Endorsing the move to broaden the scope of the definition of the word “advertisement” to include the new forms of communication within the ambit of The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act (IRWA), a parliamentary standing committee has taken note of regressive advertising along with the indecent portrayal of women across various media platforms.

Always a much-debated issue, indecent representation of women became a subject of much concern in the wake of the December 16 gang rape incident in Delhi which shook the nation. Incidentally, the Government moved a bill to amend the IRWA three days before the gang rape.

In its report on The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Amendment Bill, 2012 — that seeks to widen the scope of the 1986 legislation — the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development said some “advertisements promoted the patriarchal set-up by assigning traditional roles to women, thereby being regressive.”

Having raised this issue, the Committee asserted that all forms of advertisements through any medium must be regulated to curb indecent representation of women. However, it has also taken on board the apprehension of some stakeholders that “what constituted as obscenity was highly subjective and interpretation of it may lead to unnecessary harassment at the hands of the police.”

In this regard, the Committee suggested that police officers be trained properly for dealing with cases of indecent representation of women so that there was no scope for subjective and personal interpretations of the term “indecent.” Further, the Bill could provide for seeking the opinion of senior police officers in such matters, members said.

Besides it being a subjective matter, the Committee also acknowledged the fact that obscenity and indecent representation of women could vary in different places or different cultural contexts. Another reality factored in by the Committee was the changing perception in society on various issues.

Under the circumstances, the Committee was of the view that “a broad consensus on what is overtly obscene or depicts women indecently or in bad light needs to be generated or agreed upon so that genuine commercial activity” is not hindered due to unnecessary harassment. Also, the Committee called for drawing a line which was “neither moralistic or interferes with the personal freedom and privacy of individual adults.”

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