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Dilating Upon Section 95 Of IPC With A Highlight Of IPS KPS Gill's Case

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term trifling refers to 'lacking in significance or solid worth'.[1] 'Trifling Acts' are such acts that are not worthy of being decided upon by the Court and the parties involved in such dispute are themselves capable to solve the dispute within themselves by even an oral dialogue, considering the insignificant or paltry nature of the offense. Such offenses have been dealt with under Section 95 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, which is titled 'acts causing slight harm'.

This blog piece would illuminate upon the subject matter, scope, and objective of the concerned section and would advance by citing the IPS officer KPS Gill's case and its role in settling the proposition that protection under Section 95 of IPC would have no application to offenses outraging women's dignity.

Elaboration And Objectve Of Section 95 Of IPC

Section 95 of IPC, 1860, as has already been stated, provides about such trifling acts that cause slight harm. Section 95 has been reproduced below:

"Act causing slight harm´┐ŻNothing is an offense by reason that it causes, or that it is intended to cause, or that it is known to be likely to cause, any harm, if that harm is so slight that no person of ordinary sense and temper would complain of such harm."

The section can be broken down into two components, that would act as parameters to be applied to an act to adjudicate if the act is a 'trifling act' or not. Such an act should:
  1. cause or intend to cause very slight harm and,
  2. such harm or intention to cause harm is of such nature as would not compel a man of ordinary temper to complain against the same.
Trifling Acts as under this section are those that are considered innocent as they do fall within the 'letter of the law' but not within the 'spirit of the law'.[2] These acts range from pulling out a paper from someone's desk not attracting a charge of theft to calling someone a liar not being considered defamation. The motive or intent of this Section is to prevent petty or negligible acts from penalization, otherwise, the courts would have been overflowed with the burden of hearing penny-ante and minor cases of negligible importance.

The legal maxim that applies to this section is 'de minimis non curat lex', [3] meaning that the parties have to settle such petty disputes within themselves and the court would not intervene where the subject matter of controversy is infinitesimal. Another motive of this section is to make a man live freely in society because if such acts were penalized, his freedom of intercourse would be hampered.

The Amplitude Of Section 95

The scope of this Section is not limited to trivial offenses under IPC only and covers a wide variety of Acts and Orders. For instance, in NK Illiyas v State of Kerala[4], the Supreme Court reversed a conviction made by the High Court of Kerala, wherein the appellant was convicted under Section 13(1)(c) and 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and also under certain sections of IPC for alleged misappropriation of funds amounting Rs. 1839, while he held his post as junior decision clerk under the Deputy Superintendent of Police.

The fund was supposed to be used to pay off telephone dues, that were actually cleared after 21 days of alleged misappropriation. The Supreme Court held that such an act of clerk was trivial and the appellant got protection under Section 95 of IPC, hence, the acquittal was directed.

Also, in Bansidhar v. Emperor[5], conviction under Section 3 of the Bihar Cloth and Yarn Control Order was set aside and the accused was provided protection under Section 95 of IPC. Hence, it is seen that the scope of section 95 of IPC does not only extend to the trifling acts, that could have been punishable under IPC, but also includes such acts that are complained against under various other acts and even the local laws and orders of the state.

But, the exception to this provision includes the social legislation, aimed to run the society in a civilized manner and to prevent the habitual breach of such laws, even if the damage or injury caused by these acts is trivial. This is done to ensure public welfare.

For instance, if a negligent driver breaches the maximum prescribed speed limit and gets recorded by the traffic officer's speedometer or the camera adjoining the traffic lights, even if that driver has caused injury to nobody by over-speeding, still he/she shall be liable to pay fine or compensation as prescribed by the traffic rules and cannot take a defense under Section 95 of IPC, 1860.[6]

Also, acts or offenses outraging the modesty and decency of women have been excluded from the purview of protection under this section, as would be discussed in the later part of this blog post.

