India/ 5.3 Sector specific legislation  

5.3.1 Visual and applied arts

There is no specific legislation governing the visual and applied arts except under the Indian Copyright Act 1957.

Under Section 2 (c) of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957:

(c) "artistic work" means-

(i) a painting, a sculpture, a drawing (including a diagram, map, chart or plan), an engraving or a

photograph, whether or not any such work possesses artistic quality;

(ii) work of architecture; and

(iii) any other work of artistic craftsmanship;

In many instances obscenity laws under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 are used to regulate exhibitions, publications etc. For example, a recent controversy involved M.F. Husain who had painted an image of a Hindu goddess in the nude. Many considered it obscene and various cases were registered against him under the obscenity laws throughout the country. Although the courts cleared him of any wrong doing, ‘obscenity’ has become an easy tool to target free expression (See Section 4.1 for more on the issue involving artist M.F. Husain).

Sec 292(1) of the Indian Penal Code defines obscenity as:

‘For the purpose of sub-section (2), a 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 effect of any of its items, is if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave & corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied.’

Other laws that are indirectly used for regulation:

The Young Persons (Harmful Publication) Act, 1956 prohibits publications defined under Section 2 of the Act that ‘tend to corrupt a young person into whose hands it might fall, whether by inciting or encouraging him to commit offences or acts of violence or cruelty or in any other manner whatsoever.’

The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986: Sec 2 (c) of the Act defines indecent representation of women. Sec 3 of the Act talks about prohibition of advertisements containing indecent representation of women. This section prohibits a person from getting involved, directly or indirectly in the publication of any advertisement containing indecent representation of women in any form. Sec 4 prohibits publication or sending by post of books, pamphlets etc, containing indecent representation of women.

The Information Technology Act, 2000 under Section 67 makes publication & transmission in electronic form of material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is 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, punishable with imprisonment and fine.


Chapter published: 22-04-2014


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