June 2nd, 2015
Image Source : Times Of India
Imagine you are spending time with your loved one in a park and suddenly a cop threatens to arrest you. What would you do? You would probably first ask for an explanation. The cop would then go ahead and tell you that your actions were obscene and you will be arrested under a certain section of the IPC that deals with public decency. You would argue that your actions were well within decency limits while the cop continues to argue the contrary. But, wait… who defines these decency limits?
Section 294 of the IPC states that whoever does an obscene act or sings an obscene song in public to the annoyance of others will be imprisoned for upto 3 months, or fined, or both. Undoubtedly, a law that deals with obscene acts is necessary in order to maintain decency around us. But a closer inspection of the statement reveals that the subjective words “obscene” and “annoyance” are not defined in it. So does our constitution really leave it to the sole discretion of the cops to invoke the law in whichever way they want?
The answer is: no, the Supreme Court has defined certain criteria for obscenity, and a police officer cannot apply whichever definition of obscenity he wishes. Taking a look at some cases under Section 294 in the past, we see multiple instances of the Supreme Court and other courts dismissing claims that acts of public kissing are obscene. In other words, we now know that holding hands, hugging or kissing in public do not constitute an offence under Section 294.
Despite the courts’ past judgements, several incidents of police officers harassing and threatening couples on these grounds are often reported. Here lies the most serious issue – Section 294 is widely abused by cops for harassment and extortion of bribes owing to its originally obscure statement and lack of awareness of what constitutes an offence under the section. Besides, not surprisingly, moral polices take advantage of the lack of awareness to impose their own versions of Indian culture upon couples.
Respecting the fact that a public place is a space shared by families, couples and individuals, one must abstain from any sort of sexual activities, nudity and acts that are punishable under Section 294. At the same time, we need to be aware of the fact that indulging in simple activities such as hugging and kissing does not constitute an offence. On the other hand, extortion of bribes by cops and thrashing in the name of moral policing by self-righteous goons are what constitute grave offences and should be severely dealt with under the law.