The Amplitude Of The Term "Harm"

The term 'harm' under Section 95 of IPC covers those acts that are likely or intended to cause harm or have actually caused harm, but these acts are so slight in nature that a prudent man would not take them to court for penalization. The term 'harm' has been used in different sections of IPC in different senses. The meaning of 'harm' has not been exclusively provided in these sections and is to be interpreted as per the relevant wordings of the respective sections.

For instance, 'harm' within Section 93 of IPC (communication made in good faith[7]) refers to an injurious mental reaction; in Section 88 (Act not intended to cause death, done by consent in good faith for person's benefit[8]) refers to bodily harm or physical injury and in Section 415 (cheating[9]) 'harm' refers to injury to body, mind, as well as property and reputation. On the other hand, 'harm' under Section 95, in the widest sense, covers everything from physical injury to mental worry, from financial loss to an attack on a person's reputation, from an apprehension to an actual loss.[10]

The landmark judgment which adjured upon the scope of section 95 and interpretation of 'harm' under the concerned section is Veeda Menezes v. Yusuf Khan and Hani Ibrahim Khan,[11] in which the respondent, during a heated argument, threw a file of papers on the appellant's husband, which instead of hitting him, hit the forearm of the appellant, causing her merely a scratch.

The Bombay High Court provided acquittal to the respondent by applying the provisions of Section 95 of IPC. The Court stated that the injury itself was trivial and that a man of ordinary prudence would not have complained against the same. The appellant filed an appeal to set aside this acquittal in the Supreme Court, which was dismissed and the Court laid down that whether the act amounting to an offense is trivial or not would depend upon:
  • The nature of the injury caused
  • Position of the parties
  • The intention with which such an act was performed
  • Other circumstances relating to the offense.
These circumstances are now considered by the Courts throughout India, so as to adjudicate upon the matter whether the offense under consideration is trivial or not, would it enjoy protection under Section 95 of IPC or not.


KPS Gill's Case: No Impregnability To Acts Outraging Women's Modesty

The issue of injustice against women has been a source of concern throughout history. One such debate that had its origin in this issue is whether an attack upon the modesty of a woman should be considered a 'trifling act' to be protected under Section 95 of IPC. Various courts at various times have passed judgments in the 'interest of justice', that have excluded such acts hampering women's dignity from the purview of protection under Section 95 of IPC, hence, putting the ball in their court.

The basic objective behind such a privileged position being provided to women under this section is to prevent the ever-increasing number of incidents relating to eve-teasing, which can culminate into serious offenses like molestation and sexual assaults.

Section 354 of IPC[12] talks about such offenses that outrage the modesty of a woman, providing that whosoever uses criminal force or assaults a woman with the intention to outrage her modesty and with the knowledge that such act of the offender is likely to serve the said intent, would be made liable under IPC and would attract simple or rigorous imprisonment extending from one upto 5 years, or fine or both.

Further, Section 509 of IPC[13] talks about an act, word, or gesture intended to insult a lady, with the intent to bring such acts, words, or gestures to her notice or to intrude on her privacy. Such an act attracts Simple Imprisonment upto 1 year, along with a fine, as to be decided by the competent court.

One such controversial matter, where both these sections were applied, came up before the Hon'ble Supreme Court in Rupan Deol Bajaj v. KPS Gill[14], wherein an officer of Indian Police Services ("IPS") Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, who was well-known for his efforts in wiping out militancy from Punjab, frightened an officer of Indian Administrative Services (IAS) Rupan Deol Bajaj by making her sit uncomfortably close to him and later slapped her posterior, while they were at Chandigarh residence of Punjab Financial Commissioner for a dinner party.

The High Court of Punjab and Haryana convicted KPS Gill under Section 354 and 509 of IPC and made him liable to pay 2,00,000 INR compensation to the complainant alongwith 3 months rigorous imprisonment and 2 months simple imprisonment and 3 years of probation (release of the offender on good conduct, if he is not sentenced for life imprisonment of death).

The 3 months jail sentence was later reduced to probation and the conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court. The Court considered the intent of the accused and his overall conduct towards the officer to conclude that such an Act was done by him with an ulterior motive, has hampered the reputation of the lady IAS officer, and hence, was subject to penalization.

