Section 503 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!

The section contemplates that the offender must threaten another with any injury to his person, reputation or property, or to the person or reputation, and not to property, of any one in whom that person is interested. The intention of the offender must be to cause alarm to the person threatened, or to cause the person threatened either to do any act which he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do any act which he is legally entitled to do, as the means of avoiding the execution of such threat.

The explanation that a threat to injure the reputation of any deceased person in whom the person threatened is interested within this section, is similar to the provisions in the first explanation of section 499 dealing with defamation. The threat under this section is not dependent on the nerves of the victim because the section nowhere says so.

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It may not necessarily be direct; it is sufficient if it reaches the victim through third parties. A mere advice to another not to deal with a person cannot constitute threatening because the threatening must be with any injury to the person, reputation or property of another or the person or reputation of anyone in whom the victim is interested.

The word ‘injury’ has the same meaning as given under section 44 of the Code, and therefore, threatening with divine displeasure or spiritual hardship and the like, cannot form the basis of any guilt for criminal intimidation. The language of the section unambiguously says that if the offender threatens not the victim but anyone in whom the victim is interested then the threat must be to the person or reputation of such person and threat to property has been deliberately omitted from this part of the section.

Threat of excommunication from the caste, or of social boycott does not attract section 503 because there is no threat of injury to one’s person, reputation or property. Similarly, threat of picketing in those days when it was not prohibited by law would not be criminal intimidation on similar grounds.

The capacity of the accused may sometimes have relevance in a case dealing with this offence. Where the accused, a sick man of seventy-four years of age, while talking with four or five persons including the complainant, got infuriated and threatened the complainant, he was held not guilty of criminal intimidation. Threat to ruin another by false cases does not amount to criminal intimidation.

Where a charge-sheeted employee on meeting the chairman of the company was told that his days were numbered this section was held to be inapplicable because he may have intended that the services of the complainant were not expected to last after some time. Where the offender, while threatening, used abusive language and threatened to pull the woman complainant by hair and kicked her on the waist, it was held that the accused was guilty of committing criminal intimidation.

Where the lady teacher complainant was threatened by the head master of the school that if she did not sign certain blank papers, he would spoil her modesty, he was held guilty of this offence. Where indecent photographs of a girl were taken and her father was threatened to pay hush money failing which the photographs would be published, it was held that the offence committed was criminal intimidation and not attempted extortion.