Section 354-C of the Indian Penal Code – Offence of Voyeurism

Image Credits – NDTV and Live Law

The students of Chandigarh University are currently protesting after a female student allegedly leaked private videos of her hostel mates online. Allegedly, the student took private videos of around 60 girls taking baths in the hostel and shared them with a boy in Shimla, who posted them online. Both the student and the boy have been booked under Section 354C of the Indian Penal Code for the offence of voyeurism.

In this post, I will explain the offence of voyeurism, its rising cases and what should an individual do if she believes she is a victim of the offence.

A. What is Section 354-C?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘voyeurism’ as “the activity of getting pleasure from secretly watching other people in sexual situations or, more generally, from watching other people’s private lives.”

The act of voyeurism was not a crime in India until the year 2013. The offence was added in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya case through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, which introduced Section 354-C to the Indian Penal Code.

As per Section 354-C, the act of voyeurism is a punishable offence and is made out in two situations.

  1. If a man or anyone on his behalf watches or captures the image of a woman who is engaging in a private act. Private act here means such activities or circumstances that are carried out in a place where an individual expects privacy or where her genitals, posterior or breasts are exposed or covered only in an underwear. Examples include use of lavatory or sexual acts that are not performed ordinarily in public.
  2. If a man disseminates the private image mentioned above to a third party.  

This would include situations where although the victim consents to the capture of private images but refuses their dissemination and an individual still goes ahead and shares them (Explanation 2, Section 354-C).

A pertinent example would be the case of Shivam Sharma v. State of M.P. and Anr., wherein the accused shared intimate pictures of the victim with her father without her consent. The Court observed that these facts made out a prima facie offence under the Section. 

The offence of voyeurism is cognisable in nature which means the police may arrest an accused without obtaining a warrant. However, the offence is bailable, and an accused can be granted bail.

B. What should a victim do?

As per the National Crime Records Bureau, in the year 2021 there were 1513 cases of voyeurism in India. The state with the most cases was Maharashtra (210), followed by Andhra Pradesh (159) and Odisha (148). The city with the most cases was Mumbai (73), followed by Delhi (22), Hyderabad (18) and Chennai & Kolkata (17 each). The low numbers should not be taken as an indicator that the crime is less prevalent, as it is possible that it often goes undetected. The cities where its reporting has been higher are metropolitans where both the awareness and education is higher than others.

A broad survey of complaints and news reports indicates that an accused commits voyeurism in two situations. First, when a victim uses public spaces and second, when a relationship turns sour. 

  1. Public Spaces-

News reports are replete with acts of voyeurism being carried out in public spaces. Mostly, an accused would place a secret/hidden camera in a spot where a victim would engage in a private act. This could be a trial room in a shop, a changing room in a hospital, rooms in a hotel etc.

In the year 2015, Union Home Minister Smriti Irani noticed a camera pointing towards the changing room in a store in Goa and filed a complaint. Similarly, in Hyderabad two men were arrested for secretly filming a young woman in the trial room of H&M outlet. In the same locality, another employee of a restaurant was arrested for hiding a camera phone inside the women’s washroom for recording purposes.  In Pune, the hospital ward boy of Jehangir Hospital was arrested for filming a woman while changing her clothes, when she went for an MRI to the hospital.

In another case in Pune, a man surreptitiously shot the video of a masseur giving him a massage at a massage parlour, and threatened to make the video viral if she did not submit to his sexual demands.

2. Relationship turning sour-

The other type of cases where voyeurism is committed by a man is when a relationship turns sour. Often the man leaks pictures taken in private in a consensual relationship, when the woman decides to end the relationship or refuses to marry him.

In West Bengal, the Court convicted a man for voyeurism when he uploaded intimate pictures of the victim on pornographic websites. The accused and victim were in an intimate relationship and the pictures were taken consensually at the time. However, later the victim ended the relationship and in revenge, the accused shared them. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment along with fine (State of West Bengal v. Animesh Boxi). 

Similarly, in Bengaluru, a man was arrested for allegedly sending intimate pictures of his former colleague and romantic partner, to her fiancé. The reason behind the dissemination of pictures was the girl’s decision to reject his marriage proposal.

3. What should a Victim do?

In case, an individual feels that she has been a victim of voyeurism she can take the following recourse (Section 154, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973).

  • File a complaint in a police station either orally or in writing. The complaint must be recorded by a female officer only.
  • If the complaint is given orally, it must be written down by the officer.
  • The complaint must be read over to the victim and thereafter, signed by her.
  • A copy of the complaint must be provided to the victim free of cost.
  • Thereafter, the police will investigate the case.

In case, the victim is temporarily or permanently mentally or physically disabled, then the complaint must be recorded at the residence of the victim or at a convenient place of her choice. The complaint must be recorded in the presence of an interpreter or a special educator.

In case, the police officer refuses to register the complaint, the victim may approach the Superintendent of Police through a  letter (along with the relevant information).

Concluding Remarks:

I am sure that the cases mentioned above are only the tip of the iceberg and are few of the many which were detected. In our everyday lives, we seldom check our surroundings to ensure that we are not being watched. However, given the reality of the times we live in, we must be vigilant and extra cautious of the spaces we occupy and visit.

The ward boy of Jehangir Hospital in Pune could be caught only because the woman involved was vigilant. She sensed something suspicious as the ward boy had asked her to change her clothes in another room instead of the room earmarked for it. She investigated and found a phone kept in the room with the camera pointing towards her. Her vigilance led to the accused being nabbed.

A strong role also needs to be played by both the media and the police, where the first should spread awareness about this crime and the other should detect, punish and deter it. The sad reality is that both have failed to do their tasks. The Supreme Court in a recent order urged a strict enforcement of Section 354C of IPC, against electronic media who are prone to telecast private photos. These remarks were made in the context of media telecasting images of sex workers with their clients in the garb of rescue operations. Similarly, often the protector of the public i.e., the police has been found to commit voyeurism itself. Earlier this year, a policeman was booked for voyeurism for allegedly peeking and making a video of a woman in police protection, while she was taking a bath.

In a just and ideal society, one’s privacy should be paramount and impregnable. However, unfortunately the status quo demands that till we reach that stage, vigilance is a must.

Views are personal.

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