Boris and Barbara

In 1993, when admittedly Boris Becker was not entirely focused on Tennis, a German Magazine, STERN, published an article with a picture of Boris Becker posing nude with his dark-skinned fiancée. Sports World and Anandabazar Patrika, in India, reproduced the article and the photograph.

A lawyer in the capacity of an “experienced Advocate and an elderly person” stood his ground on the fact that the photograph would “corrupt young minds” and unless such “obscene photographs are censured and bannedthe dignity and honor of our womanhood would be in jeopardy”. He filed a complaint under Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”).

The Magistrate proposed to initiate proceedings, amongst others, against both the Editor of Anandabazar Patrika and the then Editor of Sports World – the late Mansoor Ali Khan of Pataudi. Section 482 Quash Proceedings before the High Court failed. And only recently has the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, in the matter of Aveek Sarkar & Anr. v. State of West Bengal & Ors., [(2014) 4 SCC 257], finally answered whether the photograph of Boris Becker with his fiancée, Barbara Fultus could be stated to be objectionable so as to initiate proceedings under Section 292 of the IPC.

The test for obscenity, according to SC, is the question: has the material any tendency of exciting lustful thoughts in an average person by contemporary community standards? The average person, by present community standards, shall surely consider the “particular posture and the background in which the nude/semi-nude woman is depicted”; the “context of the material and the “message” it wants to convey.

In the photograph under question, the context was Boris wanting to say to all of Germany that an “inter-racial relationship is ok”; the message was to “eradicate the evil of racism and apartheid in the society and to promote love and marriage between a white skinned man and a black skinned woman”. The posture: “Breast of Barbara Fultus…fully covered with the arm of Boris Becker, a photograph, of course, semi-nude, but taken by none other than the father of Barbara”. Considering this, the SC was “not prepared to say” that the photograph or the article, reproduced by Sports World Anandabazar Patrika, was objectionable.

It is most comical that the dispute that had started in 1993 has finally been resolved in 2014. And in between, Boris Becker and Barbara Fultus have married and divorced. Who gets a semi-nude photograph clicked with his girlfriend – gets paid in millions perhaps – has the photo published – gets to fight against racism in the most commercially profitable way possible – and has the world musing on the photo even two decades later? A Stern. The German word for a ‘Star’.

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