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5 Jun 2018

Law against indecent depiction of women on anvil; will cover WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram

(FILES) This file photo taken on February 21, 2017 shows a social activist holding placards during a protest against a rape at Hauz Khas village in New Delhi.Moushumi Das Gupta, HT, New Delhi: The Union women and child development (WCD) ministry has finalised fresh amendments to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, widening its scope to make indecent portrayal of women on internet and other over-the-top services and applications such as WhatsApp and Instagram punishable with a fine of Rs 2 lakh, and prison term of up to three years, two ministry officials familiar with the development said on condition of anonymity.

The original law, enacted in 1986, relates primarily to the print media and prohibited indecent portrayal of women through advertisements, publication, writing and paintings. The current punishment is a prison term of up to two years and a fine of RS 2,000.

The new penal provisions are similar to those provided under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 that deals with publishing of information which is obscene in electronic form.

The ministry has expanded the definition of indecent representation of women to include “depiction of women as a sexual object, which appeals to the prurient interest”.

“WCD minister Maneka Gandhi has cleared the proposed amendments on Monday. We will now send the draft to the law ministry. Once law ministry vets it, we will move the cabinet,” WCD secretary Rakesh Srivastava said.

Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Parekh called the move to widen the scope of the law to include indecent portrayal of women on the online platform a “good move” that is long overdue.

“Obscene portrayal of women on the online platform is on the rise. Also unlike print, the moment one puts such stuff (online) it goes viral, making it far more dangerous. In such a scenario it is imperative that we have a law address obscene portrayal of women online.”

Not everyone is convinced.

“While addressing technological advancements, the ministry has failed to take into account sociological advancements where a majority of the population is under 35 years and who do not believe in heavy handed restrictions on freedom of expression,” said Apar Gupta, a lawyer who works on privacy issues.

Gupta said the law could become counter-productive and affect a woman’s autonomy of self expression. “It’s out of step and can be easily misused. The 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act already deals with sexual offences,” he added.

The proposed changes approved by Gandhi include amending the definition of “advertisement” to include digital form or electronic form or through SMS, MMS etc. The definition of “distribution” has also been amended to include publication, granting a licence, or uploading using computer resource, or communication device, the second WCD ministry official said.

“We decided to widen the scope of the law because technological revolution had resulted in the development of new forms of communications. The old law did not cover indecent or obscene portrayal of women in digital form.”

The ministry had in 2012 proposed similar amendments and introduced the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Amendment Bill in Rajya Sabha in 2012. But the bill lapsed. The changes have been in limbo since.

The WCD ministry has also proposed setting up of a centralised authority under the National Commission of Women (NCW), which will be authorised to receive complaints regarding any programme or advertisement broadcast or published and investigate/ examine all matters relating to the indecent representation of women.

The authority will be headed by Member Secretary, NCW and will have representatives from Advertising Standards Council of India, Press Council of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and one member with experience of working on women issues.

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