Staring at a woman can land you in big trouble

After stirring up a storm of largely sarcastic trolls over his public pronouncement on Sunday that staring at any woman for up to 14 seconds could send the ogler to jail, Kerala’s senior IPS officer and Excise Commissioner Rishi Raj Singh now says it’s not the duration of the stare but whether it makes a woman uncomfortable that decides its criminality.

Mr. Singh had made the controversial statement while addressing a meeting attended by girl students at Kochi.

“The stare need not really linger for a full 14 seconds to make it an offence. It is an offence if it makes a woman uncomfortable even for a few seconds. Womenfolk should come forward to register complaints against such offenders,’’ Mr Singh told The Hindu on Tuesday. K Ajitha, women’s right activist, echoes the sentiment. “It is immaterial whether a stare has to last 14 seconds to be inappropriate. When awoman is ogled at, she is being reduced to a sexual object,’’ according to her.

But trolls had a great time on social media over the senior cop’s contention even as Mr. Singh stuck to his guns. To those who doubted the legal aspect of his statement, he suggested a close reading of the Section 354 A, B, C and D to understand the offence and the law concerned.

“The provisions were introduced in the penal code after the Nirbhaya incident at New Delhi to deal with sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment. If one stares at a woman continually for some time, he could be booked for stalking or even voyeurism,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu .

Though there is law to protect women against voyeurism and stalking, most women are unaware of it. The fact that no case has been booked for such offences especially voyeurism underscores the level of ignorance among women about the law that protects them, he maintained.

Legal experts, however, said the provisions of IPC cannot be misread the way it has been interpreted by Mr. Singh. The misinterpretation of law by a senior police official can now send wrong signals and lead to untenable complaints, a senior lawyer said.

It’s a well-settled legal principle that in cases relating to outraging the modesty of a woman, it’s the intention of the person in question that matters. A mere touch won’t constitute an offence unless it’s made with an explicit sexual intention. Staring at a woman can be deemed offensive under Section 354 D of the IPC only when one stared with an explicit sexual intention bordering on the definitions of voyeurism and stalking, say lawyers.

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Printable version | Feb 16, 2022 2:20:44 am |