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INDIAN LEGAL SYSTEM & VULGAR DISPLAY OF WOMEN

introduction

Those societies that treat their women well are more prosperous and successful than those that neglect or treat them unfairly. There are so many things in the world, but all women want two things, i.e., Respect and Dignity. But nowadays, we see incidents where women’s modesty and dignity are violated. Violence against women takes many forms, including rape, sexual abuse, marital torture, and sex slavery. Among these, the number of depicting women in a vulgar manner is rising at an alarming rate. This issue is not only seen in developing or third-world countries but also in developed countries. Presenting women as a product in advertisements, TV shows, or films is growing in number as the industry grows. We can hardly find an advertisement on TV where a woman is not presented as an object of sensuality. Although to some, representing women in this manner might not be concerning, it is directly a gesture of demining a woman’s dignity and respect. 

Many laws and regulations are in place to protect women from this type of activity. But very few know about them and how the law has defined “obscenity.” And for this ignorance, women are represented in a very humiliating way. 

WHAT IS OBSCENITY?

Obscenity is a term that comes from the Latin word ‘obscēnus,’ which means disgusting, filthy, offensive, repulsive, lewd & indecent. U/s 292 of the India Penal Code[1], the word obscenity refers to anything lascivious, appeals to the pruri­ent interest, or tends to deprave and corrupt a person. Sec. 294[2] further states that obscenity is any act in any public place that annoys others. Both of them are penalized with imprisonment and a fine. But no Indian law has appropriately defined the definition of obscenity. Nevertheless, several landmark cases in the Indian judicial system have helped define “obscenity” as it stands today. 

INDIAN JUDICIARY ON OBSCENITY

Despite the lack of definition of obscenity in acts, our courts have defined and put some key points regarding obscenity. Justice Somasundaram in Public Prosecutor v A.D. Sabapathy and Anr[3] pointed out that an obscene act is repulsive, filthy, loathsome, indecent, and lewd, according to the dictionary. 

In Ranjit D. Udeshi vs. the State of Maharashtra[4] , the SC established an obscenity test (the Hicklin Test). The seven-judge bench held that: “We need not attempt to bowdlerize all literature and thus rob speech and expression of freedom. A balance should be maintained between freedom of speech and expression and public decency and morality, but when the latter is substantially transgressed, the former must give way.” The court gave its verdict based on the case Regina v Hicklin[5], which permitted conviction of publications if they had a mere proneness to lewd thoughts or vulgarity.

Five years later, the Supreme Court ruled in Chandrakant Kalyandas Kakodar v The State of Maharashtra[6] that “depending on the moral standards of current society, the idea of obscenity would differ from country to country. What is considered a piece of literature in France may be obscene in England.” 

In Ajay Goswami v. Union of India[7], the Supreme Court changed its view from the Hicklin Test. It developed a liberalized perspective on reader apprehension and its impact on readers’ thoughts. The court ruled that, except in extreme cases where doing so would jeopardize the community’s interests, the commitment to free expression requires that it not be limited.

So, obscenity has been defined and analyzed in many cases. And none of them supports the portrayal of women as seductive objects and a marketing stunt to grow sales or attract customers. Some laws protect women from vulgar displays and uphold their dignity in our country.

LAWS PROTECTING THE OBSCENE TREATMENT OF WOMEN IN INDIA

Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution[8] puts reasonable constraints when it is a matter of interest of decency or morality of the society. The term “decency” refers to words and expressions intended to be pleasant and not disturb the morality of a society at large or the mental peace of a reasonable person. In India, several laws protect women against obscene displays of women.

THE INDECENT REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN (PROHIBITION) ACT, 1986

This statute safeguards women from individuals, companies, or groups committing vulgar acts toward them. ‘Indecent representation of women’ is defined in Section 2 (c) of the act[9] as any depiction of a woman’s figure, form, or body, or any portion of it, that has the effect of being indecent, derogatory towards women, or denigrating women, or that is likely to deprave, corrupt, or otherwise harm the public morality or morals. Furthermore, any type of publication or display of women in an offensive manner is prohibited by Sections 3 and 4[10].

Punishments for the offences under this act are mentioned in section 6[11]. Any violation of the provisions of this act is cognizable, allowing the police to detain the accused and conduct an investigation as soon as they receive a complaint.

THE CABLE TELEVISION NETWORKS (REGULATION) ACT, 1995

This act is read with the Cable Television Networks Rules of 1994[12]. The Cable Television Networks Act regulates the portrayal of men and women on cable TV or satellite networks. Rule 7 (2) [13]  states that a commercial that “violates the constitutional rights of all people in its depiction of women” is not allowed. Which strictly prohibits any advertisement that projects women in any form of a derogatory image. 

THE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ACT, 2000

The IT Act was enacted in order to give legal recognition to cybercrime and digital evidence. Section 67[14] of the IT act covers any form of cyber pornography that puts women and children in an obscene state. It provides punishment for publishing or transmitting such material digitally in any form. The penalties for violating Section 67 include a minimum of five years in prison and a fine of one lakh rupees, or ten years in prison and ten lakh rupees in fines.

CONVENTION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN

CEDAW is the universal treaty protecting women from all forms of discrimination. The treaty was signed on July 30, 1980, and ratified on July 9, 1993, by India. Along with providing protection for women, this convention also imposes obligations on governments. The most important provision, article 5, tackles gender stereotypes and calls for eradicating bias in all customs and practices.

Moreover, the convention requires all the countries “to ensure…the recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children. Ensure…the recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children.” [15]

CONCLUSION

There are laws and provisions to protect women from being vulgarly displayed in media, TV, or publications. The government has also set up the Human Rights Commission to combat derogatory portrayal of women and children in any form. Some NGOs are working with the authority to reduce the objectification of women. But the urgent requirement is to alter the mindset of people. Without changing the view of people, no law can prohibit this kind of demeaning activity. If we continue encouraging the film or media industry to showcase women seductively, they will continue to do so. So, we must stop treating our women as objects and give them proper respect.

Women have a right to live with dignity and respect that is given to them by our constitution. As determined in the Maneka Gandhi[16] case, the right to life, protected by Article 21 of the Constitution[17], also includes the right to live in dignity. Therefore, no government, business, or individual has the right to take it away from women in any way.

Author(s) Name: Fardeen Bin Abdullah (University of Rajshahi, Rajshahi, Bangladesh)

References:

[1] The Indian Penal Code 1860, s. 292

[2] The Indian Penal Code 1860, s. 294

[3] 1958 CriLJ 647

[4] 1965 SCR (1) 65

[5] 1868 LR 2 QB

[6] AIR 1970 SC 1390

[7] (2007) 1 SCC 143

[8] The Constitution of India, art. 19(2)

[9] The Indecent Representation of Women (prohibition) Act 1986, s. 2(c)

[10] The Indecent Representation of Women (prohibition) Act 1986, s. 3-4

[11] The Indecent Representation of Women (prohibition) Act 1986, s. 6

[12] The Cable Television Networks Rules 1994

[13] The Cable Television Networks (regulation) Act 1995, rule. 7(2)

[14] The Information Technology Act 2000, s. 67

[15] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, December 18, 1979, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1249, p. 13, https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw.htm 

[16] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597

[17] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 21