In the recent wake of events, the Hon Supreme Court of India bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu has given four weeks to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to respond to public interest litigation (PIL) seeking blocking of around 850 pornographic sites. The petitioner, Indore based advocate Kamlesh Vaswani is a veteran crusader against the menace. He has time and again filed PILs for banning pornographic content on the Indian web. However, before taking the news easily, the issue demands a serious examination.
India, today the second populous nation state after China, also has 842.34 million active mobile connections. (According to TRAI, for January, 2015) It means a very large canvas of internet usage with affordable 2G and 3G tariff plans (recently 4G joining the league). The development of telecommunication technology with such easy operating gadgets as mobile phones, assessing and watching porn through internet is simpler now. Anyone searching keywords such as ‘sex’ or ‘porn’ on popular search engines as Google, Yahoo or Bing are served with millions of search results in seconds. Adding to the comfort of the seeker, some interesting search trends are also shown to engage the individual.
According to a 2011 IMRB Survey, 1 out of 5 mobile users in India wants adult content on his/her 3G phone enabled. The canvas of social networking sites is expanding rapidly, and the exchange of porn content on Facebook, WhatsApp and others is also increasing.
However, unlike the West, where many countries have legalized pornography, Indian problem is bizarre. With a confusing law, Indians have always had the issues of ethics and morality while discussing anything closer to sex. Even today, a family watching television in their common room becomes uneasy, when a condom ad shown on. Parents usually don’t talk to children about sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS or habits such as masturbation.
Everything in India concerning sex is privately censored and kept behind closed doors. In this condition, what is more suitable than to carry the whole lot in an easily handed mobile phone? But this is serving great blows to the psyche of the youth and promoting a great deal of crimes such as rapes, sexual harassment and posting sexual content on the web.
The Legalities Vs Illegalities of It
In India, watching pornographic material is legal; however its distribution is not. Similarly, the production or publication is also prohibited. The Information Technology Act, 2000 specifies that online pornography is a punishable offence (Chapter XI, IT Act, 2000).
The sections such as 292 and 293 of Indian Penal Code deal with laws against the sale of pornographic or obscene content. The IT Act, 2000 was amended by the parliament in 2008, whereby inserting 67B which made child pornography in India illegal. But, even after all these arrangements, there are thousands of web links which are distributing the illicit content through subscription or even free.
There cannot be a blockade in the accessing of the porn content. Time and again, “Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI)” has regretted their inability in doing so, because they are merely conduits for providing internet access to customers. They cannot ban certain websites without the orders from the court or the government.
The government on the other hand claims that when one such web site is blocked, a new one appears. In reply to a PIL before Hon Supreme Court in August 2014, government replied that, “there are around four crore websites and when we block one, a new comes along.” Hearing the plea, the then Chief Justice R M Lodha said, “Law, technology and governance have to be synthesized to control pornographic material on the internet.” However, these normative concerns are of no use when anyone who uses internet knows that the number of such websites is increasing manifold every day. The government has regretted that since web servers of many of such sites are located outside the country, controlling them is an expensive venture.
Shift in Trends
Every society should be responsible towards the paradigm shifts it experiences in her structure. After the liberalism, India had her own share of problems, some diminishing and many waking up. Earlier, accessing porn content was limited to lethargic video cassettes in VCR/VCP era which were sold or rented privately to a few. But, now the case has taken a sharp turn. Everyone has cheap and affordable internet in their phones, tablets and laptops. The increasing criminal offence with everyday posts of MMSs and webcam captures of sexual display is a very serious issue.
Unfortunately, our society has not responded responsibly to the same. Our education system has failed to clarify the decency of public and private realms in the life of an individual. Our parents seem to have failed in inculcating a moral and ethical living in their children. In around 2005, when first such MMS of a Delhi Public School (R K Puram, New Delhi) girl went viral, the MMS being shot by her class mate perhaps through her consent, our society didn’t wake up to the shrilling alarm. And this went on repeatedly through changing names of MMSs.
We cannot leave everything to the government, courts or some enlightened petitioners to fight for our social harmony. Of late, these illicit contents have also added a lot to the growing crimes against women. The foreign female tourists who are thought of as easy prey and end up being raped many times again has its explanation in ignorant people watching porn.
The depiction of women in these contents as lustful and easy giving beings promotes this pre-conceived notion that women must submit out of her sexual arousal if she is forced into the discourse. Our cinemas have also to be blamed when they are offering from the earlier days, sexually loaded content in the reel just to attract the audiences. While promoting her movie once the famous actress Ms Nehu Dhupia proudly claimed that, “Only sex and Shah Rukh Khan sells in Bollywood.”
The statement attracted many raised eyebrows then, but was considered a gross reality by marketing pundits. To put it simply, sex is served because it sells without having any market or inflationary constraints. And we, the people buy it.
Is There a Way Out
The larger question, after all the ifs and buts is what is the way out? The way out can be either through legalized instruments with courts and government coming out with censorship whips. This was implied in Communist China where more than 15,000 pornographic websites, including 11,000 mobile WAP sites were shut down or blocked only in one year. Chinese also launched various rounds of crackdown on spreading pornographic content to “purify the social environment”. But this is not a plausible way in the largest democracy, with various breed of activists who will soon join the battle against any action of censorship on the internet.
Even though the ban could be in the larger interest of the society, the liberty of many individuals may get tormented as one may claim that watching porn is their sanctioned ‘fundamental right’. We may even witness some groups knocking the doors of the court that they are being harassed through any such censorship or ban. We do suffer from an irresponsible cult of activists in India; porn is not the only concern. Huh!
The second, and more viable and plausible way is a ‘social and yet individual responsibility, along with measured legal framework to look out for the culprits.’ We do have the legal, what is missing is the latter. Recently, Hon Prime Minister has launched the ‘Digital India’ programme.
The project aims to connect this massive landscape through more cheaper and affordable internet. We are going to have almost free Wi-Fi hotspots around the country on various public and tourist places. Now the ball is in our court. Are we going to use this cheap technology for watching porn and jerking off, or read articles and papers regarding advancement of science and tech world over? Are we going to get an eyeful of some porn star’s nudity or will read the biographies or watch online lectures of great men around the world? Are we going to post only our selfie or nude pictures of our female friends, or we will share our contributions in eliminating the poverty or educating even a single child? Are we going to post illicit content of our female co-workers, or will post selfie with daughters to empower them with respect?
Thus, a complete ban on watching or distributing porn is not possible or required. What is required is a sense of decency and a respect for other individuals and their rights. One should be concerned enough about whether his or her sexual urge, it should not harass the rights of the other being in a society. Famous porn star Anjali Kara once remarked that, “sex for her in porn films is all about acting.” Thus, if porn is now being represented as an entertaining art, it must remain behind closed doors for those who appreciate it. It must not come out in public to infringe the rights of many others.
By Shaan Kashyap
Author is a student of History at Banaras Hindu University