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India Debates Porn Ban

  • Anjana Pasricha

A five-year-old rape victim is moved to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences hospital from Swami Dayanand hospital for treatment in New Delhi, April.19, 2013.

A five-year-old rape victim is moved to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences hospital from Swami Dayanand hospital for treatment in New Delhi, April.19, 2013.

India is debating banning pornography, as the country copes with a rising number of incidents of sexual violence.The ban on pornography has been sought by a petition in the country’s supreme court, but is winning support from women activists.

Lawyer Kamlesh Vaswani - based in the central Indian city of Indore - wants watching pornography to be made a non-bailable offense because he feels there is a direct connection between sexual assault and looking at pornographic videos.

“They corrupt the people. They corrupt the mind. Indian kids are accessing more graphic and brutal videos,” said Vaswani.

To buttress his argument, Vaswani points to reports that the suspect arrested for the recent rape of a five-year-old girl in New Delhi told police that he watched porn clips on a mobile phone before the brutal crime.

The lawyer has outlined his concerns that existing laws are not adequately protecting society from pornography, in a petition to the Supreme Court. Distributing pornographic material is illegal in India. Watching it is not. The top court last week asked three government ministries to respond to the proposal by Monday.

The petition comes as reports of violent sex crimes targeting women and children are hitting headlines and igniting street protests. Laws have been tightened since the horrific gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi five months ago. But police figures show that the number of rapes has increased in the city.

What is worrying many activists is the growing number of children being targeted. Some are blaming the trend on an increase in access to online pornography.

Although less than ten percent of Indians have home computers connected to the Internet, mobile smart-phone ownership has increased phenomenally, providing easy access to Internet videos. In the last decade, the proportion of searches on Google for pornographic material has increased fivefold.

Leading women activists in the country now back blocking pornography sites. They say that in the culturally conservative country, where the subject of sex is still largely taboo, pornography is negatively shaping the way young people think about sex.

Ranjana Kumari heads the Center for Social Research in New Delhi. “There is lot of segregation that young men and women are raised with. There are many, many issues in India. It really creates all kind of abnormalities in terms of understanding of sex," Kumari said. "It is always showing that men can take control of women’s bodies and do whatever they want. It is very important for India to review this and also to see how it can be put under maximum control.”

Junior Information and Technology Minister Milind Deora says authorities plan to consult experts on whether pornography is provoking sexual violence.

Even if porn sites are blocked, Internet users could still find a way to access pornography.

Sunil Abraham of the Center for Internet and Society cites the examples of countries which have imposed similar bans. “Even in China, pornography continues to be available and likewise in Pakistan. This is because, where there is a strong human motivation to access online content, like alcohol, prohibition becomes a losing strategy," Abraham stated. "This is very similar to underage drinking and is best regulated at home. ”

As authorities debate whether to restrict online pornography in the coming weeks, the outcome could have an enormous impact setting online standards for one of the world’s fastest growing populations of Internet users.

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