• Legis Scriptor

Disorderly conduct

Authored By- Tanvi Gupta

Keywords: Unacceptable behavior, Criminal Intimidation, Intentional Insult and Annoyance


Misconduct is unacceptable behavior against societal norms. Chapter XXII of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 consisting of Section 503-510 throws light on the laws and offenses related to disorderly conduct. The nature of offense can further be regrouped into three clusters namely, criminal intimidation, intentional insult, or annoyance.


To keep harmony in society laws are formed with limiting people or community misconduct in public and prescribe punishment if infringed. The law is archaic but provides a base for new developments. States typically categorize disorderly conduct as any behavior that is likely to cause other people alarm, anger, annoyance, or an increased likelihood to engage in unlawful activity. The disorderly conduct generally refers to circumstances that occurred in public places.

Criminal Intimidation

Under IPC, 1860 Section 503 defines the offence of criminal intimidation. Section 506 states the punishment for criminal intimidation, while section 507 and 508 prescribes punishment for an aggravated form of Criminal intimidation. It is defined as a threat of injury to a person or his reputation or property or to anyone whom that person is interested in. This is done to cause alarm among persons or causing him to do an act he is not legally bound or to omit an act which he is legally bound to do as a means of avoiding the execution of threat. The threat might not be direct.

In the case of Amulya Kumar Behera vs. Nabhagna Behera alias Nabina,[1] the court interpreted the meaning of the term “alarm”. The court observed that mere expression of the word without an intention to cause fear will not fulfill the essentials. The Court also observed that this provision is relatively new, and originally terms like ‘terror’ or ‘distress’ had been proposed instead of ‘alarm.’

Under Section 506 of IPC, 1860 whoever commits criminal intimidation is liable to be punished with imprisonment up to two years or fine or both. It is a non- cognizable, bailable, and compoundable offence. However, if someone threatens to cause death, harm to the property by fire, commit any heinous offence, or attribute unchastity to women is prescribed simple or rigorous imprisonment up to seven years or fine or both. This offence is non- cognizable, bailable, and non-compoundable offence.

Section 507 of IPC, 1860 is an intensified form of intimidation. This section covers cases wherein the abuser commits the offence anonymously. It has been specified in this section that whoever indulges in the act of criminal intimidation by anonymous communication or takes precautions to conceal his identity or abode, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend up to two years.

Section 508 of IPC, 1860 contemplates the voluntary causing of any person to do a thing which he is not legally bound to do or omit to do something which he is legally bound to do by inducing a person to believe that he will become an object of divine displeasure if he doesn’t do the way dictated. Example: Forwarded messages on WhatsApp to share a particular message to 30 people otherwise divine entity will cause bad luck. The punishment prescribed is imprisonment for up to 1 year or fine or both.

Intentional Insult

Section 504 of IPC, 1860 defines it as an act to provoke another person to know that it is likely to harm public peace or commit any other offence. It includes using obscene words. “Insult” refers ‘to treat with offensive disrespect, to offer an indignity to’. This can be inferred either from words or tone of communicating. Mere breach of good etiquettes does not amount to Intentional Insult.[2] The question of whether insult was intentional or not is a question of fact and not of law which is clarified by the test of provocation breaching public trust. It is not essential that there must be actual breach but the threat of breach must be immediately after provocation or soon thereafter, that it must form res gestae of the offence. In dealing with offence under this section, the court has not to consider the reaction of the person insulted to the insult made to him as in ordinary circumstances it would lead to hindering public peace.

Essentials: Intentional Insult + Provoke + Knowledge that provocation will hinder public peace

Public Mischief

Public Mischief has been defined under Section 505 of IPC, 1860 as an act by the accused to either publish or record or report any statement with an intent to cause disregard or mutiny to any officer either from Armed forces or Navy or Air forces, or a false statement against with intent to create hatred between communities, or to incite particular community. It is synonymous with terms like ‘criminal mischief’, ‘malicious mischief’ and ‘vandalism’. This section is akin to offence of sedition however, sedition differs as it is against the State. The punishment for offence against officers by disturbing public peace or offence against State is up to 3 years or fine or both. However, for offence against inciting a particular community like at worship places the imprisonment is for 5 years or fine or both.

Essentials: Statement/ Rumour Published + Intention to disregard a person in Forces or fear among public or incite any particular community

The constitutional validity of the section as violative of Freedom of Speech and expression was questioned in the case of Kedar Nath vs. State of Bihar[3] where the court observed that each essential of the Section has a direct effect on the security of the State and public order. Furthermore, any report inciting any particular community should be judged from a standard of reasonable strong-minded man and not those of vacillating minds.[4]

Insult to Modesty of a Women

Words or gestures intended to insult the modesty of any woman or woman falls under Section 509 of IPC, 1860. Women are one of the most vulnerable sections of society being victimized to indecent and unwelcomed behavior. It was explained in the case of Tarak Das Gupta vs. State,[5] where the accused sent a letter containing indecent advances and posted it to the unmarried nurse with whom he wasn’t acquainted. The accused was held by the court for insulting women’s modesty even though the letter was enclosed in an envelope. Insult to modesty is different from outraging the modesty as the latter requires criminal force or assault as an essential element stated under Section 354 of IPC, 1860. It is a cognizable offence with a punishment of imprisonment up to three years or fine or both. It is a compoundable offence depending on women whose privacy was intruded on.

Essentials: Word/Gesture + Intention to be heard or seen

Misconduct in Public by a Drunken Person

Drunkenness is a result of consuming intoxicating liquors to an extent of losing rational behavior by altering normal conditions. Section 510 of IPC, 1860 covers the acts of an intoxicated person doing unusual activities and annoying the general public. This is a non-cognizable and non- compoundable offence with imprisonment of up to 24 hours or a fine extending up to ten rupees or both.

Essentials: Intoxicated Person + Misconduct causing Annoyance + Act in Public Place

In the case of Sultan Singh vs. The State of Haryana[6], while the prosecution failed to prove the misconduct of the party the petitioner was given the benefit of doubt and acquitted of the charge.


The society accepts free speech and expression and also puts limits on the rights in social interest. With the advancement in technology, the natures of crime have mounted. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 is an archaic law and some of the provisions do not cater to contemporary needs. It requires legislative reforms keeping in mind the imminent crimes.

[1](2000) Cr. Lj 4772 (Del) [2] Abraham vs. State of Kerala, AIR 1960 Ker 236 [3]AIR 1962 SC 955 [4] Manzar Sayeed Khan vs. State of Maharashtra, (2007) 5 SCC 1 [5] AIR 1926 Bom 159 [6]Criminal appeal no. 1366 of 2010 References