LCI Learning

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

Share on LinkedIn

Share on Email

Share More


  • Abusing someone is an act of using foul language intended to disrespect the victim of such abuse. It is often verbal in nature but can assume other forms too.
  • Such a practice is not acceptable in the Indian orthodox society, but increased Western influence has made the younger generation habitual to the use of such words.
  • Such instances harm the social fabric of our country and threaten the public order situation, if they get aggravated.
  • There are various penal provisions which can be used against an abuser, but the absence of issue-specific provision has hampered the effective remedying of this malpractice.


By the term ‘abusing’ we generally refer to the use of curse or derogatory words which are generally disgraceful, immoral and are often aimed at harming the sentiments of the opposing party with a view to reduce their morale and create a farce of superiority to uphold one’s “superior” position in a relationship or during an argument. While it is fast becoming an accepted norm due to rapidly changing social conditions, the main question remains whether such abuse should be an accepted norm and whether it can be considered as a penal offence, if it is not already so. In this article, it shall be our endeavor to discuss the criminality of the act of abusing by exploring various facets of the act of abusing.

What is abusing?

In general sense, abusing refers to the uttering of such degenerate words which are used during a verbal fight, often to downgrade the person or to further ignite the raging spirits of the person to provoke him to commit an act of aggression. The words generally considered to be abusive are directed towards the person itself or his/her family members, particularly the female members of the family, and are so derogatory in nature that it either arises the hostility in the behavior of the victim, or renders them speechless by the sheer audacity of the opposite party, which eventually makes them embarrassed to the point where they end up believing that the opposing party is superior to them.

Normally, when we talk about abuse, we consider only verbal abuse, and that too in a free-fight or an argument between or among parties. While this is partially true, considering that the intensity and recurrence of verbal abuse is generally higher in the society, there are other kinds of abuses also which should be considered while discussing about abuses and which are at par with verbal abuses, as each kind of abuse has a particular impact on the victim of such abuse.

There are 2 main kinds of abuses:

i. Physical Abuse: it includes the use of oppressive force on the victim of such abuse. The use of such physical force is done to injure the victim and make them submissive to the stance of the oppressor. Examples of physical abuse include punching, hitting, kicking, etc. In this case, the abuse takes place till the oppressor is convinced that the victim concedes to his/her superiority.

ii. Psychological abuse: This kind of abuse involves harming the mental health of a person by repeated insistence on the fact that the victim is inferior to the oppressor and that they should be submissive to the wishes and commands of the oppressor. Such abuse may include verbal abuse, as the main insistence in such a kind of abuse is to make the victim submissive and consolidate the position of the oppressor. Such abuse can be done by constant name calling, regularly finding faults in the efforts of a person etc.

It is pertinent to note here that when we talk about an abusive relationship, it not only includes the relationship of an oppressor and a victim, but also includes a relationship of two persons who are in an equal position to suppress the opposing party and use abuses as a means to oppress the opposing party. While the former has been in existence for quite some time now, the instances of the latter have assumed alarming levels in recent times. This ‘free-fire volley’ of abuses has assumed such proportions wherein it threatens the social fabric of our society and promotes hatred, enmity between and among people.

The need of regulating the act of abusing

Generally, we can say that abuses are those words which are too bad for the ears and needless to say, do not conform to the values of the society. In a conservative society like ours, such abuses or abusive language should not find any place in the social spectrum. But, the socio-cultural blend of the conservative Indian culture with the openness of the Western culture has given rise to a new hybrid culture where abusing each other is fast becoming an accepted norm. Various instances of the western influence can be observed in the movies and other mediums which contain unrestricted abuses, drug-use etc. Indian viewers, especially the younger generation see such movies and feel that it is something that can be done openly. This thing does not pose a problem in the initial stages, but when it aggravates to the extent where people, even young children deem it normal to abuse someone either in public or even in private, it poses some serious problems, as it not only threatens the peace and order of the society, but it also deteriorates the quality of the population and threatens the future of the nation. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to regulate and prevent such behavior, at least in public places.

Can abusing be criminalized?

A very important question in the context of regulating the acts of abusing is the aspect of criminalization of an act of abusing. This question arises from the fact that people consider abusing as a part of their freedom of speech and expression as enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and see any action towards regulating such behavior as a violation of their freedom. Even if that is the case, then the restrictions on such freedom as mentioned under Article 19(2) give the power to the governments to restrict the freedom if it disturbs public order or is not within the established standards of decency and morality. Therefore, the government would be well within its rights to criminalize the instances of abusing as it violates the standards of decency and morality of our society and also threatens public order, if the situation intensifies.

While there are no separate penal provisions on abusing, there are some provisions in the Indian Penal Code which can be employed to punish the acts of abusing. Some of the provisions are:

Section 268 of IPC: It lays down the offence of public nuisance. According to this section, if any person does or does not do something which eventually leads to a common injury or annoyance to the public in general, such a person would be considered guilty of creating public nuisance.

So, if any person hurls any abusive words in a public place, he would be causing annoyance to the people living around the area and therefore, he can be held liable under this section.

