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Kerala High Court Rules Nudity Should Not Be Equated with Sex: Rehana Fathima Acquitted in Controversial Case

A female activist named Rehana Fathima was charged with POCSO after she posed semi-nude for her children, asking them to make a painting of her.

By M. A. AlamPublished about a year ago โ€ข 3 min read
Womenโ€™s Rights Activist Rehana Fathima

In a significant ruling, the Kerala High Court has emphasized the importance of granting autonomy over one's body and denounced the denial of this right to women. The court discharged Rehana Fathima, a prominent women's rights activist who was facing charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO), Juvenile Justice, and Information Technology Acts. Fathima had been accused of circulating a video in which she posed semi-nude while allowing her minor children to paint on her body.

Court Upholds Autonomy and Equality

Justice Kauser Edappagath, while delivering the verdict, stated that the allegations against Fathima did not provide any grounds to infer that her children were involved in any real or simulated sexual acts for sexual gratification. The court emphasized that a woman's right to make autonomous decisions about her own body lies at the core of her fundamental rights to equality and privacy, as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The ruling came in response to Fathima's appeal against a trial court decision that had dismissed her plea to be discharged from the case.

Artistic Expression, Not Sexual Act

Justice Edappagath agreed with Fathima's argument that the body painting performed by her children on her upper body was an innocent artistic expression and could not be characterized as a real or simulated sexual act. The court firmly stated that there was no hint of sexuality in the video, and painting on a naked upper body, regardless of gender, should not be considered a sexually explicit act. The judge also criticized the tendency to sexualize the naked female body while treating the naked male body differently.

Nudity, Morality, and Subjectivity

The court emphasized that nudity should not be automatically associated with sex and stated that the mere sight of a naked upper body should not be deemed sexual by default. The judge further argued that the depiction of a naked woman's body should not be labeled as obscene, indecent, or sexually explicit per se. Addressing the prosecution's claims regarding public notions of morality, the court highlighted the subjective nature of social morality and clarified that what may be considered morally wrong does not necessarily equate to being legally wrong.

The Right to Choose and Protecting the Best Interests of Children

Reaffirming the importance of personal autonomy, the court stated that individuals, irrespective of gender, have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. It further recognized the loving and caring relationship between Fathima and her children, asserting that the prosecution's continuation would have adverse effects on the minors. The court, therefore, concluded that the prosecution could not be allowed to proceed in the best interests of the victims.

Context and Verdict

Justice Edappagath criticized the lower court for overlooking the context in which the video was published and the message it aimed to convey. Consequently, the high court set aside the previous order and discharged Fathima, finding no sufficient grounds to proceed against her. The case had been registered by the Kochi city police under various sections of the POCSO and IT Acts, based on a report filed by the cyber wing of the Kerala police. Additionally, Fathima faced charges under the Information Technology Act and the Juvenile Justice Act on a complaint filed by a political leader.

The Kerala High Court's ruling in Rehana Fathima's case marks a significant milestone in upholding the right to autonomy over one's body. The court's assertion that nudity should not be inherently tied to sexual acts challenges prevailing double standards and seeks to break societal taboos. The Kerala High Court bench ended up agreeing with her and said that painting on the upper body cannot be viewed as a sexual act of any nature.

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M. A. Alam

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    MAAWritten by M. A. Alam

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