Govt's ban on porn: It can’t just be turned off | analysis | Hindustan Times
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Govt's ban on porn: It can’t just be turned off

There are arguments for and against porn, but disabling websites should not have been the first step of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

analysis Updated: Aug 09, 2015 20:32 IST
Can the government stop users from visiting porn sites? (Shutterstock Image)
Can the government stop users from visiting porn sites? (Shutterstock Image)

Indians suddenly have a lot of time on their hands. As one of the major consumers of pornography worldwide — ranking fifth in the list of countries that direct the most number of daily visitors to a leading porn website — the effects of the disabling of 857 pornography websites, following a ministry of home affairs (MHA) order, are just beginning to be felt.

The MHA has used the Supreme Court’s criticism of the government’s failure to take action on child pornography to effectively block almost all pornography.

The issue is complicated, one that puts conservative Hindu nationalists on the same side as some feminists. The former reckon that porn corrupts notions of decency and moral values, while the latter argue that the industry inherently exploits women, representing and perpetuating beliefs about women as sex objects.

Thinkers like Catharine Mackinnon and Andrea Dworkin argued long ago that the very production of pornography involved the physical, psychological and economic coercion of women. In a country where women have long had subordinate status and continue to be subject to gendered representation and practice, it is easy to understand why arguments against pornography that subliminally reinforce the objectification of women have certain purchase.

Defenders of pornography too have strong arguments. For them this is about free speech and expression, about the right of individuals to process desire in private spaces without State intrusion. Liberals recognise the coercive aspects of the industry but argue that it is not bereft of consent, which they see as a legitimate expression of sexual freedom.

This is not an easy issue, but resorting to blocking porn altogether is not the answer. Analysts rightly state that it is possible to regulate porn in a way that differentiates between the coercive and the consensual — and one that balances individual freedoms with the ‘interests of equality’.

The MHA must consider two other points. The porn block is part of a trend where books, beef and liquor are banned in places and where civil liberties are under pressure. This prompts many to wonder if more constriction of freedoms is to follow. Lastly, the NDA must know porn is popular and so this is not a politically sensible move. A quarter of porn users in India happen to be women.