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Indecent Representation Of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 An Overview

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 contents.

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. Objectives Of Indecent Representation Of Women (Prohibition), 1986

The main objective of the Act is to:
  • 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)

A. Salient Features Of The Act:
The broad key features of the Act can be summarised as under:
  1. 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 Gazette.
  2. 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 as under:
    1. Advertisement:
      It includes any form of notice, circular, label, wrapper, or otherdocument and any visual representation by means of any light, sound, smoke or gas
    2. Distribution:
      It includes distribution by way of samples, whether free or paid.
    3. 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.
    4. Label:
      Means any written, marked, stamped, printed or graphic matter, affixed to or appearing upon the package.
    5. Package:
      Includes a box, carton, tin or any other container.
    6. Prescribed:
      Means prescribed by rules made under this act.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 manner.

    However there are certain exceptions to this:
    1. 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
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
  5. 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:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. However, there are exceptions to this rule that:
      1. Any officer can not enter into a private dwelling without a legal warrant.
      2. 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.
      3. 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.
      4. 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 custody thereof.

  6. 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:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
  7. 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 accordingly.

    However, there are certain exceptions which are as follows:
    1. 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.
    2. 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 published accordingly.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 proceedings.
  10. 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:
    1. 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.
    2. Central government can make rules in other matters as required, or for the ones prescribed in the above provision.

B. Amendment Proposed In The Act:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The Commission has also recommended that the term Degrading be added alongside indecent.
  4. 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.
  5. The main Features of the amendment bill are:
    1. amends the definitions of advertisement and distribution and defines electronic form, material and publish
    2. prohibits the publication or distribution of any material, by any means, which contains indecent representation of women in any form;
    3. increases the maximum imprisonment for first offence.
    4. increases the minimum imprisonment for second or subsequent offence;
    5. authorises police officer not below the rank of Inspector to make investigation of offences under the Act.

B. Judicial Pronouncements Showing The Effectveness Of The Act:
  1. 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 in newspapers.

    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 thoughts.

    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:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. The beauty contests are discriminatory in choosing women only by vested interests in the society for personal gain and exploitation
    6. The beauty contests are the means to achieve the lecherous and lustful desire of the erratic and sexual maniacs.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. 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.

      The 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 manner.
  2. 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 resorted to.

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.

  1. AIR 1978 SC 597
  2. AIR 1981 SC 746
  3. 1998 ALD(1) 810
  4. Preamble to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act.
  5. Writ Petition (civil) 384 of 2005 (Supreme Court of India)
  7. 1998 ALD(1) 810
  8. (2014) 4 SCC 257

Written By: M.A. Safee
- LLM-IIND Semester

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