By banning porn, India has kicked itself into the dark ages

If a government can proscribe something as private as watching smut, other websites are even easier to block.

 |  3-minute read |   03-08-2015
  • ---
    Total Shares

If you look at the countries that have the most regressive internet rules, you will notice something common. All these countries hate pornography. Whether it is the Sunni Saudi Arabia or the Shia Iran, the government in these countries don't like internet porn. The same thing can be noticed in communist China, which too hates internet porn. It is an interesting club, where irrespective of the differences in socio-cultural environment, we see that the countries seem to unanimously agree that internet pornography is bad.

Look closer, and you will realise why blocking of porn is so common among the regressive and least democratic governments. Watching pornography is one of the most private things an individual can do. It is more private than sex, which requires at least two people. It is so private that controlling it is akin to fundamentally controlling a person's desires and thoughts. At the same time, it is also a taboo, especially in societies where the community often triumphs over individuals. This makes it easier for governments to push through the ban. A ban on pornography is one of the most intrusive steps a government can take when it comes to a person's life and yet, it is also fairly easy to do because we still talk about it in a hush-hush way.

The rallying cry is always the same: protecting culture or, as China often puts it, shielding citizens from material that is harmful. In 1997, when China came up with the CL97 rule that would be used to regulate and censor the internet in the country, it clearly highlighted that sharing pornography was an illegal behaviour. The same is getting repeated in India. Even though we don't really know the exact reasoning of the Indian government behind its diktat on banning over 800 websites, the leaked department of telecommunications (DoT) order shows that "morality" is at the centre of it.

The order says that a blockade is required because "the content hosted on these websites relate to morality, decency as given in Article 19(2)" of the Indian Constitution.

All regressive governments start by banning internet pornography in the country because that is the litmus test for their surveillance regime. It hits people at the very core, inside their private homes, and allows governments to regulate what people do in the confines of four walls of their room. It allows government to test the surveillance infrastructure put in place, because despite the ban, there are going to be millions of users who will attempt to access it. It allows governments to condition people to think that it can regulate their deepest desires and needs. And as noted earlier, it is easy to push because in societies like India, which still put community above an individual, watching pornography, however ubiquitous, still has some taboo attached to it.

Once a society has accepted a ban on pornography, it is ready for other restrictions. Once people are conditioned to see the message telling them that "this website is blocked on the orders of DoT", it becomes easier to start banning other websites. While initially China claimed it was aiming to keep smut out with its Great Firewall, over the years we have seen how the country has banned any web content that it believes can show its citizens pictures that don't emanate from its government. Websites like Wikipedia have been banned because if you can ban something as private as watching porn, other websites are even easier to block.

It is no secret that India has grand ambitions when it comes to regulating the internet. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government started work on building infrastructure and the legal framework that could help it regulate and censor internet. Its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) successor has just expedited the process. A ban on pornography is important for making the internet in India more regulated and less free.

Writer

Javed Anwer Javed Anwer @brijwaasi

Tech editor at http://www.indiatoday.in . I review stuff. and occasionally write at http://www.dailyo.in . can speak intelese. usual disclaimers apply.

Like DailyO Facebook page to know what's trending.