Section 292, 293 and 294 of the Indian Penal Code criminalize publishing obscene
books, singing obscene songs, and doing obscene acts in or near a public place.
However, these provisions were found not sufficient to deal with indecent
portraiture of women primarily focused on nudity and sexually offensive
There was/is a growing indecent representation of women or references
to women, which has the effect to malign women but is also derogative of women.
While there may be no specific intention, these advertisements, publications,
etc. have a depraving or corrupting effect. A different legislation was,
therefore, necessary to prevent the indeterminate representation of women
effectively by means of advertisements, books, pamphlets etc.
This Act punishes the indecent representation of Women, which means the
depiction in any manner of the figure of a woman; her form or body or any part
thereof in such way as to have the effect of being indecent, or derogatory to,
or denigrating women, or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public
morality or morals. It states that no person shall publish or cause to publish
or cause to be published or arrange to take part in the publication or
exhibition of any advertisement which contains indecent representation of women
in any form.
Article 21 and Indecent Representation of Women:
Article 21 of Constitution of India states “No person shall be deprived of his
life or of personal liberty except according to procedure as established by
law”. It means every human being has right to live and live with dignity, and
not have existence similar to that of animals.
In Maneka Gandhi V Union of India
(1) , it was held that right to life is not
merely confined to physical existence but also includes within its ambit the
right to live with human dignity.
In Francis Coralie V Union of Territory of Delhi
(2) it was held that means
something more than just physical survival and is not confined to protection of
any faculty or limb through which life is enjoyed or the soul communicates with
the outside world, but includes ‘ the right to live with human dignity. Women
are human beings. So every right pertaining to human beings is not alien to
women. Women have right to live a dignified life.
In Chandra Raja Kumari V, Police Commissioner, Hyd,
(3) it had been held that
right to live includes right to live with human dignity or decency and therefore
holding of beauty contests is repugnant to dignity or decency of women and
offends Art 21 of the Constitution.Ř Objectives Of Indecent Representation Of
Women (Prohibition), 1986
The main objective of the Act is to:
A. Salient Features Of The Act:
- Prohibit indecent representation of women through advertisements or in
publications, writings, paintings, figures or in any other manner and for
matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.(4)
The broad key features of the Act can be summarised as under:
B. Amendment Proposed In The Act:
- This act is known Indecent Representation Of Women (Prohibition) Act
1986. The jurisdiction of this act extends to the whole of India including
Jammu and Kashmir. This act came into force on October 2, 1987 by the
appointment of the Central Government by the notification in the Official
- Section 2:
This section of the act deals with the definition of the act, thereby giving
meaning to the words which are used in this act. Some of the definitions are
It includes any form of notice, circular, label, wrapper, or otherdocument and
any visual representation by means of any light, sound, smoke or gas
It includes distribution by way of samples, whether free or paid.
- Indecent Representation Of Women:
It has been defined as depiction of a women’s form, body, or any part in such a
manner which has the effect of being Indecent and derogatory towards women or
denigrating them, and is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public
morality or order.
Means any written, marked, stamped, printed or graphic matter, affixed to or
appearing upon the package.
Includes a box, carton, tin or any other container.
Means prescribed by rules made under this act.
- Section 3:
This section of the act particularly deals with prohibition of advertisement
showcasing Indecency of a woman. It states that no person has a right to publish
or intend to publish in future or make arrangements to take part in the
publication or exhibition of any advertisement which may tend to lower down the
reputation and dignity of women in the society or which is indecent according to
the social standards.
- Section 4
This section of the act directly deals with restricting the production,
distribution, hiring, selling, circulation of any books, pamphlets, paper,
slide, films, writing, drawing, painting, photograph or figures which contain
material that represent or tend to represent women Indecently or in an obscene
However there are certain exceptions to this:
- This section does not apply to the publication of such items which are
approved and justified for public interest and good. For example, If any
such books, drawings or pictures are used for the purpose of learning such
as science, literature or other objects of general concern, it can be
published and distributed
- If such publication is kept or used with a bona fide intention for
religious purposes, such publication of books and drawings can not amount to
restriction under this section. For example- Pictures of Shiva’s Linga and Yoni will not
amount to Indecent Representation.
- Any sculptures, paintings, engravings on Ancient monuments which comes
within the meaning of Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains
Act 1958 does not amount to Indecent Representation.
