In India, a ban on pornography may be a good idea

Amrit Dhillon says amid the horrific accounts of rape, the proposal should be taken seriously

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2013, 2:23am

It might seem extreme but Indians are so troubled by the spike in sexual violence against women and children that they are considering extreme measures - including banning pornography.

The idea has been gaining ground after the revelation that the two men who raped a five-year-girl in a New Delhi slum for two days and left her for dead had watched porn clips on their mobile phones before their alcohol-fuelled attack.

In India, no one who wants to watch porn buys DVDs any more; instead they pay a few rupees at a local market for clips to be downloaded onto their mobile phones.

What has provoked the debate is a petition in the Supreme Court by lawyer Kamlesh Vaswani who wants watching pornography to be made a non-bailable offence.

As in the rest of the world, Indians are divided on the issue; some believe there is a direct connection between sexual assault and watching pornography, while others claim the incidence of rape has fallen in many countries as pornography became more easily accessible.

Vaswani is in the first camp and cites a grow fascination with pornography. According to Google Trends, in 2012, New Delhi recorded the highest percentage worldwide for the number of times the word "porn" was searched online.

Vaswani and his supporters have also been heartened by the fact that Iceland, that bastion of individual freedoms, is planning to limit access to porn because of concern that children's attitudes towards sex and women is being harmed by the hardcore imagery online.

Vaswani's petition contains an undeniable truth: India is a society in transition. Semi-educated men from rural areas are flooding into towns and cities in search of work.

Until now, they have only viewed women as "mothers" or "whores". When such a man arrives in the city, he sees a third category - educated, modern, independent women who neither fit the "madonna" nor the "whore" category and yet wear skimpy clothes, socialise with men and go drinking.

As men struggle to understand the new social order, the free availability of pornography is warping their views of women.

This is especially lethal in today's India. Society has barely emerged from the time when sex was regarded as taboo and where sexual ignorance was the norm. Now it is faced with the blare of pornography, where every sex act seems permissible. And it's all happening in a culture where the sexes are still so segregated that men have few opportunities to pursue sexual pleasure.

Vaswani has a point: the right to watch pornography is not an absolute freedom, just as other infinitely more precious freedoms are not, either.

Amrit Dhillon is a freelance writer in India