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We failed as a society - not the first time

We are ashamed of ourselves - damn right, we should be

We will never forget - until the next time it happens again

And we fail, we feel ashamed and we forget

How about we try something different? How about we really show our elected govts how concerned we are and how desperate we are to address these concerns?

How about we stage a #NationalWalkout on April 23rd, Monday @ 10:00am?

What is a #NationalWalkout?

Simple answer is no matter where we are, who we are and what we are, we can just decide to walk as an individual or as a group, leaving aside whatever work we may be doing at that point in time

Walk to where?

If we are in the city, closer to the parliament or the state assembly hall, walk to that place

If we are not, we can walk to the nearest court or the nearest district headquarters or the nearest police station or nearest any office dealing with public welfare.

Why a NationalWalkout?

This is a problem concerning not just a village or a town or a city or a state or a child or an adult but a problem concerning an entire country and the entire humanity, because what we are witnessing is a rape of our consciousness.

Why April 23rd, Monday at 10:00am?

Its the following Monday giving us a weeks time to prepare and organize.10:00am because its the time when its not too early and not too late, but just about the right time to cause inconvenience to us and to send the message to our elected govts

What do we demand?

  1. No more victimization of the victims and the guilty should be punished
  2. Nirbhaya Law should be implemented in spirit

What after the Walkout?

We can chose to continue the fight and keep the pressure on the elected govt and may be even the rest of the political parties. Let this be the beginning of the end of our inaction and indifference.

What kind of preparation is required?

Prepare placards, banners, invite ministers, press, media, organize events around these themes and basically try and do everything to rally people and create pressure.

One week may be a bit aggressive for a #NationalWalkout, but may be it isn't after all - it may be a bit late.

Would it be worth it?

Remember the last time this happened, the result was the Nirbhaya act. Yes its another issue that the act itself is yet to be implemented, but without the public pressure, the law makers would not have done what they were forced to do. So yeah its totally worth trying, but one thing is for sure, if we don't do anything other trending on twitter or sharing on facebook, we are just fooling ourselves.

If this still doesn't convince you, I will let the data do the talking

520 kids all below 6 years of age were survivors of rape i.e. Five Hundred and Twenty. I repeat Five Hundred and Twenty. And if we include all the kids below 18 years, this number rises to 16863 i.e. Sixteen thousand eight hundred and sixty three.

  • 16863 children will carry these scars for the rest of their lives
  • 16863 children may never get justice and may never get a closure
  • 16863 children may never get a chance to heal their wounds
  • 16863 children and their loved one’s may forever try to move on, only to dragged into with every single incident that makes it to the news headline
  • 16863 children may never know what a normal childhood feels like, what growing up feels like
  • 16863 children may be living in constant fear for the rest of their lives

Girl-Child-Victims

22,205 women i.e. Twenty two thousand two hundred and five women. As these horrific numbers prove, rape crimes are beyond any age groups, beyond any cultural divides, beyond the norms of society – yes beyond the norms of society, since

Women-Rape-Victims

94.6% of the offenders are known to the rape survivors i.e. Ninety Four percent of the offenders are known to the rape survivors. Some of the offenders are family members who include grand fathers, fathers, brothers, sons, relatives and neighbors. Not implying everyone is an offender here, but what the data is proving, yet again, year after year, that the offenders are amongst us. They could be from our family, from our neighborhood, not some random person on the street and not some random person in a desolated place.

Offenders-Relation.PNG

So what is the police doing? Well, what can the police do? What can the police do when most of the cases don’t even get reported and even when they are reported, there are so many backlogs, the police can’t possibly afford to investigate the cases.

Police Cases

And what about the courts? Well, its no secret, the courts have been buried with cases pending from several years, in fact, several decades now.

Court Cases

Total-Rape-Victims

source: ncrb.gov.in

 

A man who imposes sexual activity on a woman without any indication that she is attracted to him, in the face of blunt refusals or knowing that she definitely does not like him, is a rapist. But without this explicit clarity, there are a lot of grey areas where men and women can communicate very differently and a lack of consent is not very clear. It isn't as simple as saying a no is a no.

While we are willing to accept a victim coming in with an accusation of rape much after an incident she reluctantly consented to in has happened, we are less tolerant about the ability of the man who must judge in the heat of the moment to determine whether the refusal is something that will resolve with persuasion or violate. And the sensitivity of men differs wildly, much of it determined by individual life experiences - we do little to help men learn.

