On Wednesday, a division bench of Justices Vinay Joshi and Valmiki Menezes said it’s acceptable and common for women in present times to be clad in swimming costumes or other revealing attire.”Wearing short skirts and dancing provocatively, considered obscene by police officers and referred to in the FIR, cannot be termed to be per se obscene. Also, it did not cause annoyance to any member of the audience. We are mindful of norms of morality in Indian society and we took judicial note of the fact,” the bench said.
Adding that since people often witness this manner of dressing in films that pass censor board or at beauty pageants in public view without causing annoyance to the audience, Section 294 of IPC (punishment for obscene acts or words) would not apply in this case. “Taking a narrow view on acts that constitute obscenity would be retrograde on our part. We prefer a progressive view and are unwilling to leave the decision to the police. We are unable to countenance a situation, where acts such as the ones referred to in the FIR would be judged by a police officer, who considers these acts obscene and causing annoyance to the public,” it said.
The petitioners, through counsel Akshay Naik, had moved HC for quashing the FIR lodged at Umred police station on May 31 under Sections 294 and 34 of IPC, Sections 110, 131A, 33A, 112 and 117 of Maharashtra Police Act, and Section 65(e) of Maharashtra Prohibition Act, 1949.
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The case was registered after police raided a private resort’s banquet hall, where the petitioners were watching six scantily dressed women purportedly performing an obscene dance and were being showered with dummy Rs 10 notes. It was alleged onlookers were also consuming foreign-made liquor.
Opposing the police argument, Naik contended this was a case of moral policing and the law does not permit prosecution merely on subjective morality of the complainant on what constitutes obscenity in clause (a) of Section 294. “There’s no allegation in the FIR against petitioners and dancers upsetting any member of the public through indecent exposure or abusive language that provoked breach of peace,” the HC said. It added, “Section 131A prescribes penalty for failure to obtain licence under Police Act for public entertainment. This provision would apply only to the occupier of such a place and not to the accused.”