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By Naved Ahmed

Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor has brought forward a private bill named “Freedom of Literature Bill” in the Lok Sabha. The private bill seeks to remove “outdated provisions which are not congruent with the spirit of democracy, such as the anti-blasphemy and obscenity laws”.

“My bill also substantially curbs the power of the government to ban books,” he said in his tweets.

The Bill aims at removing the obscenity and blasphemy laws. Under the current scenario, the selling, distributing, circulation and even public exhibition of ‘obscene’ materials is punishable under the Indian Penal Code. The Bill put forward talks of omitting section 292 (sale of obscene materials) and amending section 293 (sale of obscene materials to young person), but section 294 (doing obscene acts at public place) is kept untouched. This shows that the bill aims at liberating literature and not at diluting the law. The proposed amendment to section 293 seeks punishment only for selling ‘obscene material’ to persons less than 18 years.

The bill also seeks to omit section 295A and section 298 of the Indian Penal Code, the blasphemy laws, which penalize ‘wounding of religious feelings’. Tharoor’s stand on this is that the ‘blasphemy laws’ are vague and archaic. They are intended only to suppress alternate views which are inconsistent with the majority public opinion.

The Bill also seeks to omit the word ‘obscene’ from the term indecent representation of women by suggesting this definition — “indecent representation of women”  means the derogatory depiction of women or any depiction or publication which encourages or justifies the abuse or suppression of women.

It further seeks to amend the customs act by adding a
sub-section to section 11, “the import of any book shall not be prohibited by the Central Government, except on the ground that the circulation of the book is likely to cause a breach of public order, despite taking reasonable measures to prevent the same.”

Section 95 and 96 of the Code of the Criminal Procedure are also hoped to be amended which provides for the procedure that the order of banning a book by the state government be ratified by the high court.

—India Legal Bureau

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