Section 509 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!

The section contemplates that the offender must have intention to insult the modesty of any woman. With such intention he must either utter any word, make any sound or gesture, or exhibit any object. His intention for doing so must be that the woman shall hear such word or sound, or that she shall see such gesture or object. Or, the offender must intrude upon the privacy of such woman.

The last part of the section, that is to say, the words ‘or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman’ is also, like the subject matter of the section before it, qualified by the opening words ‘whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman’. The argument that intrusion on the privacy of a woman calls for a private place and cannot take place in a public place has no basis in view of the fact that everyone wherever he or she may be taken his or her privacy along with, and also because the section nowhere says that intrusion to privacy needs a private place.

Similarly, the section also does not say that the woman whose modesty is intended to be insulted must hear the word or sound, or see the gesture or object. Exposing one’s person, or using obscene words or exhibiting obscene drawings etc. with the requisite guilty mind are all covered under this section. It is important to note that there is no provision for rigorous imprisonment under this section.

The Orissa High Court is of the view that it is not necessary to place on record the exact words uttered by the offender; but the essential elements of the offence would have to be proved before an offender could be convicted under this section. Sending by post a letter to a woman containing indecent overtures with the suggestion that she was to take certain action to show that she accepted his terms was held to be punishable under this section.

Entering into the house of a woman at night and finding her asleep catching hold of her and trying to take off her clothes with a view to sexually assault her was held to be an offence under this section and not attempted rape because it was intrusion upon her privacy. Entering at night a room occupied by four women, and on an alarm being raised escaping from there, was held to be an offence under this section on the ground of intrusion of privacy of women and also under section 441 because unauthorised entry with intent to commit an offence was established.

The offence under this section is cognizable, bailable and compoundable when permitted by the court trying the case, and is triable by any magistrate.

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