The Court held that such an act, even if it was done without such intent, would hold the officer liable as he had full knowledge that such an act a social gathering would act as an attack on the dignity of a female IAS officer. The Supreme Court held that such an act was not just a blow to 'normal feminine decency', but also an attack on the 'dignity of the lady'.[15]

Also, under 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973("CrPC"), IPS KPS Gill filed an application in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana for quashing of FIR, wherein the Court passed an interim order to stop further investigation into FIR of the complainant, but not the trial against Mr. Gill. This order was challenged by the complainant before the Hon'ble Supreme Court.

The SC held that such an order under Section 482 of CrPC, which provides the High Court with inherent powers to pass such decisions that are supposed to prevent the abuse of procedure of the Court, was made in 'gross error of law'. As a settled principle of law, the High Court cannot embark upon an inquiry into an FIR, by quashing it, if the allegations made under such FIR are not absurd and are genuine. Hence, the order of the concerned High Court for quashing the FIR and its inquiry was set aside by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court and High Courts[16], in various other instances, have held that acts that outrage the modesty of women are not to be provided protection under Section 95 of IPC, 1860.

Conclusion
Trifling Act under Section 95 of IPC, thus, refers to such acts leading to an offense which causes negligible injury and a prudent man with an ordinary temper would not complain about these under IPC or any other Act or Order. These are to be sorted out by the parties within themselves.

The long going debate upon the applicability of Section 95 on offenses against the modesty of women has been settled by the decisions of the Supreme Court and various High Courts, and now even a trivial act attacking or outraging the modesty of a woman would not be granted protection against Section 95 of IPC in the interest of social justice.

End-Notes:
  1. 'Trifling Definition & Meaning' (Merriam-Webster) <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trifling> accessed on 5 July 2023.
  2. Draft Penal Code, Note B, pp 109, 110.
  3. K.D. Gaur, Indian Penal Code (7th edn, Lexis Nexis 2020) 290.
  4. N.K. Illiyas v. State of Kerala, (2012) 12 SCC 748.
  5. Bansidhar and Anr. v. Emperor, (1933) SCC Pat 153.
  6. Diganth Raj Sehgal, 'Trivial Acts under Section 95 in the Indian Penal Code, 1860' (iPleaders, 8 January 2021) <https://blog.ipleaders.in/trivial-acts-section-95-indian-penal-code-1860/#Compounding_of_trivial_offences> accessed on 6 July 2023.
  7. Section 93 IPC- No communication made in good faith is an offence by reason of any harm to the person to whom it is made, if it is made for the benefit of that person. Illustration A, a surgeon, in good faith, communicates to a patient his opinion that he cannot live. The patient dies in consequence of the shock.
  8. Section 88, IPC- Nothing which is not intended to cause death, is an offence by reason of any harm which it may cause, or be intended by the doer to cause, or be known by the doer to be likely to cause, to any person for whose benefit it is done in good faith, and who has given consent, whether express or implied, to suffer that harm, or to take the risk of that harm.
  9. Section 415, IPC- Whoever, by deceiving any person, fraudulently or dishonestly induces the person so deceived to deliver any property to any person, or to consent that any person shall retain any property, or intentionally induces the person so deceived to do or omit to do anything which he would not do or omit if he were not so deceived, and which act or omission causes or is likely to cause damage or harm to that person in body, mind, reputation or property, is said to "cheat".
  10. K.D. Gaur, 291.
  11. Veeda Menezes v. Yusuf Khan and Hani Ibrahim Khan, AIR 1966 SC 1773.
  12. Section 354, IPC- Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to 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 shall not be less than one year but which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine.
  13. Section 509, IPC- Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
  14. Rupan Deol Bajaj v. KPS Gill, 1996 AIR 309.
  15. 'RD Bajaj v KPS Gill' (Lexpeeps, 10 September 2020) <https://lexpeeps.in/rd-bajaj-v-k-p-s-gill/> accessed on 6 July 2023.
  16. The Deputy Inspector General of Police and Anr. v. S. Samuthiram, (2013) 1 SCC 598.

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