Is sale of sex toys in India legal?
Adult products are openly sold in India however it's unclear whether it's legal to do so. Products like condoms, lubes, gels are legally sold under 'sexual wellness' category and are available at pharmacies across India. However, products categorized as sex toys, may violate obscenity laws and fall within a legal grey area. In this timeline, we take a closer look at this conundrum.
Currently, no laws specifically ban the import or sale of sex toys but its display and exhibition may violate Indian laws on grounds of obscenity. Section 292 of Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 deems sale, advertisement, distribution, public exhibition of obscene books, paper, drawing, painting or any other "obscene" object, illegal. Obscenity is a criminal offence under Indian law punishable with imprisonment and fine.
For any object to be considered obscene, it must be "lascivious or appeals to prurient interests" and have a tendency to "corrupt or deprave". In 2011, in Calcutta HC, obscenity charges were sought to be applied to sex toys: court held "emphatically" that such charges weren't "legally sustainable". Court added that just because such toys aroused sexual desires, they couldn't be labelled "obscene".
For a long time, adult lifestyle products have been sold in the grey market, often by street vendors. In Delhi's Pallika Bazaar or Mumbai's Crawford market, sex toys are easily accessible. Last couple of years, there's been an explosion in the e-commerce segment for sale of adult/sex toys. Amazon, Flipkart and several other websites have mushroomed to tap into growing demand.
India's online sexual wellness industry is expected to touch $1.4 billion by 2020, a phenomenal growth rate from previous estimates of $163 million in 2014.
One of India's largest e-commerce players, Snapdeal, was dragged to court in 2015 for selling "sex toys and accessories." Delhi-based Supreme Court lawyer, Suhaas Joshi, who filed a complaint said e-commerce players were selling products "abetting gay sex". Joshi said he wanted to "test the limits of India's homosexuality law" and and also felt there was no clarity whether such products were legal.
In Snapdeal's case, court asked the police to immediately investigate the matter complained about and submit a report to the court. In the meantime, Snapdeal continues to list a wide range of adult products. A court ruling is still awaited.