news Wednesday, April 08, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute | April 4, 2015 | 2.46 pm IST Until union minister Smriti Irani noticed a camera pointed towards the changing rooms in a Goa store, voyeurism as a crime was simply not on the radar even though legal provisions for it have been in force for nearly two years. On Friday, union minister noticed a camera pointing towards the changing rooms in a Fab India store and raised an alarm. Subsequently, she lodged a complaint with the jurisdictional police who have registered a case under Sections 509 (outraging the modesty of a woman) and 354C (voyeurism) of the Indian Penal Code. Read: HRD minister Smriti Irani spots hidden camera pointing to trial room of Fab India, Goa store Following the 2012 Delhi gang rape, the union government constituted the Justice J S Verma committee to make laws dealing with sexual offences more stringent. Some of the recommendations of the report submitted by the former chief justice of India were finally enacted as Criminal Law (amendment) in April 2013.  The provisions of the bill made it possible for women to lodge complaints of voyeurism, stalking, and other offences for which there was either no specific legal provision until then, or inadequate laws.Voyeurism to spy on someone doing things that they would normally do in private, and away from the gaze of the public. These include changing clothes, having a bath, using the toilet. Section 354C of the Indian Penal code defines voyeurism as follows: “Any man who watches, or captures the image of a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed …”  It defines private acts as “where the victim's genitals, posterior or breasts are exposed or covered only in underwear; or the victim is using a lavatory; or the victim is doing a sexual act that is not of a kind ordinarily done in public.” It also recognizes that the victim may consent to capturing such acts for not for their dissemination to others, and penalizes abuse of such material. First conviction of such an offence is punishable by imprisonment of one-three years and/or a fine. subsequent convictions are punishable with imprisonment of between three-seven years and/or a fine. What if the victim was a man or transgender? Senior advocate Sudha Ramalingam said that the criminal amendment bill emerged out of the context of the anger over the Delhi gang rape case. Saying that devices have enabled intrusion into everything that is considered private for a person, she emphasized the necessity for an “internalisation of discipline amongst people”. “Not everything can be corrected by law,” she said. However, she believed that such laws are not gender-neutral. “We don't perceive sexual offences committed against men as rampant,” she said explaining that laws are just a reflection of a society. Advocate B S Ajeetha who practices in the Madras High court and family courts of Chennai says that it was a “small negative thing”, that the words used in the law are “man” watching a “woman”.  Read: Judicial system acts as agents of the “wives”, says men’s rights group protesting in Bengaluru However, she said that the interpretation of the law could be expanded to include male victims also, if such circumstance arose.  “The law doesn’t have restrictions to construe the perpetrator as male and victim as female, it can be read in a manner which will support the victim (irrespective of gender),” Ajeetha says, adding that the spirit of the law was in favour of the victim, irrespective of gender. If for instance a 15-year-old boy was being watched by a 30-year old man, then both provisions of the POCSO act as well as Section 354 could be invoked. Ajeetha said that the IPC and other acts could be read in terms of the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law.  She said that it was unfortunate that despite having been in existence for nearly two years, there wasn’t enough awareness among the police and judiciary about the new provisions.

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