Table of Contents
BACKGROUND OF THE CASE
A Public Interest Litigation case known as Chandra Rajkumari v. Commissioner of Police Hyderabad was instituted by a group of women organizations to condemn and oppose the proposed holding of a beauty competition ‘Miss Andhra Personality’ by one such woman organization. The petitioners were the following women associations – A. P. Mahila Samakhya, All India Mahila Samskrithika Sangam (AIMSS), Progressive Organization for Women (POW), and one Maharaja Sir Kishen Pershad Foundation. The government of Andhra Pradesh, Police Commissioner and Prerana Women Organization constituted the respondents.
FACTS IN ISSUE
A written petition was filed by applicants in the public interest under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, seeking the court to declare beauty pageants as immoral and unconstitutional. Along with these constitutional and basic rights being violated, the group of petitioners also sought to prohibit the respondents from undertaking and indulging in advertisements or any other forms of service to organize a beauty contest as they were allegedly involved in unethical tactics and illegal activities to mint money which does not come under the ambit of welfare activities for the nation’s women especially when it is not certified and not recognized in the industry as a distinguished or esteemed competition to partake in.
A beauty pageant amounts to an immoral representation of women under the Indecent Representation of Women Act 1986.
A beauty pageant in any form is unconstitutional as it is not included within the spirit of Article 21, Article 14 and Article 51A(e) of the Indian Constitution.
The basis of a beauty pageant is not in consonance with the international conventions and United Nations resolutions on women.
Beauty pageants outrage the modesty of a woman and hence should be punishable under section 364 of the Indian Penal Code.
Beauty contests are not a fundamental right guaranteed under Chapter III of the Indian Constitution.
Beauty Pageants are carried out with full dignity and care hence conform to all international and constitutional norms.
Beauty competitions do not represent or depict women in a vulgar form instead merely create avenues to represent themselves and make a career in the entertainment industry.
Prohibition of such beauty contests is violative of Articles 14 and 19 (a) and (g) of Constitution of India.
There is no specific legislation prohibiting beauty contests in any form.
PUBLIC INTEREST ESSENCE
It was observed by the Honorable High Court that the present matter at hand was of the concern of the general public at large and the community’s interest, even when the subject in question was limited to the women of the nation, a certain section of the society. The learned single Judge referred to the case of ABL with reference to the locus standi contention for the maintainability aspect, as even the personal allegations regarding one of the respondents formed an avenue for the women to voice their concerns and stand up for their right against commercialization and exploitation. In the ABL case, Supreme Court deviated from the routine practice and reflected that such a matter needs the engagement of the Apex court even when it has become an academic argument as the debate itself ceased to continue with the contest happening at the backdrop of protest going on in the city.
The matter of the constitutional validity of beauty pageants, in the precedent of ABL, an international event versus the agitation of few activists was dealt in the case of Mahila Jagran Manch, Bangalore vs State of Karnataka And Others as well, where the single judge disposed off the case. Aggrieved by the decision, the petitioners appealed to the division bench which disposed of the appeal along with specific instructions for the organizers and the government. Aggrieved by the orders, the respondents filed a case in the Honorable Supreme Court of India, where, quite controversially, the bench weighed the seriousness of the issue on the basis of rights of the parties i.e. the organizers and the activists. Supreme Court once again held to its view that the judiciary does not have the jurisdiction to deal with such cases as long as no law is violated, even when the society is divided on two views about the decency of such contests.
Raising the question of whether anticipation of the outcome of such directions of the court and the impact of the agitators really cast weight on the ‘judicial assessment’ of the subject matter. The Apex court made it a point to clarify that the High courts of India are not supposed to deal with such issues under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution. It was of the opinion of the court that the lawful jurisdiction will be with the concerned authorities and not the courts which is the law of the land under Article 141 of the Constitution. The court was steeped in the way of looking at the various stakeholders in conducting such a competition. These were the participants, the organizers, the government as part of the International Tourism mechanism, the media and press such as Doordarshan and All India Radios for transmission as entertainment agencies.
JURISPRUDENCE& JUDICIAL ASSESSMENT OF THE COURT
Ironically, the legal part of the ABL case was not brought to light in the Supreme Court. What draws attention is that the beauty show proposed to be held by the respondents were questioned in the manner in which they were to be held and were tested on the facts and circumstances of the case leaving the questions of law vis-à-vis human rights and constitution, in the dark. The Supreme court remained silent on the issue of ‘Whether beauty contests in any form violate any laws or are prohibited under The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, keeping in mind that supreme court focuses on law and not fact then why did the court pass its judgment based on the facts, thereby impacting any further litigation by probably setting a wrong precedent?
The High Court dwelled into the concept of beauty and its standing in the present society from its origin in the dharmic shastras of “mounting beauty into one of the three forms of God viz. (Sathyam (truth), Shivam (good) and Sundaram (beauty)”. The learned advocate representing one of the parties brought it to the eyes of the court that beauty is something that cannot be defined and abundant literature on the same draws a bottom line that ‘Beauty is in the eyes of the Beholder’.
