This article originally appeared on VICE India
A case of assault from 2014 has led to a ruling by a Delhi court that showing your middle finger is a punishable offence, with jail time and a fine. The case came up when the complainant alleged that the man, the woman’s own brother-in-law, had given her the finger, along with passing lewd comments and also slapping her. After a trial of almost five years, the man was booked under Section 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and Section 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) of the Indian Penal Code.
The action of the man, noted Vasundhara Azad, the metropolitan magistrate, “undeniably amounts to making utterances or gestures intending to insult the modesty of a woman.” According to reports, the man could be facing a maximum punishment of up to three years in jail, along with a fine.
In May 2014, the complainant filed charges against her brother-in-law, but the latter refuted all allegations and claimed trial. The man further testified the woman charged him over a property dispute. His sister also claimed that the complaint was a false one. However, the court found that there’s no reason to disbelieve the complainant. “It is quality, not quantity or number of witnesses, that matters,” said Azad. “[The] accused stands convicted.” The verdict on the jail term will be announced on Tuesday.
Giving the middle finger in India has landed Indian men in trouble before. In 2017, for instance, a 21-year-old man was arrested in New Delhi for showing the finger to a woman while driving. He was immediately booked under Section 509. Then again in 2018, a man was arrested for showing a female co-worker the middle finger. Also, in 2017, WhatsApp was taken to the court for introducing the “lewd” middle finger emoji.
It’s also worth noting that the law is gender-specific, which means that the same law would not apply if the finger was shown by a woman. There are also debates on how laws on obscenity across the world do not make sense in the present world, and hence violate the freedom of speech while wasting judicial resources. For now, though, India’s obscenity laws pretty much exist in the grey area, which is even leading to a crackdown on our entertainment.
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