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The Tricky Thing About Fighting Blocking Of Porn In India


Arguing against the blocking of pornography in India is a very tricky thing, especially when it is linked to rape: there’s a public interest litigation in the Kerala High Court, filed after the brutal rape in Delhi last December, a recent one in the Supreme Court, and also that a recent, brutal and horrifying rape of a five year old. There is also the fact to consider that with the proliferation of mobile phones, the ability for someone to use a clip created – at times knowingly – for private use between two consenting adults, can easily be used to harass, or even destroy someone’s life and/or reputation.

If you say that you’re against the blocking of access to Internet porn in India, you’re likely to be deemed a pervert or a defender of perversion. There are those who view it as a form of freedom of expression: for example, the (mostly lost) battle against the blocking and censorship of Savita Bhabhi, an adult comic series which was blocked in India, is about to be released as a movie, and the entire premise behind the movie version of Savita Bhabhi is against censorship of Freedom of Speech. Given the history of censorship around the movie, Deshmukh, the creator of the adult comic plans to stream the movie in India.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind regarding the blocking of porn in India:

1. The cases that have been filed apparently don’t need to be filed: the IT Rules 2011, porn can be blocked. Section 2(b) has it covered -

is grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever;

While there are issues with the way the IT Rules are framed – for example, the definition of most of these terms are vague, and liable to misuse, specific instances of porn can still be blocked by filing a case under the IT Rules.

2. The definition of the term pornography: Would Savita Bhabhi be deemed to be porn? There are innumerable films with nudity – would they be deemed to be porn? Would, say, Makhmalbaf’s Scream of the ants be deemed pornography? What about TV shows like Californication or the Game of Thrones? If not porn, someone could easily argue that there is art – both still and moving pictures – that can be blocked because “there is obscenity”. The art versus obscenity argument is age-old, and there are no clear answers there.

3. Access to porn has been available in India since before the Internet. Some of legislators have been caught on tape watching it on their mobile phones. Some of our parliamentarians and political party members have apparently been filmed. The problem that people trying to block it might have is not that it is available, but that with the growth of the Internet, it’s consumption might become more pervasive, and they’re not certain how it might impact people. Should that be reason enough to block access to porn?

4. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the invasion of someone’s privacy is difficult to argue against.

5. One is not clear whether blocking porn is actually a solution in case of rape. From what little I have read, it appears to be about power and depravity. How censorship addresses either of these situations is beyond me.

6. I don’t think it is possible to block porn on the Internet. There’s too much of it, in too many places, and there will always be workarounds.

7. The linking of pornography to rape is an easy way out. I remember Madhu Menon tweeting yesterday, in jest, that since the rapist in the recent case watched porn and then used chocolate to lure the child, one should ban chocolate as well.

 

8. A similar argument is made regarding the blocking of accounts where there is fear of violence due to public unrest: that because the spread of information (and mis-information) is so swift, that the authorities are fearful that a mob might collect and things might get out of hand, so for them, it makes sense to block the accounts. To this, my argument is that you cannot substitute poor policing with censorship – and that too many of our windows are broken, so there is a sense of lawlessness when it comes to mobs. At the same time, as Samar Halarnkar recently pointed out, our police force is understaffed, under-trained, underpaid, unappreciated and stressed out, and so I guess we can’t really always put the entire liability on them, even if it is their job.

So what is the answer? Is there an answer? I’m not sure, and I’m struggling with it as well. It’s somewhat philosophical as well – are you a liberal, a conservative, an individualist (in the sense, should individuals be responsible for their actions, or are mobs a societal problem, and the state needs to create boundaries?) or…it’s your call.

What worries me is this constant battering Internet access and Freedom of Expression is receiving from some people, and from government authorities, and I’m afraid there is a move to make use of extreme cases like rape, defamation and pornography – as real as they are – to exercise some control over this seemingly uncontrollable space.  The exercising and institutionalization of that control, whether through blocking, identification or monitoring has a significant downside in a regime that is trying to limit freedom of expression.

This isn’t just about porn.

Update: Pranesh Prakash of CIS India points out two key things: Firstly, he says that the IT Rules do not mandate blocking. In my view, the blocking is implicit in the rules, though not explicit. The natural reaction of an intermediary is to block, so as to avoid taking on liability, so they will block. Which Indian ISP will run the risk refusing a request to block porn? Secondly, Prakash says “The IT Act allows you to prosecute someone for transmitting pornography… But making something illegal is different from allowing for it to be blocked.” I agree, and I’m a little confused here, and not just because I’m not a lawyer: If porn isn’t illegal, when why can someone be prosecuted for transmitting it?

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  • Anonymous

    I like the point where you said, ban chocolates also. It’s just the way of an impotent government to ban porn so that they could show that they have actually found a way to stop rapes, but everybody knows this is not a solution. If somebody doesn’t like porn, then do not watch it. It’s a way of entertainment. I bet there is not a single human on planet who doesn’t like sex, then why hide the fact. Hippocrates!

  • http://twitter.com/prakash7603 Prakash

    What happened to land of kamasutra, trying to ban porn? I guess years of muslim invasion left country into sexually deprived nation, causing more rapes.