Kerala excise commissioner Rishiraj Singh claimed that men who stared at women for more than 14 seconds can be booked for harassment by law. In a speech to students on August 15 in Kochi, Singh had reportedly said, “Most of us don’t know that an FIR can be registered against a man who stares continuously at a woman for more than 14 seconds. But not a single case has been registered in the state on this count.” He also said that women had to be more proactive in their own safety. He added that they should learn self-defence skills, and keeping knives or pepper spray for self-defence was legal.
Overlooking the essence of his message, Singh received flak for his statement about the 14-second rule from within the government and from the public. Kerala sports minister E.P. Jayarajan said that such a law “is non-existent” and that he was misinforming the public.
On Twitter, people were quick to react with troll memes. They also questioned how such a rule could be implemented, what constitutes as “staring”, if it includes blinking, and wondered if that meant that staring for less than 14 seconds was legal.
'Staring' as a single act may not be an offence
According to Advocate Kaleeswaram Raj, “Staring perse may not be an offence.”
Eve-teasing, which includes ogling, groping, unwarranted touching and other acts of perversion, is not mentioned as an offence in the Indian Penal Code. However, there are provisions to complain against similar behaviour.
For instance, certain provisions of the IPC make voyeurism an offence. “According to section 354C of the IPC, watching a woman engaged in a private act in certain circumstances would be an offence warranting punishment which may extend up to three years imprisonment and fine,” he said, “Section 354D criminalises the act of stalking. These provisions may be relevant in the context of street harassment as well.”
Apart from this, making obscene gestures or lewd remarks to women, using indecent body language, and using force to outrage the modesty of a woman are all punishable offences.
“When the ingredients of the offence either in the IPC or in other special enactments are satisfied, a woman can legally make a complaint,” Raj added. A woman, who has been harassed on the street, can book a complaint with the magistrate or the police.
With reference to the 14-second law, Raj said, “It seems that he was making a decorative remark indicating the stringency of the provisions.”