In a significant victory for women’s rights and personal autonomy, the Kerala High Court has ruled in favor of Rehana Fathima, a prominent woman’s rights activist who was facing charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO). The charges were related to a case where Fathima allowed her children to paint her semi-nude body. The High Court’s ruling on Monday emphasized that such an act cannot be categorized as a real or simulated sexual act and challenged the societal perception that the naked female upper body is inherently sexualized in all contexts. The court deemed this viewpoint unfair and discriminatory.
Rehana Fathima had approached the High Court after her plea was rejected by the trial court, hoping for a fair assessment of her case. The court’s judgment acknowledged the fundamental rights of women to make autonomous decisions about their bodies, highlighting the significance of equality, privacy, and personal liberty as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
The case against Fathima revolved around charges under the POCSO and Juvenile Justice Acts, as well as the Information Technology Act, for circulating a video in which her minor children were seen painting on her semi-nude body. Justice Kauser Edappagath, while discharging the 33-year-old activist from the case, expressed that it was unduly harsh to label such an innocent artistic expression as the exploitation of a child in a real or simulated sexual act or as child pornography. The High Court’s ruling came in response to Fathima’s appeal seeking the dismissal of the ongoing case after it was rejected by the trial court.
In her appeal, Fathima argued that the body painting was intended as a political statement, highlighting the double standard prevalent in society whereby the naked upper body of women is sexualized while men’s bodies are not subjected to the same scrutiny. The court concurred with her argument, observing that her intention in circulating the video was to expose this prevailing societal double standard.
Kerala Woman’s Charges Dismissed by High Court, Affirming the Principle that ‘Nudity Does Not Always Imply Obscenity’
The prosecution had labeled the act as obscene and indecent, citing that Fathima had exposed her upper body in the video, asserting that it violated public notions of morality. However, the court rejected this contention, asserting that nudity and obscenity should not be equated. It further emphasized that classifying nudity as inherently obscene, indecent, or immoral was erroneous.
Justice Edappagath elucidated that the act in question was not performed for the purpose of sexual gratification or with any sexual intent. The court emphasized that there was no evidence to suggest that the children were exploited for pornography and that the video contained no sexual overtones. Painting on the naked upper body of an individual, irrespective of their gender, could not be deemed a sexually explicit act, the court declared.
Furthermore, the court underscored that all individuals, regardless of gender, have the right to autonomy over their bodies. It lamented the fact that women often face bullying, discrimination, isolation, and prosecution for exercising this right. The court asserted that nudity should not automatically be associated with sexuality and that the two concepts should be disentangled.
Rejecting the prosecution’s argument based on morality, the court stated that morality and criminality do not always align. Actions considered morally wrong may not necessarily be legally wrong. Additionally, the court took note of the statements provided by the petitioner’s children, emphasizing that they are loved and cared for by their mother. It highlighted that Fathima’s prosecution would have adverse effects on the well-being of her children.
High Court Dismisses Charges Against Kerala Woman, Upholding the Notion that ‘Nudity is not Always Linked to Obscenity’
The case against Fathima originated from her video titled “Body and Politics,” which she shared on social media. Subsequently, a report was filed by Cyberdom,
the cyber wing of the Kerala police, under various sections of the POCSO and IT Acts. Earlier, Fathima had also faced police charges following a complaint filed by A.V. Arun Prakash, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party OBC Morcha.
The High Court’s ruling in favor of Rehana Fathima sets an important precedent by recognizing the rights of women to make choices about their bodies and challenging the societal norms that stifle their autonomy. It affirms that nudity should not be automatically associated with obscenity and emphasizes the need to address the existing double standards prevalent in society. This judgment serves as a reminder that personal liberties and fundamental rights must be upheld, ensuring a more inclusive and equitable society for all.