It is an age old debate - how much no is no when it comes to sex. There is a side that thinks all "No" is a dead end. There is another that pretty much refuses to recognize any form of "No" as being an actual refusal. Neither are practical. As always, the more adamant force is applied to a process, the less there is sensitivity to nuance. It isn't enough to simply dump responsibility for changing a status quo on one side of a difference. Particularly when that side is less vulnerable to the problem to begin with.

There are many shades of "No". To me, for someone to be called a "rapist" an important condition is that the alleged rapist must know that the other person does not want them - particularly in cases where consent has been implied till that point.

Consent is a grey area traditionally

Asking for anything is culturally stigmatized. Someone asks you if you want tea, you are conditioned to refuse. This is a relatively minor thing. But you are taught that politeness means you don't outright accept something you desire. The more intimate and high stakes your desire, the closer you play your cards to your chest.

For many "traditional" people, by the time a relationship is ready for sex, the moment for consent has long passed, because any physical touch already is consent in a society not given to casual physical touch between genders.

When a woman says No, she doesn't always mean it

Now consider the conditioning women go through all their lives, where a woman who is eager for sex is seen as someone less respectable. There are few women or even men who would outright agree to sex, even while they are giving all kinds of green signals otherwise. Remaining available, participating in increasing contact, "accidental" contact, remaining accessible for sexual contact - and even pretending to be surprised if it happens, till the elephant of increasingly intimate contact cannot be looked around - are all normal happenings in courtship.

People pretend accidental contact that they can back off from if the other person doesn't seem receptive rather than outright ask for sex. Rather than come across as forward or risk a refusal, they simply initiate and see where it goes. Because here is the thing, we also see asking for sex as inappropriate if it gets refused. Men become creeps, women become sluts.

And this is culturally accepted and immortalized. "Jaane do na. Paas aao na" is a sexy song that gave many men sleepless nights when the film Sagar released.

The whole duet is spent with Rishi Kapoor asking Dimple Kapadia to come closer and her refusing all the way. She refuses. Says don't touch me. I can't do these things, etc. It is actually a romantic song where both of them are attracted and in fact gave men an education on what an aroused woman looks like before the age of the internet! The film Sagar would be vastly different if Dimple Kapadia later realized Rishi Kapoor was a lousy lover and remembered that she'd been second thoughts all through and in fact, refusing. It would take an exceptionally sex-illiterate person to conclude a lack of consent from that song. And if Rishi Kapoor took those refusals at face value and didn't proceed, that would be one hot, frustrated woman there and Kamal Haasan would be one happy man. Never really understood what she saw in Rishi Kapoor with super sexy Kamal Haasan there for her.

This song is actually quite realistic among the masses, where there is a lot of intimacy that goes on under the cover of normalcy or even expressed disinterest without actual prevention till the relationship reaches a point of inevitability. It is vulnerability in a judgmental world. It is hard to talk about budding feelings in the bright light of day. Not many can do it. I doubt if even among the feminists there would be very many who can claim to have explicitly spoken of attraction and a desire to initiate a sexual relationship before intimacy.

Is it wrong? Only if you think communication is strictly verbal. But there are fifty kinds of non-verbal signals that are freely given. Spending more time exclusively with someone, standing closer to them than others, casual affectionate physical touch not shared with others... it all communicates consent in a language beyond words and paves the way for more.

But there are far more mundane reasons for blurred consent. Refusals that have nothing to do with sexual willingness, but are related to other factors - for example, tired - which often change with seduction. Or a risk of discovery - which can change a refusal into flat out excitement for some, depending on how aroused they are. They can also be deeply distressing, even with a regular and beloved partner if a woman does not find the risk of discovery exciting.

Whether to persuade and get a phenomenally hot sexual experience or to respect an area of discomfort? This needs education on sensitivity and communication that cannot be plastered over with "no is no".

Traditional and biological sexual factors add confusion

Then there is a further complication. Sexually, men often enjoy the "chase" and women often enjoy being overruled on consent - when they feel safe. That men enjoy the chase shouldn't be that hard to infer from the very troublesome manifestation of sexual harassment. It is predatory behavior. The harassment is where women are clearly not on the same page - because women do require to establish trust and a catcall or grope isn't exactly it. There are a few women who feel flattered by catcalls even if they would not admit it openly. The feeling of being publicly desirable. They often are also those who place high value on male approval overall. While they may not openly enjoy it, you can get that insight in indirect ways - for example when they speak of disparage women as someone who wouldn't turn heads or wouldn't be harassed or molested or raped because they aren't attractive, etc. Where they clearly see unsolicited approaches as a mark of desirability, even though respectability demands that they cannot be known to enjoy it.

