very relevant, but its absence is not always decisive.

Section 354 emphasizes on ‘Intention and Knowledge’ of the one who is outraging the modesty of the woman and not the reaction of the woman to the outrageous act. Section 10 of the Indian Penal Code explains that “woman” denotes a female human being of any age. The expression “woman” is used in section 354 in conformity with this Explanation, referring to section 7 in the judgment. 

The test of section 354 of the Indian Penal Code should be based on the fact of whether a reasonable man will think that the act of the offender was to outrage her modesty. In this case, the victim is a seven and a half month baby who has no sense of modesty yet no reasonable man will think of her as a woman who possesses womanly modesty. The judge said, “Section 354 was intended as much in the interest of the woman concerned as in the interest of public morality and decent behavior and the object of the section could be achieved only if the word ‘modesty’ was considered to be an attribute of a human female irrespective of whether she had developed enough understanding to realize that an act was offensive to decent female behavior or not.”

In this case, the action of Major Singh in interfering With the vagina of the child was deliberate and he must be deemed to have intended to outrage her modesty. The respondent was awarded rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years and a fine of Rs. 1,000/-, and in default, rigorous imprisonment for a period of six months. Out of the fine, if realized, Rs. 500/- shall be paid as compensation to the child.

Conclusion

The essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex. The modesty of an adult female is writ large on her body. Young or old, intelligent or imbecile, awake or sleeping, the woman Possesses a modesty capable of being outraged. A female of tender age stands on a somewhat different footing. Her body is immature, and her sexual powers are dormant. It was quoted in the judgment that the meaning of the word “modesty” was given in the Oxford English Dictionary (1933 Edn.)- which is, “womanly propriety of behavior, scrupulous chastity of thought, speech and conduct (in men or women) reserve or sense of shame proceeding from instinctive aversion to impure or coarse suggestions.”

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