Recently, Ranveer Singh posed nude for a magazine. His pictures went understandably viral and sparked debates, and memes and some were even questioning his modesty. On July 26, an FIR was filed against Ranveer Singh based on a complaint made by a Mumbai-based NGO. According to the NGO, he outraged the modesty of women in the country.
Ranveer Singh is not the first Indian celebrity to pose nude for a magazine. Other actors and actresses have done so. But why was Ranveer Singh targeted with an FIR? While there is no definitive answer, let us look at the legality of nudism, the charges against Ranveer Singh and why it is not justified.
Ranveer Singh and the Indian Obscenity Laws
Historically, India has been a sex-positive country and had a healthy attitude towards nudism, the Indian laws are based on archaic Victorian-era values. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) does not define obscenity or the acts of obscene in public places.
Ranveer Sing has been charged under the sections of IPC 292, 293 and Section 67 of the IT Act. IPC 292 prohibits the sale, exhibition and circulation of “obscene” material. However, it does not extend to any book, pamphlet, paper, writing, or drawing among others.
According to IPC 293, it is not allowed to sell, distribute, exhibit or circulate any ‘obscene object’ to a person below the age of 20. Section 67 punishes any person for transmitting obscene material that is lascivious (feeling or revealing an overt sexual interest or desire) in nature.
Before 2014, the Supreme Court used the Hicklin Test to decide on obscenity. The Hicklin Test was derived from the English case, Regina vs Hicklin in 1868. The Hicklin Test required one to examine a specific piece of content in isolation and determine whether it had any elements that, if viewed by anyone, may “deprave” and “corrupt” them. The subject for this test was not a reasonable adult but rather children or old people.
The test was not sensible to follow, as was seen in the Supreme Court’s 1969 Ranjit Udeshi judgement. The SC upheld the ban on DH Lawrence’s book, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The Hicklin Test was used for a series of unwarranted cases against various artists such as MF Hussian and Shilpa Shetty. The Hicklin Test was dropped by the Supreme Court in 2014 (in the Aveek Sarkar case) and adopted the ‘community standards’ test that was laid down by the US Supreme Court in Roth vs the United States of 1957.
In the Aveek Sarkar case, international famed and former tennis star Boris Becker posed nude with his fiancee, Babara Fultus (belonging to a different ethnicity), to fight against racism. While it was meant for international magazines, it found its way into an Indian magazine. It was seen as a threat to Indian culture and social values.
The SC allowed the photos to be published as Fultus’ breasts were covered by Becker’s arms. Moreover, the court stated that the photo could not ‘deprave’ minds and would not sexually ‘excite’ anyone. The court further stated context was important when it came to deciding the obscenity of a picture.
The Supreme Court’s decision to use the community standards test is by no means ideal. It failed to consider not only the additional criteria laid out in the US Supreme Court’s ruling in the Roth v. United States case (the material must be “patently offensive” and devoid of redeeming qualities), but also the US Supreme Court’s subsequent rulings in 1966 and 1973, which further loosened the standard.
Ranveer Singh’s photoshoot could be difficult to prove as ‘obscene’ as per the Supreme Court’s standards. His photoshoots did not have full-frontal nudity and several women in the industry have posed similarly.
None of Ranveer Singh’s nude photos shows any sexual aggression, suggestive poses or hints of pornography. These instances show that there is no violation of IPC 292.
Why is this a farce case.
Ranveer Singh’s nude photoshoot cannot be considered to be an insult to the modesty of a woman. While flashing to a woman would be considered an insult to a woman’s modesty, Ranveer Singh did not make any sexually suggestive gestures, is not wearing any clothing or tattoos that insult women, nor did he make any comments or remarks to pictures that say anything at all about women.
The nation currently is facing other problems that require bigger attention. Filing FIRs on such frivolous shoots would never solve the problem of women’s safety nor it will hold any corrupt politician accountable. Moreover, such celebrities have the money to hire the best lawyers to get the cases squashed against them.
If the case against Ranveer Singh reaches the Bombay High Court or the Supreme Court, it would be a good opportunity for the court to widen the scope of the community standard test. The court(s) could even adopt a more progressive test to decide on obscenity. In the end, these farce cases have to stop getting the attention that they are getting right now.
References: The Quint.