The court in its power has to bring the task of defining beauty for the purpose of setting precedents and legal answers by scrutinizing the word under the ambit of its judicial notice. After a detailed probe into several dictionaries for the proper definition of beauty, the Andhra Pradesh High Court came to summarize that the ‘Beauty Cult” is the brilliance of the total expression of a human being appealing to the senses of other people. The court also observed that this was, comparatively, used more for females than men, who are rather called ‘handsome’ than beautiful.
The court further went to venture and examine the meaning of a ‘beauty contest’ and ‘beauty queen’ to gain a deeper understanding to decide on the task. The judge along with the above mentioned multi-dimensional pieces of the issue took into consideration the need and impact of such contest in the setting of Indian society. He included factors like manner, method, quality, the process for selection of the jury and participants in the picture, for an accurate legal analysis.
The court agreed with advocate representing the petitioners as the lawyer was right in postulating that the “dignity of woman is constitutionally protected and the beauty contests when derogating or to trample the same should be prevented and prohibited”. The same argument was supplemented by precedents of Surya v. Union of India, Rural Litigation Kendra v. State of UP and Mehta v. Union of India, wherein the absence of laws enacted by the States to enshrine the intendment of the Constitution under Article 51a (e), the courts have to the warriors of judicial activism by enforcing of duties by mandamus or legal remedy by its judicial intervention in the state of state passivism.
COMMERCIALIZATION & EXPLOITATION
Any contest outraging the modesty of a woman by having dress norms that expose the body of a woman was observed to not only be illegal but also indirectly or directly crushing the societal and moral values of decency and dignity, by the court with the concept of modesty being discussed in great details with reference to Section 345 IPC in the cases of State of Punjab v. Major Singh and Major Singh Lachhman Sing v.State, The court did not step away from acknowledging the fact that men can also be represented in an inappropriate way but the same does not prevail in the society and is not often talked about.
After due inspection, the court came to a conclusion that, as long as a contest is within its limits to respect the modesty of its participants and follow the rule of law, it remains valid. If such a contest offends the law and is meant for sexual or commercial exploitation of its participants, it naturally and automatically offends public morality and public opinion by not keeping in check its decency, dignity, modesty and preservation of womanhood standards.
The test of obscenity was established in the case of Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra, and Chandrakant Kalyandas Kakodkar v. State of Maharashtra, where the court held that a test of obscenity must be of a general character. It is cardinal, that the test must also admit of a fair and just application on a case to case basis with a demarcation line to suffice for adequately distinguishing and telling the thin line of difference between what is objectionable and obscene and what is not.
The court in the present case, with the legal reasoning in the background, drew a parallel between the representation of women across a diverse medium and platforms of creative, literary and academic avenues like beauty pageants, live shows, speeches etc, and held that no matter what is the nature of the medium, it must follow the rules of the obscenity test laid down in the precedent of Ranjit Udeshi.
The AP High Court also referred to Supreme Court’s verdict on Bobby Art International v. Hoon, establishing that the mere portrayal of something unconventional like naked scenes in a film would not be considered to be obscene as long as it is an integral part of the film and serves its purpose of the cinematic element. The court addressed the fact that the standards of obscenity differ from country to country and beauty pageants, prima facie, could be illegal as they do not seem to serve a purpose and context.
It is not well denoted that conducting such contests comes under the ambit of any profession, occupation, trade or business as written in Article 19 (a) of the Constitution, even assuming that such contests may be a part of commercialization business by capitalists or business people. The State can very well lay down reasonable restrictions in law in the interests of public order, decency, morality, or defamation to an offence. Article 51a (e) in Part IVA of the Constitution which imposes a duty on every citizen of the nation to renounce practices derogatory and objectionable to the dignity of woman.
INTERNATIONAL LAW RELATED TO REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN
Women rights are enshrined in the International Bill of Rights for Women (Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly). The need for protection of women has also been duly recognized by the UNO which accepted the 4th World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China. The same was published by United Nations 1996 – item (J) – Woman and the media portraying woman primarily as consumers and target girls including pornographic media expression.
Such beauty contests can violate the international accepted laws if they exceed the real purpose of the contest and indulge in unfair practices and representation of women. The states which ratify these conventions are to be the guardians of Women Rights and are under a positive obligation to suppress all traffic in women and exploitation of the prostitution of women (Article 6 of Part I of the Convention of UNO) and take all appropriate measures to tackle the loopholes present in the existing legal protection of the rights of women (Article 2 the Convention of UNO).
RELEVANT STATUTES TO COVER BEAUTY PAGEANTS AS AN OFFENCE
There is no specified piece of legislation to deal with the matter of beauty pageants exclusively hence it will be taken care of under the following –
Indian Penal Code (Central Law)
The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 (Central Act).
IPC Sections 292, to 295, 354 etc., will take care of preventing and punishing the offenders indulging in outraging the modesty of women and indecently representing them in certain forms under the guise of entertainment. The court agreed to the contention that the preamble of the IRW Act 1956 through its particular categories also includes platforms incidental and ancillary to the given mediums like print media and in this case, would also broadly cover beauty pageants as well, only when they indecently represent their women participants.
