What is Obscenity Crime and How Anything is Considered Obscene?

Updated November 10, 2022

Obscenity crime is an act or word that strongly affects the prevailing ethics of the time. Obscenity itself owes its roots in Latin word “obscēnusobscaenus” which means “boding, ill” and “disgusting, indecent”, of uncertain etymology.

A recent case of obscenity has come from Goa, the famous tourist destination. Milind Soman, a fitness model and actor, was booked by Goa police on the 6th of November for practicing obscenity. On his social media handle, he posted a picture of himself, running nude on the beach in goa. This is the 2nd case of obscenity in the same week in Goa. Only recently, Poonam Pandey and her husband were found guilty of promoting obscenity. The Goa police arrested the couple for a controversial photoshoot and video which went viral on social media.

This not a matter of big surprise though it’s not the first case of obscenity crime in India and of Milind soman too. In 1995, His infamous nude advertisement with his then-girlfriend Madhu Sapre and python had stirred legal trouble with the Mumbai police charging them with obscenity.

Is Obscenity Described as a Crime in the law of India?

Obscenity is a criminal offense across a variety of laws. The Indian Penal Code in section 292 and section 294 criminalizes conducting obscene like publishing obscene books singing obscene songs and doing obscene acts in or near a public place. Singing obscene songs and practicing obscene act are criminalized under section 294 and publishing obscene books are similarly criminalized under Section 292. A person convicted under this law can face up to three months of imprisonment.

The law on obscenity has evolved with the advent of the Internet and social media. Under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, anyone who publishes or transmits obscene material in electronic form can be punished.

What is considered obscenity Crime?

The oxford dictionary defines the word obscene as ‘offending against the moral principle and accepted standards of morality and decency. In other words, anything is obscene in the eyes of an individual, if he/she condemns it strongly and finds it extremely offensive and immoral. It is also defined as an indecent activity directed to shock the moral sense of a reasonable prudent man by the disrespect of morality and respectability.

But the question arises ‘is everything an individual finds offensive or disgusting is an obscenity?’. The answer is no because a certain standard has been set to assess obscenity and material should fit the criteria of the test to be considered as obscene.

How anything is determined Obscene?

The court, for their part, has developed tests to determine whether some acts practiced and word said is ‘obscene’.

In 1965, the supreme court adopted the Victorian-Era Hicklin Test for the judgment of Ranjit Udeshi’s case. This test assessed obscenity by the standard set down for. When something is depraving, immoral and someone is like to be corrupted by the material is considered as obscenity but, by the approach of these standards, a wide range of material could be obscene.

So, in 2014 we deviated from it and adopted American Roth Test which sets community standards to determine whether something is obscene. Let’s understand the community standards in simple sentences.

Something which was obscene 20 years back is not necessarily obscene today because people’s lifestyle and mindset have completely changed. They have accepted different standards of morality and decency and Roth test assesses obscenity on the current community standard.

A test for obscenity borrowed from Roth included the following five-part structure: (1) the perspective of the evaluation was that of an ordinary, reasonable person, (2) community standards of acceptability were to be used to measure obscenity, (3) works whose predominant theme was questionable were the only target of obscenity law, (4) a work, in order to be evaluated for obscenity, had to be taken in its entirety, and (5) an obscene work was one that aimed to excite individuals’ prurient interest.

Concluding Obscenity Crime

essentially, obscenity is time specific and geography based. What is not obscene today was obscenity crime yesterday. The Bollywood actors in scarce clothing when made it to magazines were treated as promoting immorality. Today the scarce clothing is quite normal in Bollywood movies.

Certain community in Rajasthan doesn’t allow women without scarf on head and veil on face to step out. It’s not that this community is illiterate but it’s integral to their culture. Women without veils can labelled promoting obscenity. Obviously, the obscenity has to do with geography, community, culture, and religion.

What we avoided watching on TV few years back with family, today it is normal to watch everything on TV sitting together. Thus, obscenity is dynamic concept and any archaic rule should not administer the domain of obscenity.

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Reads Beyond Obscenity Crime Under General Awareness

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