Centre for Communication Governance at NLU delhi
Indian Case Law

Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1965 SC 881

The Supreme Court imported the ‘Hicklin Test’ from the United Kingdom and held that the same shall be used to determine whether any given matter is obscene so as to bring it within the proscription of “morality” under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

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Chandrakant Kakodkar v. State of Maharashtra, (1969) 2 SCC 687

The Supreme Court held that the contemporary social mores are relevant in determining the obscenity of the matter which must be judged by looking at the offending work as a whole rather than focusing on isolated passages.

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Samaresh Bose and Another v. Amal Mitra, AIR 1986 SC 967

The Supreme Court differentiated between vulgarity which gives rise to a feeling of disgust, and obscenity which gives rise to prurient thoughts, and held that what is vulgar or distasteful cannot be held to be obscene. 

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Bobby Art International V. Om Pal Singh Hoon, (1996) 4 SCC 1

Holding that mere nudity does not amount to obscenity and due regard must be had to the context in which the nudity occurs, the Supreme Court refused to interfere with the grant of ‘A’ certificate to the film Bandit Queen based on the life of Phoolan Devi. The Court also placed importance on the expert opinion given by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). 

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Directorate General of Doordarshan v. Anand Patwardhan, (2006) 8 SCC 433

The Supreme Court applied the tests of average person and contemporary community mores to hold that the respondent’s film was not obscene. 

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Ajay Goswami V. Union of India, (2007) 1 SCC 143

The Supreme Court held that there could be no suppression of freedom of speech and expression in protecting children from harmful materials and that in judging whether a particular work is obscene, the test should be that of ordinary adult man of common sense and prudence, not that of a hypersensitive man or a child. Crucially, the Court also questioned the validity of applying the archaic Hicklin Test in the age of the internet. 

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S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal, (2010) 5 SCC 600

The Supreme Court laid down important principles of free speech from the perspective of cultural diversity. It held that notions of social morality being inherently subjective, criminal law could not be used as a means to unduly interfere with the domain of personal autonomy or cause a chilling effect on free speech. 

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Aveek Sarkar V. State of West Bengal, (2014) 4 SCC 257

The Court deviated from Ranjit D. Udeshi and held that the Hicklin Test was no longer the correct test to be applied to judge obscenity; rather, the correct standard to apply would be the community standards test which is accepted in the United States.

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Devidas Ramachandra Tuljapurkar v. State of Maharashtra & Ors., (2015) 6 SCC 1

The Supreme Court held that insulting language words against a prominent historic personality like Mahatma Gandhi fall within the concept of obscenity and can be proscribed under Section 292 of the IPC.

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Felix v. Gangadharan, 2018 (3) KHC 701

The Kerala High Court held that a picture depicting a woman breastfeeding her child cannot be said to be obscene as what may be obscene for others may not be for the artist. 

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