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Porn Ban: India is in revolt but who will be our Anna Hazare?

Some guys have all the luck. Somewhere out there is a humble bureaucrat whose job is to figure out what porn sites to keep and what porn sites to block. According to reports, the government has sent a list of some 857 porn sites that service providers need to block. Someone scoured through goodness knows how many porn sites to come up with that Most Offensive list. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. The PM didn’t promise us a Swachh Bharat to have that kind of filth lying around just a click away!

The reaction to the porn blocking has been quick and not surprising.

Shaktimaan Thackeray (@Madanchikna) tweeted “Ban on Tobacco – Lol Ban on Eggs – Lol Ban on Beef – Lol Ban on Porn – THIS IS SPARTA!!”

 Porn Ban: India is in revolt but who will be our Anna Hazare?

Representative image. Agencies

Beckett’s Kitten (@MrAwwtistic) went down that same vein by tweeting “First they banned homosexuality…Then it was beef..And now it is porn…Soon they’ll put a ban on breathing also…#PornBan.”

How revealing that some of us think that the next step from banning porn is banning breathing. But while the echoes of the famous Martin Niemöller poem about Nazis – “First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out – Because I was not a socialist…” - are unmistakable, there’s one important difference.

Don’t count on any porn-watching festival as an act of conscientious resistance, the way someone might organize a beef-eating festival. Don’t count on anyone coming out the way some gays and lesbians did after the 377 ruling to prove they are not a "minuscule minority". Amul will have a tongue-in-cheek hoarding but there will not be a charming clothing company ad featuring the wholesome porn-watching couple waiting for the parents to arrive.

We are opposing the porn ban for perfectly valid, well-argued rational reasons:

Because this is the creeping assault on freedom of expression;
Because then how are we different from the Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS)?
Because we think it’s futile to block anything in an age of VPNs;
Because HIV prevention and sex education sites will fall prey to the blocking zeal;
Because we wrote the Kamasutra;
Because even Chief Justice Dattu says someone can say “'Look, I am an adult and how can you stop me from watching it within the four walls of my room?”
Because as Ram Gopal Verma reminds us to ban porn saying it will be seen by who shouldn’t see it is like saying to stop traffic because there will be accidents;
Because all porn-watchers should not pay the price for some despicable human beings who drank and watched porn before going out and gang-raping someone.

But we are not opposing the porn ban because WE watch porn OURSELVES.

A disheveled Vikram Seth will not be on the cover of India Today holding a sign saying “Not a criminal”.

But India’s porn watching numbers didn’t swell to such proportions without you and me. A 2014 study in Quartz said it outright, "Indians are among the most prolific consumers of internet pornography in the world, and increasing numbers of men – and women- are streaming it on their mobile phones." According to data from Pornhub, where the world average for pages viewed per visit is 7.6, India scores a respectable 7.2. gGiven our buffering speeds ,that's pretty darn impressive. Mizoram, which either has great internet connectivity or very little else to do, leads the pack with 8.47 while Delhi comes up close behind at 8.02.

The most popular search items include “Indian”, “Indian wife” and “Indian bhabhi”. The biggest dip in traffic happens around Diwali but there’s usually a spike around Independence Day and Republic Day. This is a fascinating portrait of the aam aadmi Indian that we all know but never own up to. Porn is always someone else’s habit.

Simple arithmetic demands that these numbers didn’t happen only because of those MLAs caught watching porn on their mobile phones in the Karnataka Assembly. But I wonder how many of us called MTNL or BSNL and complained “My favourite Pornhub site featuring amateur bhabhi porn is now showing the message ‘The site has been blocked per instructions of Competent Authority’.” Chances are we ran Anti-virus checks over and over again thinking we had downloaded something we shouldn't have during our last porn-watching episode.

Porn is both the great Indian time-pass and the great Indian hypocrisy.

All the internet has done is make it accessible in a way it never was . When you had to rely on the neighbourhood magazine-wallah’s secret stash of xeroxed Penthouse Letters and Hustlers if you wanted anything more exciting than a dog-eared Harold Robbins. In those repressed socialist days, I remember bringing home a forbidden magazine tucked inside my shirt hoping it would not fall out. But in good old jugaad spirit, our neighbourhood pornwallah allowed you to return your porn magazine and get some money back once you were , ahem, done with it – a porn lending library of sorts but without a library card.

But that was only reserved for the good quality porn. As he would say with wink and a nod “Some foreign picture magazines just arrived. Full colour.” That was opposed to those badly reproduced barely discernible pixiellated pictures which were added to homegrown porn booklets and wrapped in yellow transparent wrapping paper for extra luridness. They were almost without exception cookie-cutter coming-of-age stories about a young man involving first a precocious maid, then the buxom neighourhood bhabhi, followed by a schoolfriend’s lonely mother and eventually a winsome girlfriend. For that local flavour, the Bengali ones sometimes used mustard oil as lubricant.

The problem was in a country with scant regard for private space, this porn had to be hidden around the house away from prying parents, inquisitive siblings, or the maid who might get too enthusiastic about dusting. It had to be disposed off periodically because it could not be sold to the neighbourhood raddiwalla along with the month’s newspapers. As for porn videos, those scratchy grainy pirated VHS tapes came with their own dangers. I remember as schoolboys pooling together our money to watch what we excitedly called a “blue film” on one rare day when the parents were not at home. Unfortunately there was a power cut right then, the VCR’s eject button did not work and we were stranded with contraband in the VCR and the parents expected home at any time.

Porn watching was such a stressful endeavour, it was too difficult for it to become a bonafide addiction. It was simply too much hard work. The internet certainly made that easier. And the internet parlours took away the “shame” from watching porn and made it a sort of communal boys-will-be-boys activity across India. If porn suddenly disappeared from our laptops and smartphones, logic demands productivity could go up. Except we'd probably spend much of those extra hours figuring out VPNs to get our fix. But we could also be throwing the baby out with the dirty bathwater since porn, not Google, is the real engine that has powered Internet innovation.

As Business Insider points out it is the needs of porn consumers that pioneered streaming video, bandwidth growth, tracking devices, online credit card transactions, Snapchat technology and much of what we now call e-commerce. “Think of the military as the inventor and creator of a product and porn as the entrepreneur who brings the product to the masses,” writes Ross Benes in the article.

Now if the masses are to be deprived of their opium, will they rise in revolt and hold candlelight vigils at Jantar Mantar with some fasting Gandhian of porn? Unlikely. Will the Opposition stall parliament to stand up for porn watching rights? Certainly not. Even Sunny Leone will not quit Bollywood in protest.

The Niemöller poem ends with the famous line:

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

In the current version of the story, when they came for porn, there were actually millions left to speak up. But then who among us wants to admit that when they came for porn, this time they came for me?

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Updated Date: Aug 04, 2015 07:53:54 IST