- Any temple, or any car which has any publications, drawings, printing
and are used for the conveyance of Idols or kept or used for any religious
purposes does not comes under the ambit of this section.
- Similarly, production of any films in respect of which the provisions of
Part II of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, have been applied does not amount to
Indecent Representation Of Women.
- Section 5:
This section of the act grants the following powers to any Gazetted officer,
authorised by the State Government for an area under his jurisdiction:
- With any assistance if required, he may enter and search any place at
any reasonable time, if he has the reason to believe that an offence under
this act has been committed or is being committed.
- Seize any advertisement or any books, pamphlets, papers, slide films,
writings, drawings, paintings and photographs which he believes to be
Indecent and contravenes the provisions of the act.
- Examine any record, register, document or any other material object
found in any place and seize the same if he has reasons to believe that it
may furnish evidence that an offence has been committed under this act.
- However, there are exceptions to this rule that:
- Any officer can not enter into a private dwelling without a legal
- Power of seizure of documents is restricted to only those documents
which are depicting Indecency and that are against the provisions of this
act. Therefore only such articles, documents or advertisements need to be
separated from the rest, without affecting the integrity, utility or
saleable value thereof.
- The provisions of the Code Of Criminal Procedure 1973, shall also be
applied to any search or seizure of documents under this act because Section
94 of this act has laid guidelines or rules for conducting such seizures and
searches with a warrant.
- Lastly, any officer who seizes anything under this act shall as soon as
possible have to inform the nearest magistrate and take his orders as to the
- Section 6:
This section of the act gives various legal penalties or punishments to any
person who has breached the provisions of section 3 and section 4 shall be
punishable as following:
- On first conviction he shall be imprisoned for a term which may extend
to 2 years and with a fine which may extend to 2000 rupees.
- On second conviction he shall be imprisoned for a term of not less that
6 months which may extend to 5 years and also with a fine of not less than
10,000 which may extend to 1 lakh rupees.
- Section 7:
This section of the act deals with any offence which has been committed by a
company, stating that every person who was in charge, at the time when the
offence was committed shall be deemed to be guilty and liable and thus, punished
However, there are certain exceptions which are as follows:
- Any such person liable for punishment proves that the offence was
committed without his knowledge or that he had exercised all due diligence
to prevent the offence from being committed.
- Under this section if it is proved that an offence which was committed
by a company, was committed with the consent or connivance of any director,
secretary, manager or any other officer of the company. then they shall be
- Section 8:
This section of the act states that not taking into consideration anything
contained in the Code Of Criminal Procedure 1973, an offence under this act
shall be bailable and cognizable.
- Section 9:
This section of the act justifies the actions or acts of the central government,
state government or any gazetted officer under them which are done in good
faith, and exempts them from legal suit, prosecution and other legal
- Section 10:
This section of the act has granted powers to the central government, by
notification in the Official Gazette to make rules to carry out the provisions
of this act. Some of the provisions are as follows:
- The Central Government without any prejudice can make rules in regards
to seizure of articles, documents or advertisement, making a list of the
seized documents, articles and from whose custody such advertisement and
articles have been seized.
- Central government can make rules in other matters as required, or for
the ones prescribed in the above provision.
B. Judicial Pronouncements Showing The Effectveness Of The Act:
- The definition of Advertisement includes any note, publication, sticker,
packaging or other documents in the Act and also includes any visible
representation made through any light, sound, smoke or gas.
- The National Commission for Women introduced the amendment, which seeks
to amend the above definition of Advertisement with the intention to include
any sign, circle, sticker, poster, wrapper or other documents as well as any
visible representation rendered by any laser light, sound, smoke, gas, fibre, electronic
optic or other media. It states that no individual shall produce, sell, employ,
distribute, circulate or mail any book, pamphlet, document, slide, video,
writing, drawing, painting, image, depiction or figure containing any indecent
representation of women.
- The Commission has also recommended that the term Degrading be added
- In order to reform the existing structure, the Indecent Representation
of Women (Prohibition) Bill 2012 seeks to emphasize the inclusion of women
in the audiovisual and electronic communications media and to address the
issue of female objectification. In addition to ensuring a media coverage in
all its aspects of the regulatory structure implemented in law the law also
lays down a stringent compliance mechanism to behave in a dissuasive way in
which any indecent behaviour which contradicts law is prohibited.
