“Only those sex-related materials which have a tendency of exciting lustful thoughts can be held to be obscene…”

What is obscenity?

Do you agree with:

Picture of nude woman per se not obscene: SC

“A picture of a nude or semi-nude woman, as such, cannot per se be called obscene unless it has the tendency to arouse the feeling or revealing an overt sexual desire,”

Giving a contemporary interpretation to the 154-year-old ‘obscenity’ provision in Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court has ruled that a woman’s nude picture in a publication could not per se be termed obscene under IPC …


“Only those sex-related materials which have a tendency of exciting lustful thoughts can be held to be obscene, but the obscenity has to be judged from the point of view of an average person, by applying contemporary community standards,” the court said, reminding the courts that in this case “we are in 2014 and not in 1994”.

Anuradha Santhanam asks:

“Which brings to mind the question, why is anything sexual ‘obscene’? Is sexuality not part of human existence, and why must it be something ‘dirty’? Are we moving backwards again?”

How would you respond? What do you find obscene? Why?

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16 thoughts on ““Only those sex-related materials which have a tendency of exciting lustful thoughts can be held to be obscene…”

  1. Sexuality in itself is a normal part of the human existence. We all have different preferences on what and how much of open sexual expression we are able to tolerate. The problem arises when violence or objectification enter the picture. A nude woman sitting on top of and promoting a car, to me, is offensive. A woman posing nude for an artist is okay. Again here, the woman’s expression is important to me – is she a willing participant, looking directly into the camera, proud of her body? Or does she look vulnerable, with the shot taken as if she has no control over her body? A lustful kiss that shows desire from both partners engaging in it (thus showing consent) is okay. A kiss that looks like an assault (the photograph of the sailor’s kiss http://www.smofa.com/Irv_Rudley-Kissing_Sailor.htm) – I find that offensive. The woman seems to have zero control in the situation and seems to have been taken by surprise.

    And of course, there are much more violent expressions of sexuality (than the above bland examples of the car ad and the sailor’s kiss) in mass media, that I find obscene for their ‘sex as a conquest’ messages.


  2. Nothing overtly sexual between consenting adults. What skeeves me out are those involving children (or adults with immature bodies, since it can be hard to tell with pictures) or those that look like illicit peepshows like of women bathing. Also sexual images associated with violence – where the person involved seems to be injured in some way, or coerced, since, in the context of images, there is no way to tell if there was actual coercion involved.


  3. Mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s great that the SC has started crystalizing things like “offence”, “obscene” etc to only be restricted to those who don’t see ghosts everywhere and don’t get insulted at every little thing. It’s how it should be.

    On the other hand, I’m against the concept of “obscenity” in the first place.


  4. For hundreds of years, the one single obsession of many cultures has been to control sex and sexuality. Anything that is not within the parameters of marital sex, or even marital sex that is enjoyed a little too much has been deemed immoral or obscene. No wonder then that any material outside of matrimony that evokes lust will also be considered obscene,

    There will be a lot of people who will protest based on objectification of women. I reason that it is because of us and our collective mentality that women are objectified in the first place! Marketing only does what it thinks is an effective way of selling. However, if the women working in those commercials were paid fairly and consented to the work, then no matter how much we protest, we cannot ban them.


  5. This is the Supreme Court saying its 2014 ,our Supreme Court!!! Oh gosh how come this info pass by them when the gay rights law was up for discussion …


  6. Difficult question.
    I can only tell what is obscene to my eyes.
    Like beauty, obscenity lies in the eye of the beholder.

    A picture by itself is neither obscene nor clean. It depends on the context and the viewer.
    Classical Paintings of nude women in Art galleries are not obscene to me.
    The stone carvings on the walls of temples at Khajuraho and Konark are not obscene to me.

    Pictures of nude men and women or pictures showing them engaging in sex can be obscene or not depending on who is viewing them and where. When viewed by a mature adult in privacy, or by consenting adults in privacy, for private sexual gratification alone it is not obscene. But when seen by children below a certain age, or displayed publicly for all to see, that picture is definitely obscene. The age at which the line should be drawn can be debated and I still can;t decide if should be 18 or 21.

    Child pornography pictures are obscene at all times, and under all circumstances.



  7. First and foremost – any image, film or text depicting children sexually is obscene and should be banned. No two ways about this.

