Nanny state rules porn bad for you

by Prasad Krishna last modified Aug 05, 2015 01:39 AM

The article by Anahita Mukherji was published in the Times of India on August 4, 2015. Pranesh Prakash gave his inputs.


Half a century ago, India banned the DH Lawrence classic, Lady Chatterley's Lover. The ban, though lambasted for its Victorian view of modesty and obscenity, was fair and square; the matter was debated in the Supreme Court, which upheld the ban. Over 50 years later, a diverse spectrum of civil society has slammed a much more insidious and far less transparent ban on internet pornography.

For starters, the 857 sites that vanished from India's internet sphere haven't been officially banned, they just don't show up when you type the url. The order blocking them isn't public. For a list of the 857 sites, one must rely on leaked documents put out on Twitter by Pranesh Prakash, policy director, Centre for Internet and Society. "The ban on Lady Chatterley's Lover was public. As for the blocked websites, the government has gone out of its way to hide the list of sites pulled down. A secret order banning material violates all principles of transparency in a democracy," says Prakash.

The document, with 'Restricted' written on it, is a letter from the department of telecom asking ISPs to disable 857 sites as they bear content related to "morality" and "decency," violating Article 19 (2).

Strangely, the order's been issued under Sec 79 (3)(b) of the IT Act dealing with intermediaries having to remove material used to commit unlawful acts. "Watching porn isn't illegal in India. Disseminating 'obscene' content can be illegal, but for that, the government must file a case against the sites, and they must be allowed a representation," says Prakash.

"Sec 79 (3)(b) of the IT act isn't the section under which governments can block sites. It should use Sec 69 that has a review process," says Nikhil Pahwa, a champion of internet freedom.

The government drew up its list of 857 sites even as SC is in the process of hearing a petition to ban porn and is yet to pass an order. It includes playboy.com that, says Prakash, is a legitimate adult site. Pahwa points to the ban's "bizarrely moralistic undertones".

"As society evolves, government and regulatory regime are stuck in medieval ages," he says, adding a ban on websites will be rendered ineffective, pushing users to VPNs, a black hole for government monitoring mechanisms.

"A government that hasn't succeeded with Make in India is trying to prevent Make out in India," says venture capitalist Mahesh Murthy, who earlier backed net neutrality.

"The government is blocking websites to keep Rightwing lunatic fringes happy after its unsuccessful bid to pass the land bill," says Murthy.

"It isn't merely looking at blocking porn, but is trying to bring back Sec 66A (IT Act), ruled unconstitutional by the SC," he adds. "It's part of the bid to restrict individual freedom, create an artificial separation between Indian culture and anything erotic, driven by a diktat from Hindutva forces. It's ironic as Modi came to power as someone looking to activate individual agency. Now he's wary about where that leads to," says Subir Sinha, professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London). Murthy and Sinha believe the issue stems from a refusal to accept Indian culture in totality. "Victorian morality is considered Hindu, Khajuraho isn't," says Murthy.

"The government seems to be acting in a more high-handed manner than previous ones. The press and public opinion should wake up to this," says sociologist Andre Beteille.

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