Section 504 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!

The section contemplates that the offender must intentionally insult any person. He must thereby give any person provocation. He must have intention that such provocation will cause him to break public peace or to commit any other offence, or he must have knowledge that it is likely that such provocation will cause him to break public peace or to commit any other offence.

As is clear from the language used in the section, the provision is intended to take care of persons responsible for causing breach of peace or committing other offences as well as who openly abet or incite them. In other words, the section requires an intention to insult and thereby to give provocation to the person insulted and an intention that such provocation should cause or the knowledge that the provocation is likely to cause the person so insulted to break public peace or commit any other offence.

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The insult may be caused by spoken or written words, that is to say, it may be in the form of speech or writing. Insult means treating with offensive disrespect or offer indignity. The court would like to have atleast the gist or purport of the statement if reproduction of exact words is not possible. Mere insult is not punishable under this section. Pulling the beard of a Mohammedan in a public place was held to be an insult, and punishable under this section as the consequences of doing so are clear.

The context, manner and occasion of using an abusive language are most relevant considerations because friends exchanging unusable words by way of jokes would not be liable but when the circumstances are not friendly and the words are exchanged seriously, this section may come into play. Abuses involving allegations of unchastity against the mother and sister of the complainant. and merely taking photograph of the complainant wearing a garland of shoes, were not held punishable under this section.

Since the section does not insist that breach of peace or any other offence must be committed, it is attracted even where the person likely to commit breach of peace or any other offence is actually provoked but does not do the same even though he is intentionally insulted.

Where the lady complainant resisted the attempt by the accused to forcibly evict her from the land in her tenancy and the accused retaliated by using filthy words against her, the words having been used not being spelled out, the section would not be attracted.

The Orissa High Court has held that where a public servant was being charged under this section for living abused or insulted a person in the police lock up, his act being not a part of his official duty no sanction is needed to prosecute him. The decision is bold and a good exposition of the law.

Where the accused calls a counsel ‘badmash’ in open court, the offence does not fall under section 499 and so acquittal under section 500 is legal. Perhaps the word has been articulated so as to cause harm to the person and in which case it might amount to an offence under section 504.

The offence under section 504 is non-cognizable, bailable and compoundable, and is triable by any magistrate.

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