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Explained: Police to visit Ranveer Singh’s home, what obscenity laws did he break?

Mumbai Police officers were scheduled to visit the home of actor Ranveer Singh on Tuesday to serve summons on him to appear before them in connection with the FIR registered against him for alleged obscenity. What is the case about, and what sections of the law has he allegedly broken?

Ranveer Singh posed nude for New York-based Paper magazine. (Instagram/@ranveersingh)

Mumbai Police officers were scheduled to visit the home of actor Ranveer Singh on Tuesday (August 16) to serve summons on him to appear before them in connection with the FIR registered against him for alleged obscenity.

Police registered the FIR last month following complaints that he posted his nude pictures on his social media handles. The pictures were apparently from a nude photoshoot that Ranveer did for the New York-based Paper magazine.

What led to the FIR against Ranveer Singh?

A lawyer and an individual running an NGO had separately approached the police. Chembur police registered the FIR based on the statement of Lalit Tekchandani, 50, who has told the police that he is a contractor and runs the Shyam Mangaram Foundation, which works with widows and children of farmers who have died by suicide.

Tekchandani has said that when he zoomed in on one of Ranveer Singh’s photographs, he realised that the actor’s private parts were visible. According to the complainant, upon inquiring, he found that Ranveer had done the photoshoot for Paper magazine, and would have earned a lot of money. He added it would also influence youngsters struggling to get into the industry to resort to similar measures to earn money and fame.

Paper magazine did a nude photoshoot of actor Kim Kardashian in November 2014. Ranveer Singh’s photoshoot pays homage to late actor Burt Reynolds’s 1972 nude photoshoot for Cosmopolitan magazine.

What sections have the police invoked?

Police have booked Ranveer Singh under Sections 292, 293 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 67A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Sections 292 and 293 are colonial-era provisions introduced by the Obscene Publications Act of 1925.

Under Section 292 (sale of obscene books etc), a book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, figure or any other object, shall be deemed to be obscene if it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest, or if its effect tends to deprave and corrupt persons likely to read, see or hear the content.

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In 1969, Section 292 was amended with exceptions added to charges of obscenity: material proved as justified as being for the “public good” (in the interest of science etc); or material kept “bona fide for religious purposes”; or sculptures or any ancient monument.

Section 293 deals with sale or distribution of obscene objects to any person under age 20, or an attempt to do so. The maximum punishment for the first conviction is imprisonment for three years and a fine up to Rs 2,000, and for the second conviction seven years with a fine up to Rs 5,000.

Section 509 deals with a word, gesture or act that is intended to insult the modesty of a woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman. The punishment is imprisonment for one year and/or a fine of Rs 1,000.

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Sections 67A of the IT Act deals with material containing a sexually explicit act etc in electronic form. The punishment is five years and Rs 10 lakh (first conviction) or seven years and Rs 10 lakh (second conviction).

How have courts decided what is obscene over the years?

To judge whether any content is obscene or not, courts in India used to rely largely on the ‘Hicklin test’, until 2014. First laid down in England in Regina vs Hickiln (1868), the Hicklin test judges obscenity based on “whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such influences”.

In Ranjit D Udeshi vs State Of Maharashtra (1964), the Supreme Court ruled against discarding the Hicklin test. Udeshi, a bookseller, was appealing against his conviction under Section 292 for selling unabridged copies of D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

In the same judgment, the court held that sex or nudity by itself was not enough to deprave minds and thus to hold something as obscene. It held that the obscene part has to be weighed against the whole work; also, an obscene publication was considered to be justified if it was for public good unless obscenity was so serious as to weigh down the public good. The 1969 amendment added “public good” among various exceptions.

In Aveek Sarkar & Anr vs State Of West Bengal and Anr (2014), the Supreme Court held that the Hicklin test is not the correct test to determine obscenity. The case pertained to a nude photograph of tennis legend Boris Becker with his Black fiancee, Barbaba Feltus, published in the German magazine Stern and reproduced in Sportsworld magazine in India as well as in Anandabazar Patrika. The court ruled that the question of obscenity must be seen in the context and the message it wanted to convey. It ruled: “The message, the photograph wants to convey is that the colour of skin matters little and love champions over colour. Picture promotes love affair, leading to a marriage, between a white-skinned man and a black skinned woman.”

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In which other cases have the police invoked provisions for obscenity?

In November 2020, actor and model Milind Soman was booked for uploading a picture of himself running nude on a beach in Goa. In 1995, Soman along with his then girlfriend Madhu Sapre had posed nude with a python for an advertisement, following which they were booked for obscenity, and subsequently acquitted in 2009.

First published on: 16-08-2022 at 01:25:16 pm
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