I once knew a girl nicknamed Sexy in our friends circle and while she acted all protesting about a nickname that sounded like a sleazy catcall, she would be the one to tell people who didn't know what her nickname was!

There is also a fundamental difference in how men and women interpret intimate conversations that create misunderstandings. Men generally do not speak of intimate physical experiences with the ease women do. Just look at the number of open discussions about menstruation or female sexuality on social media and compare them with how many times you have seen men talk about their penises at all. Men reserve personal talk to extremely confidential relationships - if they talk about intimate issues at all. An intimate subject being discussed conveys extreme trust to men, while women happily talk about intimate subjects even on public forums.

Very often a woman's candid talk can imply an intimacy she does not mean to men, particularly men who are not very familiar with casual interaction with women and don't know that this is normal for women. Something I always advise inexperienced young women is to not share one on one conversations involving features of your/his body with men you aren't interested in. It doesn't mean the same thing to them as it does to you. Of course, there will be individual exceptions, but the norm is broad enough to be useful insight.

A verbal refusal or protest can come from anywhere from an actual refusal to hesitation to commit to stating desire. And there can often be contradictory messages in behavior, with the non-verbal message often being the more accurate of the two.

Some women fantasize about being overpowered

One of the strongest endorsements of consent comes from BDSM, which allows for a safe word to call a halt to the sexual activity - ironically, often criticized for "cruelty". And the safe word actually can allow for erotic sexual play that involves refusing sex and the refusal being overruled if the safe word is not used. How could enslavement, pain being inflicted be desired? Obviously, the consent being explicitly moved to the safe word ensures that this isn't rape, but it definitely is rape fantasy if the play explores areas of consent being overruled.

Increase of women viewers of porn and a lot of outspokenness about porn and terms like feminist porn coming up have not led to any discernable change in standard porn content. So the increased number of women appear to be fine watching erotic content that is criticized from a feminist perspective for being disrespectful about women? For objectifying them, for not holding consent in higher esteem? Women too watch that and get off on it?

Actual research done in this area (led by a woman) shows startling results: 52% of the women had fantasies about forced sex by a man: 32% had fantasies about being raped by a man: 28% - forced oral sex by a man: 16% - forced anal sex: 24% - incapacitated: 17% - forced sex by a woman: 9% - raped by a woman: 9% - forced oral sex by a woman. Overall, 62% reported having had at least one of these fantasies.

Does a woman's response to a dominating man convey mixed messages? Is it possible that men either instinctively or from experience experiment with overruling consent as a part of sexual play? It certainly seems possible if one were to look at such data. There is plenty more research on rape fantasies, for the interested. No point derailing into all that. Particularly since fantasies are not consent for reality.

The man must be made aware of an unambiguous refusal

In my view, because of all these reasons, it is not enough to say "no" and pretend sexual interest did not happen, there is a need to ensure that the "No" is communicated. A man must be made aware of an unambiguous "no" and women must be educated about conveying it. Being willing to a point and then refusing, only to capitulate with some persuasion makes it very difficult to differentiate between a refusal that is momentary and overcome with persuasion and an actual refusal with further sex happening against the consent of the woman.

A common reason to capitulate is because the woman values the presence of the man in her life even though she doesn't want sex. She doesn't want him to turn to someone else. Sad though it may be, it is a hard choice, but a choice must be made with responsibility. Agreeing to sex but holding it against him is not ethical. It is also important to understand that once the genie of sex is out of the bottle, your relationship is not going to return to the comfort zone easily - if at all ever.

Not so hard to understand if men and women are BOTH people

Let us reverse the roles for a bit to make it easier to understand. If men seem more eager than women to seek sex, women can want sex for far longer than men, because biology. Women do pressurize no-longer-interested men into sex. Is a man who grumbles about it after being seduced into participating again a rape victim? Technically, yes. If we are talking of consent as a moment by moment thing where changing your mind on sexual interest is a right, a man who rolls over and falls asleep should be protected from the still horny woman.

