Eradicating the Evil- Indecent Representation of Women Act

Women’s organisations have been outraged over the last decade about how the media gives an indecent representation of women. Numerous advertisements promote gender bias and inculcate the indecent representation of women, resulting in uproar amongst society.

Such campaigns, however, have had little impact on advertisements that promote sexist stereotypes and pornographic images, which have increased.

The law seeks to regulate women’s portrayals in various sections of Indian mass media today while keeping the Indian social structure in mind. As a result, the need for specific legislation in the form of the Indecent Representation of Women Act became apparent.

When dealing with a culturally diverse society, it’s essential to consider each community’s emotions, and the State must protect them. It is also too complicated to establish and examine cause and effect because there is no evidence of how many women get subjected to such indecent treatment beneath the creamy and non-creamy layers of the economy.

To eradicate the evil of indecent representation of women from its roots, the Central Government legislated the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, which works extensively to prevent the commission of such an evil.

History of Indecent Representation of Women Act

In response to a women’s movement calling for legislative action to combat negative depictions of women in the country, the Rajya Sabha Bill against Women’s Indecent Representation got introduced in 1986. The bill got introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Margaret Alva and got passed in October 1987.

The legislation’ indecent representation of women’s act 1986 aimed to regulate women’s representation in mainstream media, particularly print media. It was enacted to ensure that women’s representation in the media did not turn derogatory through advertisements, magazines, publications, and illustrations.

What is Indecency

The term “indecent representation” is defined in Section 2(c) of the Indecent Representation of Women Act as “indecent representation of women” in any way that has the effect of being indecent or derogatory of a woman or of being corrupt or susceptible to public morality, or moralistic depravity.

In the 1970s and 1980s, women’s organisations protested indecent portraiture, primarily focusing on nudity and the sexually provocative or overtly typical women’s. So, this strengthened the belief that the expression of sexuality, particularly the expression of a woman, is an obscenity.

Objectives of Indecent Representation of Women Act

In developing nations like ours, the provisions on obscenity are contained under Sections 292, 293 and 294 of IPC.

Despite these provisions, there is a growing indecent representation of women or references to women in publications, particularly advertisements, denigrating women and outrage modesty.

Even if there is no specific intention, these advertisements, publications, and so on have a depraving or corrupting effect. Different legislation is thus required to effectively prevent indeterminate representation of women through advertisements, books, pamphlets, and so on.

Powers Under the Indecent Representation of Women Act

Indecent Representation of Women Act imparts multitudes of power over the officer and government to prevent such an offence. Some of the essential provisions are-

Section 5: Search & Seizure

The gazetted officer has the authority to enter and search any premises within the region under Section 5 of the Indecent Representation of Women Act. Further-

  1. Such officers can enter and search, at any reasonable time, any place where they believe an offence as under this Act has been or is getting committed.
  2. Such officers have the authority to seize any advertisement or book, pamphlet, paper, slide, film, writing, drawing, painting, photograph, representation, or figure that they believe violates any of the provisions of this Law.
  3. Such officers have the authority to examine and seize any record, register, document, or other material objects found at any place.
  4. The said section does not permit any such gazetted officer to enter a private residence without a warrant.
  5. Further, a sub-section states that the authority to seize might well get conferred in particular regard of any document, article, or object containing such advertisement where such an advertisement could not be separated from such document, article, or item without affecting its integrity or use because it is embossed from such document, article, or item.
  6. The provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 will apply to any search or seizure conducted under this Act under the authority of a warrant issued under Section 94 of that Law.

Section 10: Power to make rules

According to Section 10 of the Indecent Representation of Women Act, the Central Government could make rules by notifying them in the official gazette. Without prejudice to the generality of the preceding force, these rules could cover all or any of the following issues:

  1. Seizure of advertisements and other related objects and how to draw up and submit the seizure list to the person from whom any such advertisements or other things confiscated
  2. Any other matter that might or might not get prescribed

Penalties Under Indecent Representation of Women Act

The offender faces a penalty under Section 6 of the Indecent Representation of Women Act.

  • On a first conviction, the offender shall get convicted for a term that might extend to 2 years and a fine that might extend to 2000 rupees.
  • On a subsequent second conviction, the offender would get imprisoned for a term that would not be less than six months but might get extended to 5 years and a fine of not less than 10,000 that might get extended to 1 lakh rupees.

Other Sections Indecent Representation of Women Act

Section 8: cognisable and bailable offences

Section 8 of the Indecent Representation of Women Act implies that an offence punishable under this Act is bailable despite the 1973 (2 of 1974) Criminal Procedure Code provisions. And any offence recognised by this Act will be punishable.

Section 9: safeguards for actions taken in good faith

The Central Government, any other government or other central government officers, or any other State government official shall not be responsible against any action, prosecution, or other legal proceedings for anything done or intended in good faith per this Act’s Section 9.

Indian Penal Code- Section 292

Previously, Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 was a British Indian law enacted in 1860 to prohibit the publication and sale of obscene books. It was a strict law at the time, and mere obscenity was grounds for punishment under the act.