    Now regarding nude images of adult men or women – this is a subjective matter because it depends on personal morals. Artistic depiction of nudes appeal to our aesthetic sense and our not always evocative. Pornography, on the other hand, is exclusively carnal and could be exploitative.

    What should be illegal? Child pornography. Adult pornography and nude images, I don’t know.


  8. This is the current federal legal definition in the US of ‘obscenity’-

    “Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards”, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
    Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law,
    Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

    Needless to say this US federal legal definition of obscenity is still rather vague, paradoxical, arbitrary, and subjective. It certainly might be construed as violating a citizen’s right to free speech.
    But that’s what we’re working with.
    Anyway, with the advent of the internet most obscenity laws are pretty much unenforceable.


  9. The idea of what is obscene is a moral viewpoint, just like the notion that depiction of women in a sexual way is essentially the ‘objectification of women’. It is heartening to see the SC giving a progressive verdict on the issue of obscenity, it is a long way from the Ramesh Udeshi case where a man found himself prosecuted for stocking a copy of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ in his bookstall.
    However, like Bhagwad above – I do think the concept of obscenity should be done away with as the law has no place to police subjective notions of morality. The concept of obscenity is based on the puritan premise that depiction sexuality is inherently evil and exploitative and hence, anything that evokes such an interest outside the realm of art must be policed.


  10. Isn’t what’s regarded as obscene mostly a matter of conditioning? Some men just gloat at any nudity, Even a bare ankle can inspire them to behave like an animal.


  11. Not all depictions of nudity or sexuality are obscene. However, I’m not entirely sure that one should be against the concept of “obscenity”. There are plenty of things in this world that are obscene. Exploitation is one of them. Especially the (much of the time unwilling) exploitation of someone’s sexuality, and the reduction of a person’s sexuality as a sole expression of their entire self-worth. When you take a picture of a woman, and she is naked, but her entire worth as a person is centered around her body–that is obscene. That is exploitation. And to me, that is almost as entirely damaging as this belief that a woman’s self-worth is contained entirely around how much she covers herself.

    For instance, many of the item numbers in Bollywood movies are entirely exploitative. The women who star in these songs are rarely in control of their sexuality–it is entirely created, controlled and produced by the male gaze. The worth of these women is reduced to how good they look on camera, and their sexuality is used to determine how much they are worth in society. This is no different from the lead heroine (often from the same movie!) steadfastly holding out for nobody else save her “soul mate”. Her worth is subsequently reduced to how true and loyal she is, which is directly correlated to what she has done with her body, which according to patriarchy belongs to that so-called “soul mate”.

    And in a patriarchal society, both of these beliefs place a false value on something that is entirely nobody else’s concern. My body is mine alone. It is not for any one else to place a false worth on. Whether or not a woman wears skimpy clothing, or covers herself up entirely should have zero bearing on anyone else’s opinion of who she is as a person. No one should have to cover themselves up in order to be deemed as someone worthy of respect. And no one should have to take all their clothes off in order to be thought of as valuable. And to me, demanding that someone else behave according to some arbitrary societal rule is what is ultimately the most obscene thing. Can we have a ban on that?


  12. While its good that SC is trying to take a more contemporary viewpoint on ‘obscene’, I have strong objections to this statement which should not have occurred in SC judgement: “Only those sex-related materials which have a tendency of exciting lustful thoughts can be held to be obscene”. I’m not sure but I’m weary that SC may be leaning towards a rape-apologetic attitude in saying ‘sex-related materials….exciting lustful thoughts…’. I don’t think sexuality is ‘obscene’ and I don’t understand why ‘sex-related materials’ should not excite ‘lustful thoughts’!! I don’t think having ‘lustful thoughts’ is bad for the society as long the sexuality is expressed in a healthy way. From a social perspective, I think portrayal of violence in/through sex and portrayal of pedophilic acts in sex-related materials can be censored. This is not coming from the ‘obscene’ line of argument though.


  13. WTF do they mean by “obscene” and how are we supposed to know who gets lustful thoughts from what? What about those weirdos who have foot fetishes! LOL!


  14. I had to go back to the dictionary meaning adjective

    adjective: obscene
    1. (of the portrayal or description of sexual matters) offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency.
    “obscene jokes”

    •offensive to moral principles; repugnant.

    So whatever is happening right now is so relative, that in my opinion there is no right or wrong about it. I would have to consider every individual event in its own right, cant use blanket law.


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