Calcutta High Court Rules: Calling Unknown Woman ‘Darling’ Constitutes Sexual Harassment

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By Sunil Chaudhary

In a significant ruling, the Calcutta High Court has affirmed that addressing an unknown woman as “darling” is not only inappropriate but is considered a criminal offense under Indian law. The case in question involved a man named Janak Ram, who used the term towards a woman police officer while under the influence of alcohol. This act led to his conviction under Sections 354A (outraging the modesty of a woman) and 509 (word, gesture, or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Darling Bolo Jail Jao – Calcutta High Court Rules: Calling Unknown Woman ‘Darling’ Constitutes Sexual Harassment

Calcutta High Court Rules: Calling Unknown Woman 'Darling' Constitutes Sexual Harassment Darling Bolo Jail Jao

Justice Jay Sengupta, overseeing the case at the High Court’s Port Blair bench, remarked that such expressions, especially when directed towards women who are strangers, are deemed offensive and carry a sexual connotation in the context of Indian societal norms. The justice emphasized that the standards of behavior in Indian society do not condone men addressing unfamiliar women with terms that carry underlying sexual implications.

The incident that led to the legal proceedings occurred on the eve of Durga Puja, a significant festival in India. A police team, including the woman constable targeted by Janak Ram’s comment, was patrolling near Lall Tikrey at Webi Junction to maintain law and order. According to the prosecution, when the team was relocating to a better-lit area, Janak Ram approached the constable and made the inappropriate remark.

This behavior led to the Mayabunder Police Station lodging a First Information Report (FIR) against Janak Ram, resulting in his conviction by a Judicial Magistrate in Mayabunder for the mentioned offenses. Despite an appeal, the Additional Sessions Judge of North & Middle Andaman upheld the conviction in November 2023, leading Janak Ram to seek relief from the Calcutta High Court, which ultimately reaffirmed the lower court’s decision.

Justice Sengupta noted that the gravity of the offense would have been even more severe had Janak Ram been sober at the time of the incident, underscoring the seriousness with which such misconduct is viewed, irrespective of the perpetrator’s state of intoxication.

This ruling sends a clear message about the boundaries of acceptable behavior in public spaces and the legal implications of crossing those boundaries. It reinforces the idea that respect and consent are paramount in all interactions, and that derogatory terms, especially those with sexual undertones, have no place in civil society.

20 FAQs With Answers

  1. What is sexual harassment under Indian law?
    • Sexual harassment includes any unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature, whether verbal, non-verbal, or physical, that makes someone feel uncomfortable, threatened, or humiliated.
  2. What constitutes calling someone “darling” in a legal context?
    • In the context of Indian law, using terms like “darling” towards an unknown woman, especially in a manner that can be interpreted as having a sexual connotation, can be considered as sexual harassment.
  3. What are Sections 354A and 509 of the IPC?
    • Section 354A penalizes sexual harassment and prescribes punishment for making sexually colored remarks, among other offenses. Section 509 deals with words, gestures, or acts intended to insult the modesty of a woman.
  4. What happened in the Calcutta High Court ruling involving the term “darling”?
    • The Calcutta High Court upheld the conviction of a man who addressed a woman constable as “darling” in an inebriated state, ruling it as a sexually colored remark and an offense under the IPC.
  5. Can you be convicted for verbal harassment in India?
    • Yes, verbal harassment that insults the modesty of a woman or constitutes sexual harassment can lead to conviction under various sections of the IPC, including Sections 354A and 509.
  6. Is being intoxicated a defense for committing sexual harassment?
    • No, intoxication is not considered a defense for committing sexual harassment or any other crime. The offender can still be held accountable for their actions.
  7. What should someone do if they’re a victim of sexual harassment?
    • Victims of sexual harassment should report the incident to the authorities, such as the police, or their workplace’s internal complaints committee if it occurred at work.
  8. How is the modesty of a woman defined legally in India?
    • The modesty of a woman is a notion that pertains to her sexual dignity and decency. Any act that insults or outrages a woman’s modesty, making her feel violated, can be legally challenged.
  9. Can a single remark lead to a conviction for sexual harassment?
    • Yes, a single inappropriate or sexually colored remark can be sufficient for a conviction if it meets the legal criteria for sexual harassment or outraging the modesty of a woman.
  10. What are the possible penalties for sexual harassment under the IPC?
    • Penalties can include fines, imprisonment, or both, depending on the severity of the offense and the specific sections of the IPC invoked.
  11. Does the context of a remark matter in legal cases of sexual harassment?
    • Yes, the context in which a remark is made can be crucial in legal cases, influencing the interpretation of the remark’s intent and impact.
  12. Can men be victims of sexual harassment under Indian law?
    • While Indian law primarily addresses sexual harassment of women, men can also be victims. Legal recourse for men may involve other sections of the IPC dealing with assault or criminal intimidation.
  13. What role do witnesses play in sexual harassment cases?
    • Witnesses can provide crucial evidence in sexual harassment cases, corroborating the victim’s account and the circumstances of the incident.
  14. How does the legal system ensure the protection of sexual harassment victims?
    • The legal system offers mechanisms like confidential proceedings, restraining orders against the accused, and, in some cases, anonymity to protect victims.
  15. What is the importance of the Calcutta High Court ruling on calling someone “darling”?
    • This ruling underscores the seriousness of verbal sexual harassment and sets a precedent on how seemingly benign terms can be considered offensive in certain contexts.
  16. Can a complaint of sexual harassment be filed years after the incident?
    • Yes, although it’s advisable to file a complaint promptly, Indian law doesn’t set a strict statute of limitations for reporting sexual harassment, recognizing that victims may face barriers to immediate reporting.
  17. What is an FIR and its role in cases of sexual harassment?
    • An FIR (First Information Report) is a document prepared by police when they receive information about a cognizable offense. It’s the first step in the legal process for pursuing a sexual harassment case.
  18. Can verbal sexual harassment occur online or over the phone?
    • Yes, sexual harassment, including verbal harassment, can occur through digital communications like social media, emails, and phone calls.
  19. What is the role of internal complaints committees in handling sexual harassment?
    • Internal complaints committees are set up in workplaces to provide a mechanism for receiving and addressing complaints of sexual harassment, ensuring a safe work environment.
  20. Are there any preventive measures against sexual harassment in public spaces?
    • Yes, preventive measures include public awareness campaigns, strict enforcement of laws, safe city projects, and helplines to report harassment immediately.

 

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