Staying the ban on dance bars in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court has asked the licensing authority to regulate “indecent” dance performances. Legal experts in Mumbai say that law for police to regulate such behavior exists in the Indian Penal Code as well as the Bombay Police Act, but there is a question mark over the definition of “indecency”.
“For me it may not look obscene, but for somebody it may,” says senior criminal lawyer Ashok Mundargi. “It is not like a censor certificate which provides for censoring a particular clip. For a live performance, I doubt how they are going to regulate.”
Mundargi says rules will have to framed concerned with “public entertainment” and “public amusement” under the Bombay Police Act. “For regulating the provision, fresh rules will have to be framed,” he says. However, Mundargi says full discretion seems to have been given to the police.
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Some of the provisions of the law, such as section 509 of the IPC (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman), will apply, Mundargi says.
Amit Desai, senior lawyer who practices in the High Court and the Supreme Court, says it is important to ensure that the various statutes that protect the dignity of women are duly monitored by the licensing authority. “There are parameters which are laid down in law. There is Indecent Representation of Women’s Act, there are SC judgments which have dealt with obscenity, indecent behavior. It cannot be an ad-hoc approach of individuals, it has to be under the parameters of law.”
The senior lawyer points out that everywhere in the world when governments give licences for activities in bars or restaurants, the condition is that those activities shall be carried out in accordance with the law.
“But that does not mean there is a police officer sitting in business offices to see if activities are in accordance with law. It works on information they receive or on surprise checks. Some times, there are complaints or even whistleblowers. There are various methods by which the licensing authority may take action,” he says.
Senior lawyer Shirish Gupte says, “There is a difference between vulgarity and obscenity. Vulgarity need not be prosecuted, but obscenity, yes. There was a show, some time ago, where many artistes had performed—the AIB show. This issue is still pending in the court.”
According to the senior lawyer, the SC has correctly asked for a regulatory authority as the performances will be in a public place. “The law on indecency is clear,” he says, pointing out Section 294 of the IPC (obscene acts or words in public) and Section 110 of the Bombay Police Act (indecent behavior).
However, the commissioner of police or the police officer in a division will possibly have the last say in the matter. “It will be subject to challenge because it depends on the authority. I feel there should be a committee that decides this issue,” Gupte says.