Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Say What?

That'll probably be your reaction if I declare I support the ban on some porn websites.
Courtesy: Clipart

Any debate on sex and sexuality in India starts and ends with the Khajuraho temples. Many eclectic explanations are available as to why erotica is depicted on a temple – from a general “Hindus were more matter-of-fact about sex” to the more abstract “it depicts tantric sex”.  But the fact is we really don’t know, do we? I mean what made the chief architect wake up one morning and instruct the sculptor, “Hmm...okay...carve the picture of a woman doing four men. And a horse.”  Yup...we will never know. These temples were built in the tenth century or so by the Chandela dynasty. They were quite powerful – in fact one of the kings – Vidyadhara, had even fended off the dreaded Mohammed of Ghazni. As a society, I suppose it was as prosperous as it could get – stable reign, art and architecture flourished – as a consequence, trade, employment was good too. As in the case of all prosperous societies...I’m assuming this one too had a happy, liberal populace.

Eventually, the empire did fall in the hands of the Mughal invaders. By the thirteenth century, Khajuraho was completely deserted – reports say that the residents voluntarily left the place even before the invaders reached them – it was their way of preserving their beautiful heritage. Soon, the temples were hidden by thick forests, and remained undetected by the looters. It was only in the eighteenth century that they were re-discovered by a British engineer – T.S. Burt. Bet the details on the temples shocked his Victorian socks off.

But I digress as usual. This post is more about the recent ban on porn. Khajuraho was thousand years ago. We are in 2015. Surely, if depicting sex was okay then, it should be good enough even now? Or so the argument goes. If one would like to elevate the argument to an intellectual level, then it is mandatory to use Khajuraho and Kama Sutra as evidence of “how liberal we all were”, and then proceed to blame all the invaders for turning us into ninnies.  

In principle, I am against any kind of censure. But in this case, the issue is more complex than what has been discussed so far. Well, nothing much has been discussed really – the policy makers maintain a silence whilst the consumers make irresponsible statements like “rape will increase”.

The research into pornography and sexually aggressive behaviour is extensive. The unfortunate part is, all such socially relevant research rarely comes out of our academic institutions – so we don’t have a view on how India-specific cultural and societal factors influence such behaviours. Nonetheless, do take a look at some of this important research: (I have referred to a paper that conducted a meta-analysis of the relationship between rape and pornography. The paper is accessible here - https://www1.umn.edu/aurora/pdf/ResearchOnPornography.pdf. I have not followed strict APA referencing style in this post – but all the in-text references are cited from this paper).

In one of the studies, it was concluded that constant exposure to pornography influences predisposition to rape – it increases the desire to rape and diminishes the inhibition threshold to carry out rape (Russell, 1998).

In a damning survey carried out on female abuse victims who walked out on their violent male partners, it was found that a whopping 75% of them were shown porn, and were forced to enact scenes; 31% had been asked to pose for pornographic pictures and 81% of the women had been raped (Dines & Jenson, 2004).

In a study carried out on 256 sexual offenders, 56% of rapists and 42% of child molesters implicated pornography as one of their main motivators (Abel, Mittleman & Becker, 1985).
Studies have also indicated that viewing/collecting child pornography is a very strong indicator of paedophilia (Seto, Cantor, Blanchard, 2006). In Britain, some of the recent cases of child murders have revealed the perpetrators were consumers of child pornography. In the recent child-rape case in Bangalore, the perpetrators had child porn on their mobile phones. Mind you, the number of boys who are abused are alarmingly high – something that does not get enough media attention.

To further strengthen evidence between the pornography and rape link, a polygraph test was conducted on sexual offenders to determine if porn was indeed an influencing factor. 66% of the subjects responded with a positive answer, indicating porn is a causal factor in rape behaviours (Walp & Walden, 2006).  

Consumption of pornography in formative years – teenage/young adult phases reinforces rape myths – women secretly desire to be raped; it is okay to force a woman into having sex; women enjoy being subjugated by sexually aggressive partners (Maxwell & Check, 1992).

The research linking rape/attitudes towards rape and pornography are exhaustive. These results are from countries where attitude towards sex and sexual choices is largely liberal. So when we talk of the same influencers in the context of India – the problem is epic. This is a society where even today, we are unable to have a meaningful sex education syllabus. This is a society which extends access to safe, legitimate sex only via the institution of marriage. Vulnerable women, men, children, and marginalised genders are still at the receiving end of sexual abuse without recourse to legal and social support. Access to pornography in this repressed mix is potentially radioactive.

You see, the demographic that consumes porn is not just you. When I say “you” – I mean the secure adult with a safe home, income, stable relationships and access to healthy doses of privacy. For this profile, enjoying hours of titillation and heading off to work the next day is perhaps no big deal. But this “you”...or even hundreds of thousands of “you”... is still a small slice in the pie in a country of over a billion. The larger demographic resides in the smaller towns and hinterlands where internet-enabled mobile phones have made an entry even if water supply, internal plumbing and electricity have remained scarce. For most of this population, access to porn is via their mobile devices. Indeed, many learn about sex only through porn. In a gut-twisting report published a few years ago – rape survivors revealed how they were abducted by gangs of young men in the village, locked and subjected to violent sex – whilst others of the gang shouted out instructions from the porn scenes on their mobile phones. Trust me, Nirbhaya case is not the first – what goes on in our backyards is enough to make you vomit every last strand of your gut.

In summary, what we have here is a research-backed proof that porn consumption and rape-behaviours go hand in hand, and a significant consumer base that is sexually repressed...whose only sexual education is via porn.

I know that a lot of derision on the ban, mainly on the social media, is because of “right to privacy”. But I can’t even make the attempt to pretend that I care about my so-called right to watch porn.

