India's crackdown on porn sites draws mixed reaction

Move aimed at curbing sexual violence criticized as counterproductive and an infringement of personal freedom
India's crackdown on porn sites draws mixed reaction

The Indian government has sent a notice ordering internet service providers to block more than 800 pornographic websites as concern grows about their influence on young people. (Photo by Manjunath Kiran/AFP)

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi 
India
November 6, 2018
India has banned more than 800 pornographic sites in a move that has drawn ridicule and accusations of infringing on people's privacy.

The federal government's Department of Telecommunications on Nov. 1 ordered internet service providers "to take immediate necessary action" to block 827 adult websites.

The decision follows a Sept. 27 judgment by the High Court in Uttarakhand state. It said that "unlimited access to pornographic sites should be curbed" to avoid an adverse influence on children. It was hearing a case involving the rape of a 16-year-old girl by four schoolmates who had watched porn videos.

But social workers and rights activists say a blanket ban could be counterproductive.

"The ban will make people, especially youngsters, more prone to watching them [adult sites]. Haven't you heard that forbidden fruit is sweeter?" asked Anita Aakash, a social activist based in New Delhi.

"Young people will explore ways to watch them through virtual networks and other means available in the present age of technology."

The government instead could have taken steps to create awareness "about the ill-effects of watching porn. Banning is in no way a solution," Aakash told ucanews.com.

Indians aged 18-34 are the biggest consumers of porn content on the internet, according to government data. Viewing of porn content in India went up by 75 percent between March 2016 and March 2017, particularly after telecom companies drastically lowered data prices. 

According to Google Trends data, six Indian cities — New Delhi, Mumbai, Unnao, Bengaluru, Howrah and Pune — are in the top 10 cities in the world for watching porn.

The ban is expected to hit telecom companies as, according to government data, 40 percent of their revenue comes from porn sites. About 25 percent of search engine queries are related to porn, while 35-40 percent of content downloaded from the internet is pornography. 

Deepak Kumar, a student at the University of Jammu, believes the government decision attacks his personal freedom.

"Why should the government worry over what I should watch on the internet? I am an adult and have the freedom as per the country's constitution to take decisions for my betterment. The government in no way can become my nanny," Kumar said.

However, Asim-ud-din, a blogger based in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh, said the ban is welcome because it can minimize crimes against women. He believes the younger generation can become addicted to porn and the "trend is turning the whole society into a brothel."

"We have seen that rapes against young girls are becoming rampant across the country and how women are highly unsafe in our country. If adult sites are banned, it can help in making society respect women," Asim told ucanews.com.

India has 460 million internet users, 26 percent of its population, according to government statistics. It is estimated that India will have 635.8 million internet users by 2021. India is the second-largest online market behind China.

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