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The supreme court’s dismissal of a number of cases which were filed against Tamil actress Khushboo for her comments on pre-marital sex addresses some issues which are important for our social life and judicial system. The first relates to the substance of the charge that she was encouraging immorality by drawing attention to the increasing cases of pre-marital sex and live-in relationships. In the first place her remarks, made about five years ago, in an interview were distorted. While she had said that those who are involved in pre-martial sex should safeguard themselves, it was twisted to mean that she advocated permissive conduct. The court in any case made the legal point clear that no section of the Indian law is violated when two consenting adults live together without marrying or decide to have a relationship. Social attitudes and individual conduct keep changing and nobody can be hauled up for his or her personal life, as long as it is within the limits of legal correctness.

The second issue the court has addressed is freedom of expression. It upheld the right to free speech of a citizen, however unorthodox the views are and unpleasant they are to some sections of the people. Khushboo’s remarks reflected her observation of society and were a fair comment on it. They neither disturbed the peace nor were meant to hurt sentiments. The policing sought to be done by self-appointed guardians of morality and tradition over the unconventional words and deeds of individuals has been seen before also. Khushboo’s opinion that it was hypocritical to say that there is no pre-marital sex in the society was dubbed as denigration of women. Do men have the right to pre-marital sex, and would the licence work without partnership with women?

Another issue is the flooding of the judiciary with frivolous cases. There were 22 criminal cases against Khushboo filed in lower courts, and the Madras high court, instead of dismissing them, consolidated them and ordered a joint trial. It should have been clear to the court that the cases were meant for harassment of the actress, which she has suffered for five years. The courts are also responsible for encouraging the flood of such flippancy and burdening themselves, thus resulting in judicial delays.

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