In the west, adult entertainment industry is regulated. Of course, by its very nature, it has its share of sleaze. Even so the actors have rights; they work in a safe environment. In India, how do you think the content is created? I am not talking about the verbal pornography – I’m talking about the videos. I can bet none of the women are professional actors – they were trafficked or forced into prostitution.  If the banned websites contained videos of these women, then I gladly forgo this “right”. Also, remember that by law, anyone below 18 is a child? A while ago, when I stumbled across sleazy profiles on facebook, the frail girls looked hardly 16-17. If the videos featured such girls – you are consuming child porn. This is enough for me to support the ban wholeheartedly.

Is the ban a democratic way to control the problem of trafficking? In a complex ecosystem such as ours, perhaps stopping the content  providers is a start, albeit a weak one. Just the way in the UK, Prime Minister Cameron called upon Google to take down all child pornography sites. In our case, there has to be a swift, multi-pronged approach to address the root problem. We need modernised, computerised police force. We absolutely need to grow up and accept that a regulated adult entertainment industry is the way forward – where everyone involved are protected by rights and have access to safe and healthy work environments.

Meanwhile, do educate yourself on the porn industry in India...it will give a wider perspective on what we claim as "rights".  

© Sumana Khan - 2015


  1. Sumana, I liked how you started off this sensitive topic and went about it. Honestly, I agree with the ban cause when things get out of hand, it is better to keep off a being from that territory...this kind of principle has been adapted by teachers all over the world more so to discipline a child.

    That same logic could be applied when humans of a country are getting out of hand and are indulging in matters that are absolutely inhumane!

    Sure, there is a lot of blather about it but things will take a turn for the better soon for India!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Ruchira. I'm glad that at least we are in a time where there can be a debate about this - and something is being done - whether it is right or wrong - at least there is some thought going behind this problem. I also believe that things will only get better - we just need the right set of policy makers...and a change in mindset.

  2. It's not a valid argument to show a connection between pornography and rape. Simply because we can't ban things that merely "influence" a certain behavior. For example, I can bet you dollars to donuts that there is a much greater connection between alcohol and rape. That a stunning proportion of rape cases around the world take place when the man (and often the woman) is inebriated.

    So by this logic, you would also be 100% in favor of prohibition the world over yes? I wouldn't think so. The fact remains that we have to treat human beings as if they had free will. Influenced or note, a human adult is presumed to have the freedom of choice - to rape or not to rape. And no amount of "he was influenced" is an excuse. I don't care if the rapists was drunk. And I don't care if he watched porn.

    The day we start banning stuff merely because "studies have shown a connection", is the start of a huge slippery slope that you should want no part of.

    If you personally don't care about your right to watch porn, that is fine. But the right to watch porn is a consequence of the right to privacy, which in turn is a consequence of the right to life and personal liberty under article 21. If we lose the right to watch porn privately, we lose one of the most fundamental rights in our Constitution.

    And that is not something you should be willing to put up with.

    1. Hi Bhagwad,

      That's a very fair argument, and I take it on board. You are right, porn is one of the enablers of rape behaviour, albeit a significant one in the Indian context. However, my support for the ban does not stem from the porn-rape link - as you have rightly pointed out, that is a very weak argument. My support for the ban has more to do with the content creation of this industry (especially in India-shot videos).

      It is one of those rare issues where you are faced with a very grey area (at least as far as I am concerned). Do I always, at any cost, vote for my right, even if it means, this very right makes me a part of a system that uses trafficked women, children and other vulnerable adults? That's the crux of my unease.

      A few years ago, when the government decided to ban "objectionable" content - I was up in arms - that's a very dangerous trend of choking off my right to freedom of speech. But in this case, the government has not banned porn. Out of a million porn websites, they have banned 800 odd sites. I do wish there was more transparency about the research and logic behind the selection - it could have engaged a wider section in the policy making.

      But on the whole...I don't think I can find it in me to support, even indirectly, human trafficking. Will this ban curtail the problem? Not a chance.

      Thank you so much for stopping by Bhagwad, and penning your thoughts.

    2. Could you please provide a link to the report on Indian rape survivors who were abducted and raped, porn-style?
      I am on Quora, and it is full of angry male Indians, mostly young, who think the ban is wrong, and the work of "evil feminazis".

      It's funny how many MRAs on Quora are from India.

      Will link to the report, in a vain attempt to prove that "all rape in India is false" is false.

    3. Hi Sita...long time :) here is the report http://www.tehelka.com/2013/09/the-forgotten-rape-stories/

      I would have said dont bother ...but I admire your persistence!

  3. I really really liked your balanced and sensitive approach to this subject, Sumana. In an era when shouting from the rooftops seems to be the norm, this kind of logical evaluation is the need of the hour. You're so right when your talk of the upper middle class being just a slice of the Indian populace. The real problem lies much deeper and is far more profound than a question if invasion of our privacy. Well said. Glad I stopped by.

  4. I agree with you.
    I am not against porn as such.
    Let mature adults enjoy them in privacy if they need this stimulation or if this is their only outlet for relief from sexual urges.
    Why insist that it be made available on the net where it can do harm to others?
    Let it be available on cassettes , DVDs, and let there be special cinema shows with entry strictly regulated.
    Let it not be illegal to watch porn unless it is child porn.
    But let us protect children and the under aged from easy access to it.
    This ban will help save several man hours and hopefully it will be used better.
    Also , probably, Facebook , Twitter, and blogging will get a boost, now that this "distraction" is out of the way!

    1. Thank you GVji. I could not help but smile when I read your comment!

  5. Few will muster the courage to counter you - you put it with such clarity. Some folks are regurgitating statements of porn industry lobbyists.