No anticipatory bail, SC pulls up Kerala activist for ‘obscenity’

The Supreme Court on Friday censured a Kerala activist for obscenity over a video showing her two minor children painting on her semi-nude body, saying such acts are in bad taste. It reprimanded Rehana Fathima AS while rejecting her anticipatory bail plea; she faces arrest for uploading the video on YouTube.

The activist was booked under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Information Technology Act after she uploaded the clip on the video streaming platform in June.

“You might be an activist but why do you do all this? What kind of nonsense is this? What impression will your kids get about the culture of the country?” said Justice Arun Mishra while dismissing the plea. “It is an obscenity. And you are spreading it [by uploading it on the internet]. It will leave a very bad taste.”

Justice Mishra headed a three-judge bench that heard the activist’s anticipatory bail plea.

Fathima was previously in the news for upsetting the sentiments of Ayappa devotees through some social media posts, and in 2018 was among the women who tried to enter the temple with police protection after a Supreme Court order allowed women of all ages to enter the temple. In 2019, the court referred the issue, along with a few more sensitive issues to a larger bench.

Fathima approached the SC after the Kerala high court on July 24 rejected the bail plea of the activist; she faces charges of child pornography and for publishing such content that is an offence under the Information Technology Act.

Senior counsel Gopal Sankaranarayanan, who appeared for Fathima AS, argued provisions relating to child pornography cannot be invoked since the children were neither nude nor being forced into any sexual act. “How can it be child pornography? The children are fully clothed.”

He contended the activist was trying to sensitize her children to the female body and was trying to dispel skewed notions on obscenity and female nudity. “If a man stands with his dhoti tucked up, it is fine but not when a woman is half-nude, it is considered obscene,” said Sankaranarayanan.

He argued that Fathima is not someone likely to abscond and there is no requirement of her custodial interrogation in the case.

Fathima was dismissed as a Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited junior technician in April after a string of complaints. She spent two months in jail after she was arrested last year on charges of hurting Hindu religious feelings by posting an objectionable picture on social media. In October 2018, she sparked outrage by attempting to trek to Sabarimala temple amid protests over a Supreme Court order allowing women of all ages to enter the shrine.

“The issue here is not whether exposing certain parts of a woman’s body is obscene or not. Rather, it is about involvement of children in painting on an human organ which represents sexuality because children are not capable of giving consent. In my personal opinion, provisions under POCSO are maintainable. That said, the court should have issued notice and heard all parties at length instead of dismissing the case at admission stage,” said Supreme Court advocate Sriram Parakkat.

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