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Indian Case Summary

Maqbool Fida Husain vs Raj Kumar Pandey [Along With Crl. … on 8 May, 2008 – Case Summary

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In the case of Maqbool Fida Husain vs Raj Kumar Pandey, heard in the Delhi High Court on 8 May 2008, the court was called upon to adjudicate on a matter that touched upon the intersection of art, obscenity, and freedom of expression. The case was presided over by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul.

Facts of the Case

The case revolved around a painting by the renowned artist Maqbool Fida Husain, which depicted India in an abstract and graphical representation of a woman in nude, with her hair flowing in the form of the Himalayas. The painting, which was sold to a private collector in 2004, was later advertised as part of an online auction for charity for Kashmir earthquake victims in 2006. The advertisement of the painting led to large scale protests, and Husain had to tender an apology.

Following this, private complaints were filed in various parts of the country, alleging various offences against Husain on account of the painting. Consequently, summons and warrants of arrest were issued against him. Husain approached the Supreme Court seeking consolidation of the matter, which was granted, and the cases were transferred to the court of the Ld. ACMM, Delhi.

Issues

The primary issue before the court was whether the painting, which celebrated nudity, could be considered obscene and therefore, a violation of Sections 292/294/298 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The court had to balance the right to freedom of speech and expression of the artist with the potential for the artwork to be deemed obscene and offensive.

Court’s Observations

The court observed that art, to every artist, is a vehicle for personal expression and that Indian art has been rich in its tapestry of ancient heritage. It noted that ancient Indian art has never been devoid of eroticism, and that the concept of ‘Lingam’ of the God Shiva resting in the centre of the Yoni is a representation of the act of creation.

The court also noted that the Nude in contemporary art, a perennial art subject, has occasionally come under the line of fire for having crossed the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ and for plunging into the forbidden, which is called ‘obscene’, ‘vulgar’, ‘depraving’, ‘prurient’ and ‘immoral’.

In its judgment, the court examined the law relating to obscenity and the artistic freedom given within the parameters of Article 19 of the Constitution of India. It also looked at precedents from other jurisdictions, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Conclusion

The court’s detailed examination of the case, including its exploration of the nature of art and the role of obscenity within it, provides a comprehensive overview of the legal and cultural issues at play. The case serves as a significant precedent in the ongoing dialogue about the boundaries of artistic freedom and the definition of obscenity in the context of Indian law.