In reality? It will be quite a few nights like this before a responsible lover learns to get his partner off first before racing for the finish line or the woman learns to insist on it. Without that pressure, he will never learn. In any case, a man can't be raped as per Indian law. He is this mythical creature who always wants sex, so there is no question of lack of consent - and countless relatively inexperienced partners of sexually active women will attest to the fact that they do get pushed beyond their comfort zone. If a woman is under social pressure of the male gender, the man's entire masculinity and existence as a man can be at stake in such moments. A man who can't "perform" on demand is a most embarrassing thing in terms of social conditioning.

A rather headstrong teenager slapped her lover awake when he fell asleep after climaxing while she was still horny and frustrated. Embarrassed at having fallen asleep and intimidated by her fury, he fumbled his way through that night and broke off with her the next morning, by which time she was horrified and embarrassed by her own behavior. "You can't force me" were his exact words, repeated over and over through the conversation.

She kept apologizing and begging him to forgive her. She had thought he had lost interest in her - as in he dumped her after sex. It was rape all the same - technically. A more humane term would be a learning experience for both of them. Neither of them were aware of crucial factors beyond their own experience. The girl didn't have an idea that men can need temporary time out after a climax. The man was not aware that women climax at all.

If a horny and clueless teenager can do this, an adult experienced woman can definitely pressure a man into "performing" beyond his endurance with a lot more expertise and knowing exactly how to do it. Not all men have the sexual resilience or skill to ensure that a woman also finds each sexual encounter satisfying. Till they learn, it can be extremely high pressure to deliver sex long after they have maxed out or more often than they are sexually able. One day it will make them better lovers. Or it may simply lead to a horrible sexual relationship they hopefully escape some day.

If we insist on reluctant agreements under pressure being up for evaluation as rape in hindsight, then we have to begin with the ethical stand that men too can be raped in this manner - are we willing to do that? Is it ethical to consider consent under pressure as rape only for women? Also, is it correct to blame a man for rape if there is consent under pressure even, unless there is an explicit threat or unfair pressure knowingly applied by the man? Can a man know all the factors that will run through a woman's mind before she agrees in order to know that the consent is not freely given?

There has to be some point where we have to take consent/participation at face value and it is the responsibility of each person in an adult interaction to make their peace with their choices. And to give consent with awareness of its implication and refuse it if not okay with it.

Saying NO and making it stick

Both men and women would be served better by widespread awareness of tools like safe words and emphatic "NOs" without mixed messages - where a refusal is a flat out refusal and no persuasion is welcome that leave absolutely no room for misinterpretation. This is important for both responsible adult communication as well as practical safety for women.

To say no, but continue other intimate touching, or remain accessible for further touch or escalate "I really like you, but..." type emotionally laden conversations, sends a mixed message that is very commonly interpreted as yes. If that is your intention, fantastic. I encourage you to attempt an eager "yes", because any responsible lover will wait for you to get there. If you are undecided, it is better to voice that and explicitly state a temporarily refusal or "find out as we go along" type consent so that the man knows to check for your comfort, than give mixed messages that can take the situation outside your comfort zone rapidly or to blindside with a refusal. This is the honest communication - stating your status clearly. Of course, if you've been yes till something turns you off, blindsiding cannot be helped.

The most important thing to educate people on is that they are not responsible for disappointing those interested in them gently at the cost of their own well being. If they are not interested in being intimate with someone, it is best to do a flat out NO. Alternative intimacy will neither satisfy an interested wo/man, nor will it convey a refusal. It will convey that you are interested in them, not yet enough for sex, but you're open to possibilities. Such possibilities will almost inevitably be explored, because such is the nature of horniness - it seeks a climax. Ironically, the chances of getting consensually laid in the future improve vastly in borderline situations if you can disengage and take care of your horny solo without imposing it on anyone before they are ready.

A person coerced into sex against his/her will has been wronged. But it does not follow that the wrong was deliberate unless that is also established. Sometimes bad judgment is just that. Sucks and wrong, but not a crime.

Nothing short of a climax satisfies a horny person. If that is not what you want, the best and kindest thing you can do for all concerned is to flat out refuse and stop all interaction. If you are not able to do this, you need to ask yourself what you are achieving by prolonging the risk.... and address it appropriately rather than slide into compliance. It is appropriate to be hostile instead of placatory when you want to push someone away. The fewer grey areas in such refusals, the fewer the mixed messages.

