In the mid-1990s, a pornography case from Rajasthan, India set the legal precedent for other Indian states. The crime in question was selling sex from a public place called a “smoker’s paradise”. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the punishment for this crime was death by hanging. This meant that even a person participating in porn films could spend the rest of their lives in prison. This was the first time that this form of pornography had been charged under the controversial “degrading media material” law. Although India has not yet implemented this law to the same extent as the US or UK, it has become an increasingly potent symbol of the fight against pornography in India and around the world.
Known as the Vasant Vihar Case, this pornography case made the mistake of involving the prosecution lawyer, Sunil Gupta, representing the defense. While Gupta was successful in getting the conviction overturned on appeal, his arguments on appeal did not conform to the stipulated format and the judgment was ultimately overturned. The court did not have a male member, which meant that the 7-year old victim could not be identified as a main participant. This was a big blow to the prosecutors, who argued that the girl was a willing participant and thus should be treated as such. A fresh appeal was filed, however, and this time the prosecutor chose to represent the girl.
The Vasant Vihar Case brought the awareness of Indian women and society as a whole that the depiction and use of porn in any media, including cinema, is not acceptable. Although laws exist in many countries to protect the production and consumption of pornography, in India they are weak and have no protection at all. Films and photography can be viewed freely on the internet but are not produced, stored or sold legally. This means that the Vasant Vihar Case exposed the rot within the Indian legal system. A new porn case was filed against the prosecutor and two more girls were charged with the same crime.
On appeal, the conviction was overturned on appeal on the first try and the appeal process continued. This second trial exposed corruption in the justice system, which required the original conviction to be overruled. Once more the prosecution was found to have committed errors during the original investigation and handling of the case, resulting in an additional six months added onto the original sentence.
The third appeal process was not successful, again because of corruption and this time the Appeal Court ordered a retrial. After another thorough investigation, it was revealed that the original arresting officer had falsified a report. The entire case collapsed and the convictions were overturned. The original prosecutor was found to have lied under oath and the case was closed.
As you can see, the Vasant Vihar Case is the only instance of its kind in India. Considering the lack of other successful appeals, it is clear that this was a huge case of pornography related prosecution. This story also goes to show just how important a fair trial is and the importance of having a fair trial where the defendant does not get a chance to appeal against the outcome. The Vasant Vihar Case has made the point that when it comes to the credibility of the justice system in India, the better your chances are of defending yourself are. Pornography is against the law and alludes to serious sexual offences, but you do not really have much say in the matter if you are found guilty or innocent, as is the case with a conviction.