Sunday 21 April 2013

Stop being saintly celibates, don’t make porn ban priority (Sunday Guardian)

nyone resident in India for longer than 40 seconds understands that this is a country beset by numerous problems. While the British certainly left this country in a mutilated and famished condition, seven decades was more than enough to bring it to health. Instead, conditions remain abysmal, with electric power in rural areas a dream, good roads fantasy and healthcare, housing and education subhuman despite vast sums of money spent on huge bureaucracies. At the same time, especially during the periods when Palaniappan Chidambaram has been in charge of the Finance portfolio, taxes have gone up even as the quality of governmental services has deteriorated from levels that few rational people thought could be made worse.
Apart from income-tax there is a service tax, apparently designed to ensure that private individuals provide the same type of "service" as is commonplace within the portals of government. Of course, these are not all. A plethora of taxes abound, all of which combine to make India a more and more difficult place to conduct any productive work in. And there is the fine print. Even for matters as central to freedom of expression as organising a conference, permission needs to be secured from agencies whose representatives do not even scratch their bodies without being bribed to do so.
In all this, what are our institutions focusing on? Evidently, porn. A bench of the Supreme Court of India has issued notice to the Government of India on a petition — no doubt filed by saintly celibates — demanding that the watching of "porn" be converted into a non-bailable offence. The request must be welcome to the police in India, many members of which force have a sixth sense when it comes to extracting wads of cash from the public, or at least that segment of it which does not have political influence. To those that do, cash is of course paid out to, rather than taken from.
Converting the watching of "porn" would open a fresh avenue for bribe-taking, with millions of potential victims in a world where what passes in the medieval consciousness of the governing class in India as salacious. Now that even the opening of spam mail in a personal computer has become a serious — and soon to be non-bailable — offence, what will follow next in the Mother Grundy trajectory of the Manmohan Singh government will be more and more restrictive definitions of what constitutes "porn". Finally, even the revealing of flesh will be deemed as too salacious for childlike Indian minds to bear, and hence get proscribed.
This columnist is of the view that what a citizen or pair or group of citizens voluntarily do in private is solely their concern, provided that no bodily harm get inflicted on themselves or others. And that watching "porn" would be a more healthy alternative than actually patronising an establishment specialising in commercial sex, provided that this not be of variants plainly inhuman in their scope, such as those involving children or extreme violence. That horrors such as the rapes carried out on innocents get perpetrated by those wholly repressed, rather than by those who find less harmful ways of fulfilling their fantasies. Two decades ago, an American correspondent, John Ward Anderson, came to Bangalore and wrote a front pager on the city that was becoming a tech and IT hub. Bengaluru — to give the city its musical new name — has never looked back since. However, the IT revolution is petering out in India because of the atmosphere of Wahhabist-Khomeinist intolerance towards any but the most restrictive codes of conduct, a prudishness that has added even more "social" crimes to the Indian Penal Code than were left behind by the strait-laced British. This doing away with freedom of expression and speech has combined with miserably slow internet speeds and numerous other problems (not least of which is the rush towards death of the Indian telecom industry) to take away any hope that India would take away from the US the title of IT tech champion. This despite President Obama's energetic efforts to stifle innovation in the US through restrictions on use of global talent and the fact that the best minds (also the most handicapped by circumstances) are to be found in India.
Peeking into bedrooms is the mark of a defensive, insecure and primitive social order, and once the reforms of the 1990s were launched, it was hoped that India would give to its citizens the same personal freedoms as are enjoyed in North America or Europe. Clearly, this is not to be. The "liberal" PM has allowed his regime to encourage those who seek to push this country back to a medieval state, and all for the sake of officials getting more and more avenues to collect bribes from, the citizens they daily victimise.

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