Ban on porn and pornography of ban – Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Screen Shot 2012-10-12 at 3.23.55 PMThe demand to ban watching of pornography is deeply flawed in theory; the consequences will be damning if it is accepted.

To begin with, nobody has been able to draw a line between literature and pornography. Even great literature has been called obscene. Many classics, Indian as well as Western, can be targeted for promoting improper ideas or thoughts. And we are not discussing Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Ulysses, the books which faced the charges of obscenity even in the West. Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina could be accused of glamorizing, if not promoting, adultery. Owing to explicit description of women, the works of Kalidasa can also be seen as pornographic.

Contemporary Indian literary works can face charges of exalting ideals and values that would harm any society. Agyey’s Shekhar: Ek jiwani has shades of incestuous relationship. Premchand’s Nirmala also has a similar tinge. The works of Manto and Ismat Chugtai have also been called obscene. So, if pornography is banned, literature will suffer vicious bowdlerization, if not proscription.

Second, the law criminalizing the watching pornography will be neither observed nor enforced. The reason is that there are millions of people doing that; it would be practically impossible for the law-enforcement agencies to track all offenders and bring them to justice. At any rate, it will be a big responsibility for the police and the judiciary that are already burdened with too many cases. It would be a scandal to let them focus on an activity which is victimless.

Third, banning of pornography will embolden moral cops. As the tagline of a soft drink said, Yeh dil maange more. Why not restrictions on item numbers in Hindi movies? Why not a ‘more decent’ dress code for models on ramps, IPL cheerleaders, etc.? Why not monitor the depiction of women on calendars, advertisements and so on?

Four, the guardians of public morality will not stop at matters related to women; they would seek to come up with a longer list of prescription and proscription. Why not ban alcohol? The causation between crimes and drinking is very strong. Why not restrictions on foods which are high on calories and cholesterol and low on nutrition?

Five, ban on pornography would be a tacit acceptance of the central principle of the nanny state: human beings are immature, almost like kids; they need to be told what they should do and what they shouldn’t. Also implicit will be the recognition of the cognate doctrine that government is the embodiment of wisdom and benevolence. Since government means politicians and bureaucrats, and knowing what kind of netas and babus India has, one has to be downright moron to accept such principles and doctrines.

Six, the laws that are un-implementable and/or inimical to the freedom of expression are open to be misused and abused by the officers of the state. This has happened in the case of the notorious 66A of the Information Technology Act. This will happen if watching pornography is banned.

Seven, ban on pornography will militate against the essence of democracy. Democracy is not just voting once in a while; it is about a political system in which adults are allowed to do whatever they want to so long as they don’t harm others. Therefore, if pornography does not involve coercion and children, proscription would be anti-democratic. By the way, there is a strong correlation between individual freedom and pornography: most democracies accept it as a legal activity or tolerate it; most authoritarian states ban it.

Eight, what would we do with the temples at Khajuraho and Konark? A faithful implementation of ban would call for their destruction. So, should we be doing a Taliban to them?

Nine, being a uni-dimensional creativity solely focused on sex, pornography is not part of the mainstream anywhere in the world. In the US, it is said to be $12-billion industry; yet, it remains on the margins. If society can marginalize something what it regards as obnoxious, why should the state intervene?

Various civilizations come up their own codes, conventions and customs that cherish the good and the noble while deprecating the bad and the objectionable. For instance, even in some of the most male-dominated societies, respect for women is held in esteem, whereas wife-battering is looked down upon. Similarly, qualities such as courage, equanimity, compassion and fortitude are almost universally lauded, while irresponsibility, cowardice, selfishness, etc., are censured everywhere.

Whether it is Western countries which have an uncompromising stance regarding the freedom of expression or the developing world where free speech is severely curtailed, nowhere does pornography enjoy the respect that other professions do. Legal ban will not bring great ignominy to an activity which is anyway generally reviled.

In a nutshell, ban on watching pornography will serve no purpose. The proscription, however, will encourage anti-liberty proclivities that are entrenched in the system.

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