At a time when questions of moral turpitude are being raised all over the country due to the assault on women at pubs in Mangalore, there comes a judgment, that stands out. While defining the contours of law and morality, the Delhi High Court has ruled that there is nothing wrong with a couple kissing in a park and that doing so would not be violative of Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code.
Noting that a public display of affection in the form of kissing does not in any way constitute obscenity and violative of public order, Justice Muralidhar dismissed the charges against the couple as laid down by the police.
Now the question of morality and what kind of perverse acts should be permitted by law has always been a debate. Those in favour of the public display of affection (like myself) turn to Dworkin’s “Do we have a Right to Pornography?” written in his book A Matter of Principle. In the article Dworkin makes a case for the open publishing and distribution of pornographic magazines and states that such an action is based on the society’s conception of individual liberty and privacy. Arguing that there is no harm to the individual himself/ herself with the expression of feelings in such a manner, Dworkin adds that there is no right of the State to tell the individual what to do, especially if it blatantly violates his liberty.
He however adds, that this isn’t the main concern. He states that it is not the expression of such feelings that matter, but the disgust caused to the public at large that is the main cause for concern in regulating such expression. He adds;
“Of course individual liberty would be very restricted if no one was allowed to do anything that any single other person found offensive. … The question is whether the harm to those who find offense would outweigh the desire for all those who wish to do what would offend them ?”
Dworkin says that the answer would lie in as to how such acts are perceived in the society at large and the level of maturity that is attributed to it. Regulation must not be such as to hamper the ideal of individual liberty that we hold so dear to ourselves.
Muthalik’s actions in Mangalore, Shilpa Shetty kissing Richard Gere and many other must be looked in the context of individual liberty and not what a third person would perceive of them. There should be nothing wrong with girls drinking in a bar and we must attribute to them that level of freedom. Not doing so, would make citizens lose their respects for Government (Dworkin, ‘Taking Rights Seriously’).
Justice Muralidhar’s decision I would say throws light on this issue and could be compared to Dworkin’s argument.
P.S. : I had the good fortune of clerking with Justice Muralidhar in 2007. Ranks amongst my best internship experiences. The judgment can be viewed at the Delhi High Court website.