Nudity has always been an intrinsic part of Indian culture. The reason is simple—Sanatana Dharma didn't regulate clothing, and it still doesn't. For all practical purposes, being semi-clothed was the choice of the ordinary in Ancient India.
Ancient sculptures are umpteen with scenes of coitus, and most of the gods and goddesses are partially clothed. Sexuality in India was celebrated with the likes of Devadasis were revered. From Khajuraho to Kangra paintings, artistic nudity was unapologetically present.
The advent of Islam and Britishers marked the downturn of the openness of the Indian culture. It has been a closed system since then, and the heyday of enjoying an invigorating gust of cool breeze on the exposed human bosom is long gone for men and women alike.
This brings us to the case at hand. Ranveer Singh recently collaborated with Paper Magazine to post artistically nude photos of himself. On further inquiry, no one knew that the photo shoot was a tribute to the late American actor, Burt Reynolds.
This brings us to—Under which section(s) is he booked? Why is Ranveer Singh facing legal consequences for expressing himself? And what does the law say about it?
An FIR was lodged at the Chembur police station on 26th July, and he has been booked for obscenity under sections 292, 294 of IPC and 509 and 67(A) of the Information Technology (IT) Act. Surprisingly, he is not the first actor booked under obscenity. Actors and models like Milind Soman and Poonam Pandey have also been booked for obscenity.
First of all, the IPC does not define 'Obscenity.' So, the courts are looked up to provide the necessary legal tenets. The first test to check obscenity was laid down in the case of Regina v. Hicklin, 1868. The test is defined as "whether the matter charged as obscenity tends to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall."
In India, Hicklin's test was upheld in 1965 in Ranjit D Udeshi vs. State of Maharashtra 1965. Moreover, to establish guilt, the essential; ingredient of men's rea must be fulfilled, and the intention to offend the modesty of women should be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Further, the concept of obscenity in the IPC has roots in the Obscene publications Act 1925. This section is outdated and severe reform is needed to protect an artist's freedom of speech and expression.
In reality, Ranveer Singh was doing nothing but exercising his artistic freedom with no intention to deprive women of their modesty or to 'corrupt' the audience's minds. Under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, he has the freedom to do that. The issue is that the idea of morality and decency has changed drastically. People view any act related to sex as obscene even though the subject matter may not be directly sexual, but it gives enough fuel to the masses to object to the artistic freedoms of an actor. These photos challenge the defiance of social norms and what's considered normal. Hence, trivial insecurities should be looked past, and artists should be given space and mental peace to operate.