Section 294 of IPC: It deals with the offence of doing an obscene act in a public place and lays down that if any person does any act in a public place which is considered as obscene as under Section 292, shall be punishable.

It is to be noted that in general sense, we link obscenity with nudity or any act which arouses the sexual pleasures in a person. In its present form, it seems to exclude abusive words from the ambit of obscenity. But if a broader view of the term ‘obscenity’ is taken, it shall be found that obscenity includes depiction of people, mainly women in a derogatory manner, which is similar to what is done when a person hurls abuses towards the other. Further, the impact of dissemination of obscene material is the same as the propagation of abusive language: it degrades the image of the victim and creates a feeling of hatred and enmity in the society. Therefore, even hurling abuses can be considered to be an obscene act, and made punishable under Section 294.

It should be noted that in Jaichand vs State Of Maharashtra (2010), the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court held that verbal abuse need not necessarily be in a public place to punish the offender under Section 294. This means that if a person hurls abuses at some other person while staying in their own premises, they can be charged under the section for spreading obscenity.

Sections 295A and 298 of IPC: These sections lay down the offences related to religion and says that if any person does any act, or says something (including visible representation) with an intention to harm the religious sentiments of a person, such an act would be considered as an offence and punished accordingly.

It is generally observed that some persons, with the aim to enrage the other person or disrupt the communal harmony, pass an abusive comment on the religion of the other person. Such an act can also be penalized under these provisions.

Section 354 of IPC: According to this section, if any person does any gesture or says any word(s), which outrage the modesty of a woman, such an act would be punishable with imprisonment as well as a fine.

It goes without saying that an abuse hurled at a woman, or which includes the name or depiction of a woman, is sure to outrage her modesty. While modesty has not been clearly defined in the Code, it is often related to the dignity, respect, reputation of a woman, and any such word/gesture which harms the dignity of the woman can and should be penalized.

Section 503 of IPC: It lays down the offence of criminal intimidation. It lays down that if a person threatens another person to harm his body, property or reputation, such a person would be considered to have criminally intimidated that person. The punishment for criminal intimidation has been laid out under Section 506.

So, if a person hurls abuses at some other person with a threat to harm the victim, or any person in which such a person is interested, it can come within the ambit of this section. But in Vikram Johar v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2019), the Supreme Court held that mere abuses cannot be considered to be criminal intimidation. The abuses should be accompanied with a gesture which frightens the victim. Therefore, if an act of abusing has to be made punishable under this section, such an abuse should be accompanied with some elements which actually make the person apprehensive of an injury.

Section 509 of IPC: It contains provisions related to insult of the modesty of a woman and lays down that if someone says any word or makes any sound which insults the modesty of a woman, such an act can be made punishable under the section.

Similar to Section 354 in terms of abuses related to violating the dignity of a woman, if a person abuses a woman or uses her name while abusing someone, it can be punished under this section.

It should be noted here that the above-mentioned provision can be employed even in simple cases of abusing wherein a person abuses someone in public, or as stated above, even in private. There may exist a situation wherein the abuses by a person is given to their own family member, mainly by a husband to his wife, and such abuse reaches such alarming levels and become so recurring in nature wherein they can be considered as being an act of cruelty being inflicted by a husband upon his wife, the victim can take the help of Section 498A to punish the oppressor.

Section 498A of IPC lays down the offence of cruelty and says that if a husband commits any act which drives the wife to suicide or for any other purpose, such an act would be considered as cruelty. In various judgements, the apex court has held that even mental cruelty is a part of cruelty under the section. So, if a husband regularly abuses his wife, such actions of the husband can be considered as cruelty upon his wife. Expanding the ambit of the provision, the Supreme Court in Mayadevi v Jagdish Prasad (2007), the Supreme Court held that if a husband suffers mental cruelty from the acts of his wife, it would serve as a ground for divorce. By this judgement, the SC expressly laid down that cruelty can be both physical and mental.

Apart from these penal provisions, provisions of the IT ACT, 2000 also contain provisions related to abusing through digital mediums.

A perusal of the above provisions gives rise to the argument that even abusing can be criminalized, and judging by the rise in frequency of such undesirable instances, it is necessary to criminalize it.


After going through the above material, it can be observed that while abusing is held in disregard by the society, there is a dearth of specific laws related to the activity. Though there are laws under which any such activity which disrespects an individual or the society at large, a specific law is necessary to effectively the mess created by this menace. Further, it is also essential that in the absence of specific laws, the courts of the land sufficiently widen the ambit of ‘obscenity’ to include abusive language within its meaning. This degenerate practice cannot be allowed to become a commonly accepted norm of the society because if it is allowed to become so, it will be at the cost of the cultural values of Indian society.

"Loved reading this piece by BHAVYA SOM GARG?
Join LAWyersClubIndia's network for daily News Updates, Judgment Summaries, Articles, Forum Threads, Online Law Courses, and MUCH MORE!!"

Tags :

Category Others, Other Articles by - BHAVYA SOM GARG