If there is structural or social power being exploited to take coerce someone, then the process of "NO" must also involve informing the structure of the exploitation of the power granted by it. Whether it is informing an organization about the inappropriate advance or a friend's circle about the camaraderie of a trusted group being misused to prey on someone. This vastly reduces the pressure on the target. It also allows for protective actions by others, like ensuring that the two are not left alone.

This needs to be a part of sex education.

apologies for the long read - it is a rough chapter from a book I'm writing. Was not able to shorten it gracefully.

5

With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi due to arrive in the UK, protesters of the Awaaz Network projected an image of Modi holding a sword with an "Om morphing into the Swastika" next to him. This has triggered a lot of outrage and offended feelings among many.

I see it as missing the woods for the trees. I am reminded of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons with their black humor that can show an innocent Syrian refugee child, one of many Syrian refugees no one wants, washed up on the beach, dead just short of reaching safer shores while a MacDonald's poster beckons garishly. Black humor it is called. No one took joy from seeing that innocent dead there in the middle of an otherwise beautiful photograph. No one enjoyed being reminded about it by a cartoon.

Today, there are those who look at the Om morphing into a Swastika and are going into eloquent flights of offense taken. On behalf of "Hindus who revere the symbol", of course, rather than saying "that offended me". As though those doing it were not Hindus with their own sentiments about the symbols - whatever they may be. I think, like that cartoon, the poster that Awaaz Network projected on the British Parliament is a description of reality.

This is what is happening today. People's faith is indeed being morphed into something dark. That is how from revering and worshiping a cow, our "faith" is manifesting as lynchings. That is how countless people with Hindu beliefs are being harnessed to power a political movement. That is how countless people are being conditioned to defend symbols and prevent "offences" to them - EVEN AS THEY OPPOSE THOSE DOING THE CONDITIONING.

The obscenity is not in stating it, the obscenity is in doing it. The poster merely points out that this is happening. I don't think anyone at all missed the meaning of the poster. In choosing to fixate on the specific use of the symbol and delegitimizing its use, we see even those normally opposed to Modi in effect implying "no, he isn't that bad". Because that is what it amounts to, to object to that poster.

Finally, in an atmosphere of overabundance of religious touchiness in India, I would say that even if it actually were an insult, a little responsibility would be welcome in not encouraging a wider audience to learn to take offence.

There is a need to recognize that taking offence is also contagious. When you are supposedly spreading tolerance, the constant stimulation of noticing intolerance will trigger touchiness in the same way one on a diet at a food festival may be tempted to try something that they wouldn't normally. It is up to the evolved mind to recognize where strong emotions arise from, and determine how they may be expressed without being sucked into a game you claim to oppose.

This is not to say that one may not have unfavorable opinions, but the independent mind should attempt to be relatively free of knee jerk reactions triggered by provocation. There are a million ways to object and yet, we find supposedly liberal people providing reasons that are not all that different from those who habitually react with disapproval to perceived insult to religions.

With the same result, probably the reason Awaaz Network chose to project this. It got a lot more attention and triggered a lot more discussion than the average anti-Modi content. Because it speaks an unpleasant truth. A truth that is so unpleasant, that many would shy of voicing it even in criticism. And those who disapprove, as usual, provided it the power to reach more people.

When you don't understand, you react.

When you understand, you respond.

 

5

Porn has come under extensive criticism from feminists as well. I find this scary. Accusations vary from porn resulting in rape to porn being born from an exploitation of women. I disagree with a lot of these accusations and agree with a few, but do not see blocking of porn as an answer. More importantly, I find it alarming that feminism can selectively abdicate interest in the agency of women.

Who decides whether and what porn should be banned?

A large part of the feminist view is that men deciding what harms women is a problem. A sizeable chunk of feminists also thinks porn should be banned because it harms women. Very few people actually ask porn watching women or performers. In my view, people who don't want to watch porn are not required to watch it, just like people not interested in cricket are not forced to follow scores on cricket websites. Thus, there is little question of porn being imposed on people and the primary stakeholders would be producers, performers and viewers - mostly not consulted in deliberations on bans. Other stakeholders could be law enforcement, social workers and doctors working with the industry and so on. Few, if any women enjoy porn that is violent, but there are women viewers as well as performers who like rough sex porn. Our efforts to figure out a way to reduce the harms of porn don't consult them. In my view not only is this authoritarian, bypassing stakeholders is unlikely to result in effective ways of dealing with the issue.

