Ban on Pornographic Websites in India
The Department of Telecom’s letter to ISPs banning access to 857 porn websites is interesting in its content. Although the full details have not been revealed on the government’s request, the letter refers to Article 19 (2) of the Constitution, which permits the state to impose “reasonable restrictions” on any right in the interest of “public order, decency or morality”.
For one, the government’s specific request not to reveal the full content of the letter is in line with the general secrecy that surrounds most public policy by recent regimes, particularly the current one. For another, the government’s reason for banning internet porn is the catch-all and very ambiguous “public order and decency”, even though there is no definitive evidence that access to porn is directly linked to serious law enforcement problems, like crime against women. On the other hand, a survey jointly conducted by The Daily Beast website reveals that 30% of Indian Internet porn users are women.
Instead, the reasons which sociological studies assign for rising crimes against women — entrenched patriarchy and misogyny, the inability of the Indian male to come to terms with shifting gender relationships and simmering class conflict — are far more complex for the government to address with a blanket order or letter. In contrast, the government has failed to legislate on a far more pressing socio-legal matter — marital rape —, which, according to some members of the ruling dispensation, does not exist in India.
The ban on pornography is an infringement of the rights of the internet consumer by a nanny state. The state does not have the right to dictate what its netizens would or would not watch. If laws such as a ban on porn have to be promulgated there has to be a consensus taken from the people – because that is what a democracy is all about.
I am not opposed to the ban on moral grounds; in fact, morality does not even come into it. It is not whether internet porn is good or bad for people (who are we to judge? And who, pray, are the “people”?) – it is whether it is available like all other subjects are, on the internet.
The second noteworthy aspect of this attempt at banning internet porn is the mechanism for internet regulation in countries like India. It is extremely difficult to pinpoint pornography and do a selective ban – as the Govt has found out now. Of the 857 sites blocked initially, only the ones showing child porn were to be banned. But it is not possible to isolate these sites, with the technology the Govt has on hand. Moreover, there could be other informative sites that talk about porn, academic sites that deal with the influence of porn on the modern netizen, social media sites that taken in opinion about porn, psychiatry sites that deal with porn addiction – all of these could have some porn content. Would they be banned too?
A cyber filter that blocks search results for porn also has the potential to block websites dealing with AIDS awareness and prevention. That the government did not factor this indicates Indian policymakers are still behind the curve when it comes to their understanding technology.
Here are a few links on the above: