More articles by

Meena Kandasamy
Meena Kandasamy

THE F-WORD

Greater malaise

porn-ban-cafe The picture is used only for representational purposes only | AP
  • I do think that the pornographic industry overwhelmingly represents NOT freedom but its opposite, the enslavement of women's bodies, the casualisation of paedophilia, the trivialisation of rape, the culture of trophy videos of rape.

This week, the Modi-led government directed internet service providers to block/ban access to over 800 porn sites that has caused not just hilarious responses on Twitter and tongue-in-cheek outpourings of dejection but also concern from those who are worried about internet freedom.

The list of websites in the Department of Telecommunications circular were compiled by Kamlesh Vaswani, a lawyer who had tried to get the Supreme Court of India to block these websites, and who believes that pornography is “worse than Hitler, worse than AIDS, cancer or any other epidemic”. Although Vaswani lost his case because the sitting judge held that adults had the right to watch porn in the privacy of their own rooms, the government seemed to have implemented his request, bypassing the judicial process. And then, just two days later, in the face of embarrassment, and having given free publicity to online pornography through their ready-reckoner list, the ban was partially lifted.

To me, porn is not just about the privacy of an individual, and his or her right to pleasure. It is not a free speech issue that can be taken up and debated devoid of any context. It is engaging to talk about the eroticism of porn, the fantasies that it allows, and prefer to paint it as emancipatory and liberatory. While it represents the superficial liberal interpretation, I do think that the pornographic industry overwhelmingly represents NOT freedom but its opposite, the enslavement of women's bodies, the casualisation of paedophilia, the trivialisation of rape, the culture of trophy videos of rape, and all this, on top of being one of the most exploitative global sex industries that has trafficking, forced prostitution, abuse and near-slavery ingrained in it.

To point out the problematic nature of production and consumption of porn is something I do as a feminist, not something that I do because of some "Indian" inhibition to sex, and certainly not because I buy into the argument that the prevalent misogyny and rape culture in our societies is solely due to porn. I do not believe that porn leads to the ruin of our society, but on the other hand, I believe that some of the porn available on the internet—like trophy rape videos and videos involving children—actually reflects the ruin of our society.

We have had news reports of video clips of gang-rape being sold for online distribution. The CBI has been called to investigate a few of these clips, at the behest of the Supreme Court of India. These are deeply problematic and the fact that this constitutes a tiny number does not dilute the gravity of the situation. The fact that “rape” and “gangbang” and “forced” are genres of porn on so many websites is disturbing. Nearly everyone has heard of revenge porn, and the deep, calamitous effects it could have in wrecking someone’s future.

To speak against the policing of the internet by the state machinery that goes to great lengths to hound dissent—characterised in the witch-hunt of activist Teesta Seetalvad, for instance—does not mean that one upholds or celebrates pornography. Likewise, to raise issues with the brutally anti-women nature of the majority of porn does not mean an endorsement of the idea that the solution to the problem comes through a blanket censorship of blocking hundreds of websites.

An authoritarian regime that is on a banning spree is not going to be the messiah that ends rape culture. Since the arena of operations has moved to the online world, these bans could be effected against the websites of political dissidents, and to effectively curb all expression of opposition to the Hindu extremist, corporate-friendly policies of the government. The transition from porn ban to social media ban might not be as far away as we imagine.

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