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All about Obscenity

India is a country of morality and traditions, where it is immoral and untraditional to talk about obscene content. It all comes to a head when the internet is invented. The Internet has grown in scope, taking ordinary people's lives to new heights. People from all around the world are brought together in one area, cyberspace. History shows that the relationship between crime and technology is not new. According to Johnson, Obscenity and technological developments have had a curious and contradictory long-term relationship, one which has involved the internet since the early 1990s. The definition of obscenity comes from the Latin word is "obscanum"where'canum'means 'filth' and 'obs' means 'in front of'. There is another definition, which comes from ancient Greek drama "Obskena" which means 'of stage', this word reflect at that time violence, death and sexual action. Indian Law has vague or unsatisfactory connotations for the word obscenity. The legal advisers and adjudicators' ability to interpret the bad phrase determines whether the material is unpleasant or not. The word vulgarity's definition changes from time to time. Things that are considered obscene in the present should not be deemed repulsive in the future. Laws need to be updated periodically, but there must be a clear definition of what constitutes indecency. It's important to note that our dictionary has not yet defined the appropriate amount of profanity in films, online shows, phrases, photos or pictures, writing in our country. Uncovering Obscenity Indian Penal Code (IPC) section 294 criminalises obscene acts or statements in public places. Obscenity must "annoy others" in order to be constituted a crime. An offender who is convicted under this statute faces a maximum sentence of three months in jail. Because of the Internet and social media, the legislation against obscenity has undergone a significant change. Anyone who publishes or transmits obscene information electronically can be penalised under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act. But before coming to that let us understand What is considered ‘obscene’? Generally obscene content is prohibited from being exhibited, but the question arises what exactly is meant by obscenity. Obscene means offensive to modernity or decency, it is described as 'hostile or repulsive by accepted standards of fundamental quality and virtue' in the Oxford word reference. A book or object is repulsive if it is lascivious, obscene, degrading, or tarnishing someone, according to Section 292 of the IPC. "Obscene," "indecent," "debase," and "degenerate" have not been defined in a way that leaves judges with room for interpretation. According to the courts, tests are used to determine if something is "indecent." In 1965, the Supreme Court's landmark Ranjit Udeshi decision adopted the Victorian-era Hicklin criteria. In Hicklin’s case, Cockburn, C.J. observe that the test of obscenity is, “weather the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprane and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into those hands a publication of this sort may fall”. In simpler termsa person who was likely to be degraded or corrupted by the content being discussed was asked to take the test, which measured indecency according to the norm. From this point on, a wide range of content might be deemed 'indecent' by many. In the Aveek Sarkar case of 2014, the Supreme Court ditched the British Hicklin test in favour of the American Roth test, considering all the factors at hand. An individual's decency was to be judged by using local area norms, just as a regular person would. The examination of current local area rules takes into account the public's shifting perceptions. What was vulgar a century or even 10 years prior, need not be profane at this point.In the most recent example, Milind Soman was charged with obscenity while jogging naked on Goa Beach in 2020.Following this case, an entire perspective of the obscene issue must be reviewed to determine if the occurrence was gross or overreached in terms of free expression. ‘Right’ does not mean ‘duty’ The right to speech and expression is a supreme right as per the constitution but it comes with several restrictions. Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India 1950, which ensures the right additionally accommodates sensible limitations on different grounds, including that of conventionality and ethical quality. This implies that when it comes to punishing obscene behaviour or material, free expression must be weighed against current community morality norms. In the M.F. Hussain case of 2008 and the Perumal Murugan judgement of 2016, Indian courts ruled in favour of creative freedom in the conflict between morality and freedom.In the latter, the Supreme Court held that “art is often provocative and is not meant for everyone”— material cannot be labelled as obscene simply because it is unpalatable to one section of society. Who has been prosecuted for ‘obscenity’ before? Obscenity laws in India predate Independence. They have been used in colonial India against writers such as Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai whose works traversed themes of sexuality, including female sexuality. As per the famous saying of Manto, “Bol ki lab azadhaitere” clearly portray his mirror like thoughts about freedom and his literature.Obscenity and freedom are the most powerful weapons available to every human being on the planet, but both come at the expense of dignity. So, use it with caution!!!