Can porn cause harm?

There is harm related to porn including addiction, unhealthy expectations about sex and violent or non-consensual sex. On the darker side is a sordid saga of drug abuse among porn performers, sexual abuse and allegedly, trafficking women to make porn, blackmail and more. Extreme and hardcore acts or object insertions can result in people injuring themselves. Those added to a rape can result in serious injury and worse. They can give men all sorts of misconceptions about what women like during sex. And this is "legal" porn (as in not depicting criminal acts) - not even necessarily violent porn. There is also little doubt that a lot of mainstream porn is too aggressive and disrespectful of women for women's tastes.

So are many Bollywood films. I'd argue songs like "Khambe jaisi khadi hain" starring the conscience of the nation, Aamir Khan, with "heroes" pursuing reluctant actresses, heartily idolized by cheering and jeering mob of sidekicks have inspired more non-consensual  sexual pursuit of women than porn films ever will. Catcalls and whistles from the balcony during rape/molestation/erotic scenes are embarrassing cinema traditions. When the heroine can slap the hero for harassing her, and discover at the end of the film that she was wrong for misjudging him. I would argue that public figures and people in positions of authority that excuse rape and hold victims responsible for "asking for it" do more harm than porn. Because these are cultural influences, rather than private activities.

What are the things already being done about "bad" porn?

Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection, Internet Watch Foundation and FBI track and seize servers that run child pornography. Google does not want revenge porn to appear in search results. There are other initiatives by ordinary netizens like Anonymous who are relentless in their efforts in their pursuit of child abusers and child porn. Efforts like feminist porn, Porna porn or sex-positive porn are growing rapidly as more and more people turn toward more "real" depictions of sex rather than aggressive porn that "gets off" on humiliating women. Bishakha Datta puts it well in her fine article on the porn ban, "If we applied the free speech argument to porn, we wouldn’t ban porn. We’d fight porn with more porn, make more porn for women." She is planning to create a porn-o-meter service to rate porn for being child, women and law friendly that depicts women enjoying and controlling the sexual action as well. Top rated videos of most popular sites are increasingly of the kind where women participate and enjoy the sex.

Above prejudices and ethics is hard business

A part of the problem is also the "quality", as a pragmatic porn performer who does not want to be named, told me. If a director fails to convey pleasure and emotional connect it can look alarmingly indifferent to a woman's pleasure. A woman's pleasure can be more subtle to portray and capture than a man's very visible orgasm. It is also no coincidence that most films with good production values and acting and direction also have sex that looks enjoyable for all participants.

While the audience was mostly men, this did not matter so much, but with the rise in viewership by women, this has started mattering. If women friendly porn has demand, it will be created. And it should be, because as Pu La Deshpande had said in his speech celebrating the 75th show of the outrageous Sangeet Vastraharan, "There is only one answer to inappropriate things and that is doing what is appropriate in an excellent manner."

Here is Erika Lust, who makes porn videos talking about the need for porn to change.

Porn is hardly a new concern. Other countries already have laws that the biggest sites have to comply with to remain accessible to viewers in order to profit. Any porn site with noticeable viewership already explicitly requires performers to be of adult age and to sign consent forms. They remove reported criminal porn - because they are here to do business from the desires of people, not protect criminals at the cost of their own business and reputation. The question of why aggression with woman turns men on - whether as a fantasy or in real life is a question beyond the scope of this piece.

Does porn symbolize crimes against women?

Meena Kandasamy, a feminist has published an article in which she argues against the porn ban, yet declares porn to be against women's rights (then why should it not be banned?)

I do think that the pornographic industry overwhelmingly represents NOT freedom but its opposite, the enslavement of women's bodies, the casualisation of paedophilia, the trivialisation of rape, the culture of trophy videos of rape, and all this, on top of being one of the most exploitative global sex industries that has trafficking, forced prostitution, abuse and near-slavery ingrained in it.

I invite anyone to check out the top porn sites to see if pedophilia or rape is present at all (whether casualized, trivialized or in another form) let alone "overwhelmingly represents". Women who participate willingly in BDSM cannot be considered to be "enslaved" beyond the sexual role play. I dare say that if the top visited sites don't carry it, most porn viewers never come across it. If you specifically search for child or rape porn, you will find it regardless of blocks, because if there is something you can find on the internet, you can find it around a block as well.