- The main Features of the amendment bill are:
- amends the definitions of “advertisement” and “distribution” and defines
“electronic form”, “material” and “publish
- prohibits the publication or distribution of any material, by any means,
which contains indecent representation of women in any form;
- increases the maximum imprisonment for first offence.
- increases the minimum imprisonment for second or subsequent offence;
- authorises police officer not below the rank of Inspector to make
investigation of offences under the Act.
- Ajay Goswami V. Union of India (5)
It is a relevant case which drew provisions from the Indian Penal Code, Indecent
Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act etc to challenge the obscene content
The petitioner filed a Writ Petition requesting the court to pass an order that
no sexually exploitative contention should be published in the news paper as the
same is harmful for children. He further contended that right to freedom of
press should not be allowed to violate the right to educate and protect
children. He was of the opinion that such materials in the papers would harm the
mental well being o the child and fill the mind of the child with harmful
Article 21 of the constitution provides the right to education and the same
shall be exercised without any improper practices in association. Such articles
are acting as barrier to the proper education of the children.
He prayed that the news paper agencies should be given detailed guidelines as to
what they can publish and what not. Also, they should make sure their content is
proper and which content is not suitable for the children or the supervision of
the teacher of parent is required. Newspapers carrying such information shall be
packed separately and have a declaration on the first page announcing the same
as this will allow the parents to decide whether or not to buy the paper or
allow their children to read it.(6)
In accordance to Press Council Act, 1978 and Section 292 of the IPC the news
paper agencies are already prohibited from printing obscene materials. Further,
it held that there was insufficient evidence produced for curtailing the freedom
of speech and expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution.
Replying to the question of putting a blanket ban on the same, the court replied
that in such a scenario, the news paper shall only consist of things which would
cater to the children and not adults. Regulations to control are already in
place and thus the petition was dismissed.1. Chandra Raja Kumari Vs Police
Commissioner, Hyderabad (7)
The following questions came up for consideration before the Hon’ble Andhra
Pradesh High Court:
- Beauty contests are unconstitutional as it offends Article 51 A(e),
Article 21 and Article 14 of the Constitution of India in asmuch as
repugnant to International Conventions and Covenants and the resolutions of
the United Nations and Conferences on Women.
- They are opposed to the decency, public morality and dignity of women in
general and women of Indian society in particular and repugnant to Indian
culture, traditions, and the social values.
- The beauty contests are intended to exploit women for commercialisation
by capitalists and the business world for enriching themselves at the cost
of indecent representation of women in all forms and by all methods as they
are transformed into marketable commodity.
- They are also intended to divert the youth and the spirit of the youth
in the country from their real problems of socio and economic survival and
development by developed countries as against the developing countries like India(a) They are injurious to the body, the mind and the social existence of
the entire womanhood and the society at large.
- The beauty contests are discriminatory in choosing women only by vested
interests in the society for personal gain and exploitation
- The beauty contests are the means to achieve the lecherous and lustful
desire of the erratic and sexual maniacs.
- The beauty contests in any form amounts to indecent representation of
women within the meaning of Section 2(c) of the Indecent Representation of
Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 prohibited under Sections of the said Act and
all its materials prohibited under Section 4 of the Act are illegal under
the Act, they being indecent or derogatory or denigrating women or is likely
to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals and as they are
punishable under Section 6 of the said Act rigorously.
- The beauty contests in any form outrages the modesty of a woman and
amounts to an assault punishable under Section 364 of IPC and therefore must be taken to
be prohibited in law.
- The beauty contests being grossly indecent, scurrilous or obscene and
intended to black mail the women community of the society amounts to
objectionable performance within the meaning of Section 2(iv) of the A.P.
Objectionable Performance Prohibition Act, 1996 and are liable to be prohibited
by the Government under Section 3(1) and by the Dist. Collector under Section
4(1) of the said Act and punishable under Sections 6 and 7 of the said Act and
therefore cannot be held without the permission of the concerned authorities and
the police authorities under Rule 6 and 106 and 108 of the Rules relating to
place of public entertainment in the City of Hyderabad 1351 Fasli framed under
Section 21 of the Hyderabad City Police Act, 1348 Fasli and therefore per se
illegal and prohibited in law.
