Many sites bypass porn ban

They use proxy and mirror sites to cater to India, now on a list of countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that block intimate content online.

A total of 827 sites are blocked by some Indian Internet service providers.

The government has got Internet service providers (ISPs) to block 827 websites with pornographic content.

The instruction was based on an order of the Uttarakhand High Court, which reinstated a government order in 2015, on the grounds that watching porn promotes sexual assault.

After a failed ban, the government had got its way, armed with a court order. A horrifying gang rape at a Dehradun school prompted the Uttarakhand court  order. According to reports, four students assaulted a girl after watching porn clips.

The order cites no scientific evidence to link pornography with sexual assault. Many in Bengaluru are sceptical not just about the order but also by the assumption that porn can be effectively blocked.

The Internet has plenty of options and the number of porn websites out there is certainly more than 827, they say. It is not rocket science to figure out how to bypass the filters by using virtual private networks (VPN); the Opera browser uses this. Several porn sites have launched altered URLs so that Indian users can still access their content.

Proxy websites, such as Hidester, Hide.me, Whoer.net, and Anonymouse, easily bypass the block. Other sites like Behance.net advise their clients to download their mobile app and browse anonymously.

Even for those who are not that tech savvy, there is a massive market of offline pornography. Porn DVDs or porn on a flash drive can be found on sale everywhere.

Then, Indian law does not ban porn. Watching porn in private is not a criminal offence, say lawyers. Storing and publishing images of child sexual abuse are, however, punishable.

Mobile users are already complaining that ISPs are blocking porn sites.

Finally, what are the sociological and psychological consequences of the ban? Metrolife spoke to some experts to find out.

Deepika Nambiar, Clinical psychologist , Abhayahasta Multispeciality Hospital

Banning porn is not the answer. Watching porn is a personal choice. Porn can affect people but it does not override their values. People with aggressive tendencies or with personality issues might get affected though. When it comes to adverse consequences on children, parents should have control. When we ban something, the curiosity increases. And there are many sources for this kind of thing on the Internet. Children are curious or under peer pressure to watch such videos. This can result in addiction later on, if there is no one to tell them where to draw the line. Parents should keep a watch on kids isolating themselves and spending too much time alone.

Amba Salelkar, Lawyer, Equals Centre for Promotion of Social Justice

There is ample evidence to show there is no correlation between access to pornographic material and incidents of sexual assault. Also, it is not that all pornographic material is shot non-consensually or is exploitative in nature. In fact, there is an emerging area of feminist pornography. If the question is of prevention, you might as well strengthen sex education in the country. People have to resort to videos on the Internet to clarify their doubts and that is not a good thing. Sex-positive education should be included in school curriculums. We need to strengthen mechanisms to tackle cases of revenge porn and videos that promote violence against women. We also need to engage with website providers instead of banning them.

Raj Armani, CEO, Imbesharam.com, Adult store

I think it is illogical to connect the rising cases of rape with porn consumption. India cannot be truly democratic if the government decides to moral police people. It has to eventually accept that the new generation is ready and able to balance their traditions as well as their freedom of choice and expression. In one way, we are opening the doors by decriminalising gay sex and on the other side, we are closing windows. Associating rape to watching porn is as illogical as associating a murder with a Bollywood or Hollywood crime thriller. The boundaries of law, humanity and decency always override any content consumption. On the contrary, the lack of porn may lead to a build-up of unhealthy energy and cause it to go haywire.

Akriti Bopanna, Programme Office, Centre for Internet and Society

Viewing porn is not illegal but publishing obscene content, which pornography can be construed as, is illegal under sections 67 and 67A of the IT Act. Section 69 (A) of the Act allows the government to order blocking of public access to websites. Moreover, under Section 79 (3) (b) of the Act, governments can get away with making ISPs ban porn since it mandates intermediaries to comply with government orders in the case of unlawful acts. Otherwise they lose their safe harbour provisions.

The Supreme Court in 2015 stated you can’t stop citizens from watching porn within their own homes. This was prior to the Puttaswamy judgment, and now that the right to privacy has been declared a right, banning porn websites can be argued as a violation of it.

There is a high risk of a ban being counterproductive in that it will compel individuals to access websites with lax security or shoddy VPNs. These then put people in danger because their information can be logged by such entities, giving access to tracking for advertising and creating malware problems. Not all VPNs are sound, so the individual will still be legally unsafe since information could be potentially traceable.

Dr Rizwana Begum, Psychotherapist, Aviva Psychological Clinic

Porn does encourage abusive sex. The acts shown in pornographic videos are more like fantasy, not really achievable in reality. When one wants to fulfil the fantasy, the other partner might not be okay with it. This affects a lot of relationships as shame and guilt are induced. It leads to aggression, disgust and rejection. There is a rise in the number of cases of pornography addiction, especially among single men. Also, the concept of multiple partners in a sexual act was introduced through pornographic videos and is leading to disorder and violence in real life.

How it started

In 2013, Indore-based advocate Kamlesh Vaswani filed a public interest case in the Supreme Court seeking a ban on porn. He came up with a list of 857 websites which he wanted the court to ban. He argued that most of the porn online is exploitative and increases violent sexual behaviour in the real world.

The court asked the government to find ways to block porn. The government formed the Cyber Regulation Advisory Committee, chaired by then telecom and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

The committee came up with a list of sites and decided to block them with the help of ISPs. A notification was issued to block 800+ porn sites in 2015.

In the face of a severe backlash, the government revoked the ban.

Three years later, it enforced the same ban, armed with a Uttarakhand court order.
 

India among most prolific consumers

*Adult website Pornhub says India is the world’s third-biggest porn-watching nation (after US and UK).

*The mobile traffic share to Pornhub from India has grown 121% between 2013 and 2017, the highest for any country.

*Indians between 18-34 years are the biggest consumers of porn.

*Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru are among the top 10 cities in India that search for porn on the Internet.

*Women consumers have increased tremendously over the years.

We have company

Porn is banned in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Morocco, Sudan, Bangladesh, China, North Korea, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iceland, Ukraine and some other countries.

Most countries permit consumption of porn in private but impose conditions, one of them being that viewers must be above 18 years.

Many countries have strict laws against child pornography and showing indecent material to children.

Website returns with mirror site

Soon after the order, the world’s biggest porn website, Pornhub issued a strongly-worded statement. “There are no laws against pornography in India and watching adult content privately. It’s evident that the Indian government does not have a solution to a very serious and systemic problem in the country, and is using adult sites like ours as a scapegoat," said Corey Price, VP, Pornhub.

He says the ban applies only to large sites such as Pornhub, and doesn’t block thousands of risky porn sites with illegal content.

Big sites have parental controls, a take-down page for non-consensual content, and the ban is a “disservice to the people of India, who have become one of the largest connoisseurs of adult content.”

The website found a way to dodge the ban by launching a mirror site with a slightly altered web address, just for its Indian users.

“We understand this has been a hard time for our fans and hope this will provide them with an outlet to help alleviate some of their stress,” the statement said.

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