Special Correspondent

Bangalore: V.S. Malimath, former Chief Justice of the Karnataka and Kerala High Courts, on Wednesday dispelled misconceptions surrounding the Supreme Court judgment on what constitutes obscenity.

Contrary to common perception, the judgment in December 2006, did not pronounce that nudity is not obscenity, he said at a seminar organised by the Karnataka State Women's Commission.

Dismissing a petition seeking a ban on publication of obscene photographs in newspapers, the Bench had cited a piece of American legislation that stated that nudity "alone" did not make for obscenity and any material could be considered obscene or otherwise only in a specific context.

This seminar was organised on the premise that Supreme Court had declared that "nudity is not obscenity." But following Mr. Malimath's clarification, it veered into a philosophical debate on "obscenity" and "nudity" rather than one on the legalities of the issue. This seminar is the third being organised by the commission within a gap of 10 days.

Home Minister M.P. Prakash, who was the chief guest, pointed out that the acts of Akkamahadevi, 12th Century Vachana poet, or Bahubali, the Jain monk, of abandoning their clothes was a symbolic gesture of giving up all worldly attachments. These could not be perceived as obscene. Obscenity could only be defined in cultural, social and economic contexts, he said.

Former Minister and writer B.T. Lalita Naik read one of her poems titled "Bettalaagabeku," which interpreted nudity as a process of shedding all pretences, again citing Akkamahadevi and Gommateswara as examples.

Mr. Malimath also suggested that rather than quibble over words, an organisation such as the Women's Commission should concentrate on larger issues.

"Taming animal instincts" is the real purpose of civilisation and education, he said, and put a large part of the onus of undertaking this project on the shoulders of women.

"Do not encourage the animal," he pronounced.