What the IPC says on Nude paintings?

I have been able to live by this quote not because i am “educated” but probably because i am much more thick skinned than my friends who outrage at the drop of an hat. First the quote from Aristotle – *It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it*. I feel it is this inability to chew a thought that you loathe and respond unemotionally in a rational manner is missing in most of us.

It is precisely in this spirit that this post looks at the protests against the Nude Paintings. The most famous of these cases is the M F Hussain paintings. Every time the issue of Nude Paintings come up immediately those outraging against the protests raise the issue of M F Hussain. The first stand that should be stated here is that any violence is illegal whatever be the provocation.So under no circumstance should this post be taken as justification of violence against say M F Hussain.

The second point that should be considered is the Law on Obscenity:

Sec.292 reads as follows:
Sale, etc., of obscene books, etc.-[(1)] For the purposes of sub-section (2) book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, figure or any other object, shall be deemed to be obscene, if it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect, or (where it comprises two or more distinct items) the effects of any one of its items, is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely , having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.] [(2) Whoever-

sells , lets to hire ,distributes, publicly exhibits or in any manner puts into circulation or for purposes of sale, hire, distribution public exhibition of circulation, makes produces, or has in

(a) Possession any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing painting, representation or figure or any other obscene objects whatsoever, or

(b) Imports, exports or conveys any obscene objects for any of the purposes, aforesaid, on knowing or having reason to believe that such objects will be sold let to hire, distributed or publicly exhibited or in any manner put into circulation or

(c) takes part in or receives profit from any business in the course of which he knows or has reasons to believe that such an object are for any of the purposes aforesaid, made produced, purchased , kept, imported, exported, convey, publicly excited, or in any manner put into circulation, or

(d) advertises or makes known by any means whatsoever that any person is engaged or is ready to engage in any act which is an offence under this section, or that any such obscene object can be procured from or through any person, or

(e) Offers or attempts to do any act which is an offence under this section, shall be punished [on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, and with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, and, in the event of a second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, and also with fine which may extend to five thousand rupees.]

[Exception.- this section does not extend to-

(a) any book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation of figure-

(i) The publication of which is proved to be justified as being for the public good on the ground that such book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation or figure is in the interest of science, literature, art or learning or other objects of general concern, or

(ii) which is kept or used bona fide for religious purpose;

(b) any representation sculptured, engraved, painted or otherwise
represented on or in-

(i) any ancient monument within the meaning of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act,1958(24 of 58), or

(ii) any temple, or any car used for the conveyance of idols, or kept or used for any religious purpose.]]  [Emphasis mine]

 The first question that would come to our mind is what is *Obscene*. We are of the opinion that it is the West which is liberal and that we should learn Liberal Ideas from the west. Going by that logic let’s see what the World has to say.

In the United States, Pennsylvania Consolidated statutes in s. 5903. defines “Obscene.” as
Any material or performance, if:

1. the average person applying contemporary community standards would find that the subject matter taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest;

2. the subject matter depicts or describes in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct of a type described in this section; and

3. the subject matter, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, educational or scientific value.

The complete Section can be seen here.

With these two laws, one from the 19th century backwaters of India and the other from the *Shining city on the Hill* that the US is, we will understand M F Hussain’s two paintings. One the *Naked Mother India* and the Second *Goddess Durga Union with Tiger*. The cartoons can be seen here.

When one takes the First Painting – *Naked Mother India*, it is not surprising that this cartoon is seen as the most controversial. To understand this one must research on the words *Hindu Nationalist*. Maybe a second post on that. But under obscenity laws it would not be seen as obscene.

Under Indian Laws the exemption:

The publication of which is proved to be justified as being for the public good on the ground that such book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation or figure is in the interest of science, literature, art or learning or other objects of general concern

The underlined words read together would be a good enough defense. May be M F Hussain, the visionary that he was, was able to see that one day our Home Minister would let us down by playing *Hindu Terror* card and give Hafeez Sayeed a chance to beat us. Mother India is indeed naked when UPA 2 rules. Precisely the same thoughts must have induced Aseem Trivedi to draw his Gang Rape of Mother India.

 Let’s take another painting of Hussain. We will take the least controversial. Say * Goddess Lakshmi Naked on Ganesha’s Head* I am yet to come across any rational explanation for such a painting except (1) Freedom of expression (more by its corollary Right to Offend) and (2) If you can have Khajuraho why not Hussain.

The Freedom of expression is not unfettered. The Right to offend is also not infinite. There are limits. To put it in perspective: as an oxymoron can I exercise my right to offend with my fists? Unfortunately I do not have the Gift of the Gab. So can I use my fists to offend? By a similar logic there is a limit beyond which I cannot push my Right to offend in Literature or Art.

The Second is the more interesting. Here we will take the US Law which should be more liberal. The questions are:

1. the average person applying contemporary community standards would find that the subject matter taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest;

2. the subject matter depicts or describes in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct of a type described in this section; and

3. the subject matter, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, educational or scientific value.

Would that painting of M F Hussain pass all three tests. I do not think so.

Would Khajuraho pass?

The Question is irrelevant because the Indian Law exempts.

 (b) any representation sculptured, engraved, painted or otherwise represented on or in- (i) any ancient monument within the meaning of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act,1958(24 of 58),  

Hope our Intellectuals stop rising the bogey of Khajuraho every time a painter fancies a nude god or godess. let the painter stand on his own merit not by trying to ape the Khajuraho.

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4 thoughts on “What the IPC says on Nude paintings?

  1. When an artist labels his painting specifically with the names of Lakshmi, Saraswati or Durga he loses his right to portray nude painting as work of art or claim his exemption under right of freedom of expression. The viewer is led to believe that the artist is deliberately insulting his revered Goddess. Further, importing American standard or viewpoint on obscenity will not help here. Nude paintings are generally portrayed as works of art but there is no general acceptance of all nude paintings as works of art. There are exceptions when some such paintings become obscene. The dividing line is very thin. The artist has to be wary. Further he cannot make exception to paint nude paintings of only a particular religion, in this blog Hindu.

    • Dear Jyotindra,

      May be i have not understood you properly. My point is that even under US Laws, the Nude Paintings would be seen as obscene. I am not talking of religious sentiments at all. The paintings fail the test and would be considered obscene

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