Later, in 1969, Section 292 provisions were amended in the Ranjit Udeshi Case, in which the Hicklin test was relaxed. Now, the “entire work” of the author or artist and the publisher are getting considered for obscenity.

The phrase “public good” was added to defend the accused of obscenity.

Materials kept for legitimate and artistic purposes, as well as any ancient monuments or sculptures were exempt from the definition of “obscenity.”

In the first conviction, the provision for imprisonment also increased from three months to years, and a subsequent conviction will result in a five-year prison sentence.

Case Status

Ajay Goswami V. Union of India

It is a relevant case in which the obscene content in newspapers was challenged using provisions from the Indian Penal Code, the Indecent Representation of Women Act, and other laws.

It also stated to reconsider the press Council’s ability to censure. The petitioner complains that the newspaper industry’s freedom of speech and expression is not balanced with protecting children from harmful and disturbing materials.

However, the writ petition got dismissed on the grounds that it failed to establish the requisite to curtail the freedom of speech and expression and the blanket ban on publishing certain photographs and news in newspapers was not supported.

The court also emphasised existing regulatory legislation for prevention from such obscene publishing under the press council act of 1978 and section 292 of IPC.

The court held that the material should be separately examined whether it is grossly depraved and corrupt for considering a publication to be obscene.

Ranjit D. Udeshi Vs State of Maharashtra

The landmark mentioned above case established the obscenity test.

The appellant, a bookseller, sold an unabridged edition of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”

He was convicted under Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, which states that when judging a work, no emphasis should be placed on a word here and a word there, or a passage here and a passage there.

The court observed that though the work as a whole must get considered, the obscene matter must be considered separately to determine whether it is so gross. Its obscenity is so determined that it is likely to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are susceptible to such influences.

In this regard, the interests of contemporary society, particularly the impact of the contested book on it, must not be overlooked. Where obscenity and art coexist, the art must be so dominant that it casts the obscenity into the shadows, or the obscenity must be so trivial and insignificant that it has no effect and may get overlooked.

It is necessary to balance “freedom of speech and expression” and “public decency or morality,” but the former must yield when the latter is significantly violated, the former must yield.

Call for Changes

The Indecent Representation of Women Act defines iridescent advertisement of women as any note, publication, sticker, packaging, or other documents and any visible representation made through light, sound, smoke, or gas.

The amendment proposed by the National Commission for Women would broaden the definition of advertisement to include any sign, circle, poster, sticker, wrapper, or other documents, and any visible representation rendered by any laser light, sound, electronic optic, smoke, gas, fibre, or other media.

It states that no one may create, sell, employ, circulate, distributes, or mail any book, pamphlet, document, slide, video, writing, drawing, depiction, painting, image, or figure that contains any derogatory depiction of women. In addition to indecent, the Commission has proposed adding the term Degrading.

To reform the existing structure, the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Bill 2012 seeks to emphasise the inclusion of women in audiovisual and electronic communications media and address the issue of female objectification. In addition to ensuring that the media cover all aspects of the regulatory structure established by law.

The law also creates a stringent compliance mechanism to act as a deterrent, with any indecent behaviour that contradicts the law getting prohibited.

The Bill makes two significant changes: what advertisements will be covered by the Bill if passed, and what will result in delivery to warrant the punitive provisions of the new regulatory framework under the amendment.

Conclusion

The Indecent Representation of Women Act, without a doubt, established indecent representation of women, but that description is not exhaustive. It is up to the courts to interpret it however they see fit.

It is a successful law for protecting women’s integrity and reputation, but its success is dependent on how well it gets implemented. The act’s provision granting any gazette officer the authority to search for and seize indecent material resulted in widespread corruption. Furthermore, the penal provisions are not stringent in nature; the amount of fines and the punishment for repeat offenders is much lower.

If Section 292 of the IPC is meant to limit and control indecent and obscenity representation of women, the expression regarding other general objects of concern must get removed.

FAQs on Indecent Representation of Women Act

What do you mean by the indecent portrayal of women in the media?

The depiction in any manner of a woman's figure- her form or body or any part thereof in such a way having the effect of being:

  • indecent, or
  • denigrating women, or
  • derogatory to, or
  • Is likely to corrupt, deprave, or injure public morality or morals.

Who introduced the Rajyasabha's Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Amendment Bill, 2012?

Smt Krishna Tirath, Minister of State (Independent), Women and Child Development, introduced the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Amendment Bill, 2012 in the Rajya Sabha on December 13, 2012.

When was the indecent depiction of women changed?

The bill sought to amend the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act of 1986, prohibiting indecent depictions of women in advertisements, publications, writings, and paintings (primarily the print media).

What constitutes insulting a woman's modesty?

Outraging a woman's modesty is an offence if he uses assault or criminal force with the intent to do so or with the knowledge that he will likely outrage her modesty. The offence under this section differs from rape and is less severe than the offence under Section 376.

Can a woman offend another woman's modesty?

Section 354 is gender-neutral, which means that even a woman can offend another woman's modesty.

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