Kerala HC: “Even if a woman wears a ‘provocative dress’ that cannot give a licence to a man to outrage her modesty”

Controversial remark by Kerala Court in Bail order of Civic Chandra struck down by the HC, Anticipatory Bail continues

kerala High Court

On October 13, 2022, the Kerala High Court struck down the contentious remarks made by a Kerala Sessions Judge who had determined that a sexual harassment claim would not be supported by the evidence if the victim was dressed in a “sexually provocative clothing.” However, the anticipatory bail granted to the accused, Civic Chandran, continues to hold.

S Krishnakumar, a principal District and Sessions judge in Kozhikode, made the contentious remarks while releasing activist Civic Chandran on bail in a sexual harassment case.

The Court was hearing a plea moved by the Kerala government challenging the order granting bail to Chandran who was charged with committing offences punishable under sections 354 A(2) &341 and 354 of the Indian Penal Code. The High Court’s Justice Kauser Edappagath maintained Chandran’s grant of anticipatory bail but decided to strike the contentious statements from the decision. While addressing the two pleas moved by the State and the de facto complainant against the anticipatory bail, Justice Edappagath noted that even while the justification given by the Court below for granting anticipatory bail cannot be supported, the said decision cannot be granted.

The State had contested the findings and justification provided by the Sessions Court as suffering from “illegality, lack of sensitivity, sobriety, and perversity” in the Criminal Miscellaneous Petition submitted under Sections 482 read with 439(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

When issuing the ruling, Justice Edappagath noted that a victim’s attire could not be the ground for a defense to get rid of the accusation of outraging a woman’s modesty.

The Court said “The dressing of a victim cannot be construed as a legal ground to absolve an accused from the charge of outraging the modesty of a woman. The right to wear any dress is a natural extension of personal freedom guaranteed by the Constitution and a facet of the fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. Even if a woman wears a provocative dress that cannot give a licence to a man to outrage her modesty. Hence, the said finding of the Court below in the impugned order is hereby set aside,” said the court.

However, Justice Edappagath declared that the accused’s imprisonment was unnecessary given the facts and circumstances of the case as well as his age. Civic Chandran, accused before, too, in a sexual harassment case is 71 years of age. The director general of prosecution’s assertion that the investigation into the subject was nearly complete was also noted by the court. According to the High Court, Chandran had successfully argued his case for anticipatory bail on the merits. The court upheld the session court order and disposed of the matter.

About the lower court order:

Judge S Krishnakumar of the Kozhikode Sessions Court gave the contentious ruling in August 2022, claiming that the images showed the plaintiff clothed in a “sexually provocative” manner. The decision was made when Civic Chandran was granted anticipatory bail in connection with the second sexual harassment complaint that the Koyilandi police in the Kozhikode district had filed against him.

“The photographs produced along with the bail application by the accused would reveal that the defacto complainant herself is exposing to dresses which are having some sexual provocative one. So, section 354A will not prima facie stand against the accused,” the Kozhikode Sessions Court said in its order issued on August 12. 

The Court had commented that since the woman was wearing “sexually provocative dresses,” an offense under Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code could not be prima facie established. This led to massive outrage and protests all over the country.

The court further declared that there must be adequate proof of a woman’s honor and dignity being harmed in order to bring a case under section 354A IPC. According to the complaint, Civic Chandran is accused of sexually harassing a young writer at a camp organized in February 2020 at Nandi Beach close to Moodadi in the Kozhikode district.

Chandran is the subject of two sexual harassment charges that have been reported to the Koyilandi police station. In the first instance, Civic Chandran had already been granted anticipatory release by the court due to his advanced age and health issues. In this case, Chandran assaulted a writer from a scheduled caste sexually in April during a book launch in Koyilandi. He has again been granted anticipatory bail in that case, a decision also confirmed by the High Court.

The order can be read here.

About the case:

According to the prosecution, on February 5, 2020 at 5 o’clock in Kadal Veedu near Nandi Beach, a cultural camp was arranged by a group going by the name of “Nilanadatham.” The accused forcibly embraced the defacto complainant after the event and invited her to sit on his lap while she rested near the ocean. The woman’s modesty was offended when the accused also touched her breast. The complainant only filed a claim in July 2022, acknowledging that she felt anxious and embarrassed.


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