After Kerala Excise Commissioner Rishi Raj Singh’s infamous comment on how a stare lasting for more than 14 seconds could get a person prison-time, the senior IPS officer continues to stick to his guns despite being the target of heavy trolling on social media.
“A case can be filed against men who 'annoyingly' stare at women for more than 14 seconds," Rishiraj Singh said at an event in Kochi on Sunday.
As his comment became widely discussed, Singh told The Hindu, “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.’’
He suggested a close reading of the Section 354 A, B, C and D to understand the offence and the law concerned reported the paper.
So can staring for 14 seconds make one go to jail? What does the law say?
The law that Singh quoted to substantiate his seemingly outlandish claim is Section 354 in its entirety. The said law of the Indian Penal Code has four sub-sections to it, namely a, b, c, and d and was also amended in 2012 following the Nirbhaya rape case.
Section 354 says, “Whoever assaults or uses criminal force on any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or fined, or both.”
The sub-sections -which were added later- then go on to delineate what exactly could be construed as sexual harassment and punishment for the same.
A man who commits any of the following acts:
- physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures
- demand or request for sexual favours
- show pornography against a woman’s will
- make sexually coloured remarks
Any man who assaults or uses criminal force on a woman or abets such an act with an intention to disrobe or compel her to be naked.
354C (deals with voyeurism)
Any man who watches or captures or makes public an image of a woman engaged in a private act can be imprisoned for his first offence for a minimum one year which may extend to three, and also be liable to fine.
354D (deals with stalking)
Unless otherwise sanctioned by law or if the man can justify his action, any man who repeatedly follows a woman and contacts or attempts to contact her to foster personal interaction despite the woman making clear her disinterest or
- monitors a woman’s use of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication is guilty of stalking.
In addition, Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code makes it punishable if anyone to the annoyance of others-
a. Does any obscene act in any public place, or
b. Sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place,
After a thorough reading of the sections, we still fail to understand just how exactly staring for a specific time can be worked into any of these sub-sections. And the 14-second deadline continues to baffle even legal minds, with none being able to come up with a satisfactory explanation for the same.
"You can't have a law that measures such things. How do you ascertain it? Staring or looking - what happens if you blink? Atrocious,” says Sudha Ramalingam, a senior lawyer.
Though the time limit seems to be Rishiraj Singh’s addition, legal experts agree that Section 354 can be used by a woman against a man who harasses her and ‘staring’ can be deemed offensive too.