Experts discuss perils of unrestricted online access to porn, violence against women, in a workshop conducted by CCDS on Wednesday

At a time when a petition in the Supreme Court and another proposal in Rajya Sabha has sought a ban on online pornography, a workshop in city sought to address the issue underscoring that there is no conclusive evidence linking pornography as the causal factor for violence against women.

A half-day workshop on Gender, Sexuality and Internet’ conducted by the Centre for Communication and Development Studies (CCDS) on Wednesday visited the thin line between pornography and sexual expression. The event, organised in collaboration with with Point of View, an NGO from Mumbai, brought together internet users, activists, journalists and academics to establish the internet as a more democratic space.

Hutokshi Doctor, noted journalist and Director of CCDS, told Mirror, The workshop was aimed at exploring issues of morality and the risk involved in accessing pornography online, apart from the discontent and problems like online violence associated with the online presence of women.

During the course of the workshop, experts addressed each issue in detail, while keeping up with the participative nature of the event.” Among the key speakers were filmmaker and activist Bishakha Datta, who heads the non-profit Point of View in Mumbai; former technology journalist and blogger Rohini Lakshane; researcher and feminist activist Manjima Bhattacharjya, and Anja Kovacs, who directs the Internet Democracy Project in Delhi which engages in research and advocacy on the promises and challenges of the Internet for democracy and social justice in India and beyond.

Popular notions and anxieties about pornography were the highlights of the workshop which encouraged the participants to brainstorm upon the root cause of the same. In turn, the participants and speakers came out with varied answers.

For some, the unrestricted access to pornography online posed a potential threat to the children. For others, the practice was intimidating to their self-esteem due to the larger-than-life depictions of sexual activity and the people engaging in it, combined with the fear of loss of expectations. And to the rest, it was simply the outrageous, upfront nudity that was unpalatable.

Speaking about her study conducted on 31 urbane, upper middle-class women in Mumbai and their online conduct, Bhattacharjya pointed out, The study was an attempt to understand the common, online activities and experiences of a sample set of women.

The findings indicated that each of them was accustomed to viewing porn online and frequently circulated pornographic videos at kitty parties and social gatherings without any inhibitions.” Currently, there is no law against viewing pornography in India. However, Indian Penal Code and the recent IT Act prohibit the production and transmission of obscene material”.

The IT Act stipulates three years in jail for publishing and transmitting obscene material electronically. In April last year, a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in Supreme Court seeking an antipornography law and making watching porn a non-bailable offence on grounds that adult pornography contributed to violence towards women. Pratibha Nathani, a political science professor at the St Xavier’s college in Mumbai also appealed to Rajya Sabha to ban online porn, citing it to be a form of moral degradation.

Bishakha Dutta added that research indicated that internet penetration was lowest in areas with maximum reported cases of violence against women in the country. A ban on online porn would not just restrict viewing of pornographic material; it would possibly also shut down web pages talking about LGBT issues and other online brainstorming spaces, that touch upon sexuality but are not porn.

A blanket ban in this case would amount to the violation of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution,” Datta maintained. The discussion also ventured into the inception and evolution of the phenomenon of queercrip porn’ that goes beyond the normative readings of gender and sexuality stereotypes.

Queercrip porn concerns differently-abled persons who have reclaimed the otherwise dismissive use of the term crippled’ for persons with disabilities. Other topics of discussion included feminist porn, amateur porn and dealing with online abuse.

►► A blanket ban on online pornography would amount to the violation of freedom of speech and expression


Originally published in Pune Mirror.