Milind Soman was booked on the 6th of November in Goa after Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM) lodged an FIR against him under IPC Section 294 (Obscene acts and songs) and 67 (Punishment for publishing/transmitting obscene material in electronic form) of IT Act (Information Technology Act).
Why Did He Get Booked
It brings us to the most obvious question, that is, what was he doing that led to a police complaint? Well, he had shared a picture of him running naked on the beach on the occasion of his 55th birthday. This was framed as an offence for allegedly ‘promoting obscenity in a public place’ and hence the charges.
How Up-To-Date Are Our Obscenity Laws
Section 292 of the IPC states that a book or object ‘must be lascivious or prurient or tend to deprave or corrupt someone’ to be considered obscene. Although at the same time, it fails to provide a clear explanation of the terms like ‘lascivious’, ‘prurient’, ‘deprave’ or ‘corrupt’.
To get rid of this confusion, the courts have resorted to tests to assess the severity of the situation. The one that is used nowadays is known as the contemporary community standard test.
It uses the evolving social standards to evaluate the situation, meaning what may be considered obscene a decade ago would be redundant by now.
Is Nudity And Obscenity One And The Same Thing?
Nudity, or the state of being naked, is not enough to constitute obscenity. It has been established over the years by various High Court and Supreme Court judgements.
Nudity in art and painting has long been denied consideration as a part of obscenity. It also has to abide by the right to expression guaranteed to us. Justice Kaul of Delhi High Court had made a landmark judgment concerning several petitions filed against the famous painter M.F. Husain.
The petitioners had argued that the-then 92 years old artist was using nudity to invoke obscenity in the paintings of Hindu goddesses. Sanjay Kishan Kaul dismissed these disputations stating that Husain as an artist ‘actually celebrates nudity and considers it as the purest form of expression’.
Moreover, a nude object or naked person cannot be deemed obscene until and unless it holds for more than one section of the population. The court granted bail on these grounds to Poonam Pandey on the 6th of November for getting convicted on similar grounds as Milind Soman.
Also, the intent of the object, person, book, or song/movie has to be taken into consideration before associating them with any offence.
For example, the High Court of West Bengal in 2014 explicitly stated that a monochrome photograph taken by a man of his unclad daughter and son-in-law cannot be categorized as obscene as the act was performed to serve an anti-apartheid message.
Looking Beyond The Legal Lens
The Constitution confers to us the freedom of speech and expression, although it is not absolute in any sense. But it still raises a lot of questions.
Why is it okay for a man to not cover his upper body, and why is it nudity for a woman to roam around topless. For all that, none of them are indulging in public nudity, in this case, the latter sure does raise a lot of eyebrows.
Moreover, the Indian practices, art, and architecture express otherwise the idea of Indian culture as ‘decent, moral, or pious’. In fact, the theory of obscenity was the brainchild of colonialism. And it is their overwhelming and oppressive legacy that we tend to continue and claim as our own.
From Digambara Jaina monks to 18th and 19th-century women in Kerala, nudity had never appalled Indians and had nothing to do with obscenity until the advent of the Europeans.
Nevertheless, we do need to respect the changes that the present-day demands, but at the same time, it cannot be an excuse to synonymize nudity and obscenity.
Image Credits: Google Images
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The post is tagged under: Milind Soman, obscenity, nudity, public nudity, obscenity law, poonam pandey, contemporary community standard test, naked, beach, Goa, colonialism, art, intent, narrow mindset, Indian practices, high court, supreme court, right to expression, freedom, Jaina monks, Kerala women