- The beauty contests in all forms called by any name violates the human
rights enshrined in the Constitution of India in various forms which
includes the right of a woman to live happily with dignity and decency.
- Beauty contests of women in any form should be prohibited by an
independent legislation and till then to be prohibited or regulated by
appropriate directions by this Court in its power under Article 226 of the
Constitution of India.
The beauty contest in any form in its true sense of the term can be neither
obscene nor prohibited under any law as long as it is intended for the welfare
of women in all respects and it is intended only as a form of art and
entertainment and in a way a sport to select the winners on comparative merit,
but if it indecently represents any woman by depicting in any manner the figure
of a woman, form, body or any part thereof in such a way so as to have the
effect of being indecent, or derogatory to or denigrating women or is likely to
deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals within the meaning of
Section 2(c) of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, it
is totally prohibited by virtue of Sections 3 and 4 of the said Act and also
punishable under Sections 6 and 7 of the Act both in regard to the offenders and
also the abettors who may directly or indirectly encourage, participate or aid
in the holding of such contests.
It offends Article 14, 21 and 51A of the
Constitution of India and the international covenants accepted by the UNO in
addition to violation of human rights as is understood both under the
Constitution and any law relating to protection of human rights and punishable
as per law in such cases. It also amounts to public immorality and repugnant and
to public opinion offending the dignity of woman and womanhood as a whole and
depraves the woman society in particular so as to exploit either for
commercialisation or for lust. It is also obscene in its true sense of the term
as long as it does not conform to the decencies and the moralities as is
understood in the Indian society.
But with all, it will be a pure question of
fact whether a beauty contest is obscene etc., depending upon the facts and
circumstances of each case which should be watched, prevented, checked,
controlled and punished and if possibly abolished by means of a legislation.
Courts cannot close its eyes as the result of indecency or morality emanating
from beauty contests which are not confined to the womanhood or the woman
society spread to the entire society comprising both men and women who are the
integral part of the Indian culture, traditions and society and the Courts will
interfere wherever such instances are brought to the notice and take action in
accordance with law.
It need not be emphasised that the powers of the Court
under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to deal with such a matter is
absolute and unfettered, however, not to exercise in a routine and casual
- In Aveek Sarkar v. State of West Bengal (8)
The Apex Court had held that a picture of a nude/semi-nude woman, as such,
cannot per se be called obscene unless it has the tendency to arouse feeling or
revealing an overt sexual desire. The picture should be suggestive of depravity
of mind and designed to excite sexual passion in persons who are likely to see
it, which will depend on the particular posture and the background in which the
nude/semi-nude woman is depicted. Only those sex-related materials which have a
tendency of ‘exciting lustful thoughts’ can be held to be obscene, but the
obscenity has to be judged from the point of view of an average person, by
applying contemporary community standards.
It can be said that the advertisements portraying women in a vulgar way, whether
it be in hoardings or other in other media, is tolerated and over looked by the
people. It is the duty of Officers to implement Indecent Representation of Women
(Prohibition )Act,1986 which can be resorted to remove hoardings with women
pictured in a vulgar way. In these circumstances a writ of mandamus can be
By various cases, the Supreme Court has recognized that the advertisements were
in the nature of commercial speech’, thereby liable to be protected under Art
19(1) (a). But it must be remembered that it is not a blanket protection because
of the restrictions which includes inter alia grounds of morality and decency.
It was further held that the models as well as the advertising agencies do have
a right to livelihood and profession, but the so called social workers and
activists and lawyers and media persons should come up to enlighten the society
at large about the legal consequences of indecent acts.
Thus, the implementation of the Act so far, in my opinion, has not been done in
an effective manner in as much as it is difficult to recognise as to what
amounts to indecent representation of women as on one hand comes the question of
Article 19 (1)(a) and on the other hand the obscenity sought to be distributed.
However, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India sought to create a difference by
submitting that Only those sex-related materials which have a tendency of
‘exciting lustful thoughts’ can be held to be obscene.
Written By: M.A. Safee
- AIR 1978 SC 597
- AIR 1981 SC 746
- 1998 ALD(1) 810
- Preamble to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act.
- Writ Petition (civil) 384 of 2005 (Supreme Court of India)
- 1998 ALD(1) 810
- (2014) 4 SCC 257
- LLM-IIND Semester