The Bombay High Court Aurangabad bench on Saturday observed that sending abusive personal messages on WhatsApp will not amount to utterance of obscene words in public place.
The court’s observation came as it quashed an FIR against a petitioner under section 294 of Indian Penal Code (IPC), which provides punishment up to three-month imprisonment for obscene acts.
A division bench of justices Tanaji V Nalawade and Mukund G Sewlikar passed the order in a plea filed by the husband seeking to quash the FIR filed against him by his wife before Nanded Police in March 2018.
The court held that WhatsApp messages sent on personal accounts are strictly personal and none has access to them except sender and receiver. Not even WhatsApp messenger provider can read these messages, the court said.
After examining WhatsApp security settings, the bench observed, “WhatsApp cannot be a public place if messages are exchanged on personal accounts of two persons. If these messages had been posted on WhatsApp group, in that case the same could have been called as public place since members of the group will have access to those messages.”
The couple got married in May 2017. It was alleged that the petitioner husband did not treat his wife well and that he would beat and abuse her. It was further alleged that the petitioner married her for society’s sake as him being homosexual.
Opposing the plea, his wife’s advocate Kiran Nagarkar argued that the husband had called her up and abused her in filthy language. Thereafter, he sent abusive WhatsApp messages to her next month and had made phone calls to relatives.
The husband was booked in March 2018 for sending a WhatsApp message to wife calling her prostitute and that she earns money through it. The FIR was lodged against him for criminal intimidation, defamation and outraging modesty of the woman.
Advocate Shambhuraje V Deshmukh for the petitioner, on the other hand, claimed that the FIR could not be filed against his client since there was no utterance of abusive words in public place and therefore it should be quashed.
The court, however, held that the husband’s act falls under section 509 of IPC which provides punishment for act intended to insult the modesty of the woman and granted liberty to Police to investigate the charges.
Justice Mukund G Sewlikar, who authored the judgment observed that “to call a woman, even if she is one’s own wife a prostitute and to call her that she earns money by indulging in prostitution amounts to insulting the modesty of a woman. Therefore, there is prima-facie evidence to indicate that the offence falls under Section 509 of IPC.”
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