Such a violation will lead the offender to be liable under Section 6 of the act, where first conviction with imprisonment may extend to 2 years and with fine which may extend to Rupees 2000. In the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment for a term of not less than 6 months but which may extend to 5 years but also with a fine not less than Rupees 10,000 which may extend to Rs. 1 lakh. The respondents if proved to be in contravention with the above law will be punished under Section 7 of the Act as it is a company.
JUDGMENT IN A GLANCE
The police authorities were held in-charge of granting, rejecting and issuing licenses for these beauty competitions. The guidelines issued by the court included a specific time for serving alcohol mandatory public venue with ending before 10 pm, providing registration certificate with bonafide credentials and most importantly the monitoring of the show by a panel of dignitaries constituted by the deemed authority.
Any violation within the meaning of Section 2 (c) of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, is totally prohibited by virtue of Sections 3 and 4 of the said Act.
Such violation punishable under Sections 6 and 7 of the Act both in regard to the offenders and also the abettors who may directly or indirectly encourage, participate or aid in the holding of such contests.
Indecent representation of women in beauty contests offends Article 14, 21 and 51a of the Constitution of India and the international covenants accepted by the UNO in addition to a violation of human rights as is understood both under the Constitution and any law relating to the protection of human rights and punishable as per law in such cases.
OVERVIEW OF THE JUDGEMENT
After considering the complex and over-lapping dimensions of the task, the court came to a culmination that as long as the “beauty contest in any form is in its true sense of the term can be neither obscene nor prohibited under any law as long as it is intended for the welfare of women in all respects and it is intended only as a form of art and entertainment and in a way a sport to select the winners on comparative merit, but if it indecently represents any woman by depicting in any manner the figure of a woman, form, body or any part thereof in such a way so as to have the effect of being indecent, or derogatory to or denigrating women or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals within the meaning of Section 2 (c) of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, is illegal and unconstitutional.
Andhra Pradesh Objectional Performances (Prohibition) Act, 1956 and Rules relating to Places of Public Entertainment in the City of Hyderabad, 1351 F framed under Section 21 of Hyderabad City Police Act, 1348 F were also applied in the present case as the beauty pageant was being in a particular place. Once beauty contests transgress the true intent as above and falls within the definition of obscenity, they may even become an offence, if put into writing or expression in any writing or possible form, thus becoming illegal to be permitted. With the fact in mind that there was no particular legislation for such regulation of beauty contest at that time, the court stipulated some certain guidelines to be followed by the government of India and the concerned appropriate authorities till the time the parliament comes up with a law.
The case was taken up the court under Article 226 of the Constitution which is absolute but is not to be exercised routinely. It was decided by the court that in this case, the police will be the absolute right authority to deal with such beauty contests. The authority was also empowered to appeal before High Court under Section 11 of the Objectionable Performances Act, 1956 before exhausting Article 226 of the Constitution.
The court was successful in striking a balance between the conflicting interest of the parties to the extent that it is made sure that the beauty contest is carried out in all fair means with the help of court’s guidelines and recommended panel.
Division Bench of the High Court Hyderabad heard an appeal in the year 1998 which overturned this judgement given by the Andhra Pradesh High Court, citing the reason that the single judge did not have the jurisdiction and authority to give directions in the Writ Petition. Recently in the case of Mrs Lakshmi Suresh v. Dr M Sekar, personal vendetta was given the name of societal benefit as the Madras High Court completely ignored the set precedent by prohibiting beauty pageants organised in educational institutions.
In today’s day and time, there is still no tailor-made legislation which exists to protect the rights of participants, female or male, in the course of a beauty pageant. With the ever-expanding scope of laws, if any law is made by the parliament, the same will have to cater to a variety of areas exploring even the slightest possibility of a human rights violation. One for example, could be the statutory age requirements for participation in the new and trendy teen or child pageants or the uncharted realms of sexual harassment at these contests. These conjectures call for the dire need of legislative attention by the way of statutory regulation.
●Chandra Rajkumari v. Commissioner of Police Hyderabad, AIR 1998 AP 302.
● Amitabh Corporation Limited v. Mahila Jagrn Manch and others, (1997) 7 SCC 91.
● Mahila Jagran Manch, Bangalore vs State Of Karnataka And Others, 1999 (4) KarLJ 295.
● State of Punjab v. Major Singh AIR 1967 SC 63.
● Major Singh Lachhman Singh v. State AIR 1963 Pandh 443.
● Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1965 SC 881.
●Chandrakant Kalyandas Kakodkar v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1970 (2) SC 1390
● Bobby Art International v. Hoon, (1996) 4 SCC 1
●Surya v. Union of India, AIR 1982
●Rural Litigation Kendra v. State of UP, AIR 1987 SC 359
●Mehata v. Union of India, 1988 (1) SCC 471
● Mrs Lakshmi Suresh v. Dr M Sekar,(Writ Petition No. 21885/2013)
BY- Trisha Shreyashi & Swayamsiddha Das
KIIT University & UNSW, Australia