Conditions of porn performers

There are porn performers who reach the top of name and fame as performers and go on to produce their own content and there are those that do a brief stint and reach a dead end - like the bulk of acting and modeling work. There are plenty of "stars" speaking candidly about the profession, including their sex lives on and off screen when their partner is also a co-star; interacting with fans in an extremely candid manner, including doing Reddit IAmAs, where anyone can ask them anything and answering questions on Quora. There are candid Reddit IAmAs of partners of porn performers who speak of dedication to their work and career; the "work" of porn and sex being different things and even being committed to monogamy off screen.

Technology is killing mainstream porn but empowering the talent. It cuts out the middle man and let's almost anyone work from home. ~ Tory Lane

It is a career choice with its occupational hazards. Not all that different from a film star talking about how it isn't all about glamour but days of slogging doing retakes after retakes.

A construction worker abuses her body for far less money and comfort. Do we call for bans on construction work or coal mines because workers fall to their die, get health problems or abuse their body beyond endurance for a pittance? Is it not supremely ironic that feminists who would otherwise object to a woman being measured by her vagina end up condemning entire professions chosen by women because the part of the body overworked is the vagina? Is being a woman all about being a vagina then, that breaking your back ferrying gravel and cement is no reason for a ban but a far less brutal life as a sex performer is? Or is it that there is nothing to be outraged about a woman's sexuality unless she happens to earn from it?

This is not to say there is no ugly side. There are sex performers who get exploited, who face rude costars and suffer unpleasant sex from both the physical stress of postures for camera rather than comfort as well as brutal partners with usually larger than average penises. They speak of the abuse and humiliation of derogatory co-stars, being penetrated roughly, of drugs and exploiters. Why does the "victim" return to do another film? Performers make compromises they later regret because of the lure of money, like any of us. Women have had sex in ways that strips them of dignity for all kinds of reasons ranging from promotions to desperate attempts at preventing husbands from straying.

Defining the whole by a part

But more importantly, it is not so different from the million other people who "bitch" about their jobs, even as they continue to do them. Go to a corporate office, there will be bitter sense of victimization by colleagues and seniors considered to be manipulative, exploitative or otherwise unfair. Of bosses who will push employees beyond endurance to get the "work" done. Of work pressures that lead to suicides. Students commit suicide from exam pressures. Farmers commit suicide because they cannot afford to live. Bigggest common factor in cases of marital rape is marriage. Ban marriage? Every profession, occupation has a terrible side, but porn and prostitution appear to be two where a professional cannot talk about a bad day at work or problems they face without it becoming the "truth" of the industry.

What about the agency of women?

Whatever happened of the power of women to make choices including their own mistakes? If a woman chooses to wear skimpy clothes and walk on the streets of Delhi at midnight and gets raped, do we ask for roads to be closed to public after dark? If a porn performer faces abuse, why is it that instead of insisting that criminals be brought to book, we act like the ministers we condemn and condemn porn instead of the specific criminals? There is some preference within people to prevent porn, just like there is a preference to prevent women out on the streets among those who would deny them agency.

Concerns about Indian porn performers

That said, while I have no data, my perception is that the Indian porn performers do much worse than those in countries where it can be produced legally. I believe this is because performing contracts, mandatory health checks, legal status allow legal porn performers to build proper fan followings and improve  working conditions in ways that they find safe in ways Indian performers cannot. Indeed a lot of Indian porn I have seen appears to be little more than a shoot of a sexual encounter with a prostitute with little production values or direction beyond showing sex. If porn performing were legal in India, many prostitutes would be able to move out of prostitution and dictate who they would have sex with for an income and on what terms. They would be able to create and sell their own porn instead of being videotaped by profiteers who exploited them for their own profit. They would be able to choose producers who offered working conditions that did not exploit them.

What can the government do?

If we really want to do something about porn, in order to prevent exploitation of women, the need is not to ban it, but to legalize porn production so that working standards may be enforced, production companies can be formed and held accountable for the age and consent of performers in videos they produce and more. So that a porn performer may be able to file a case for rape just like any model can, if she gets forced to do things she has not agreed to do. I have often argued that instead of prudish bans on sex related activities like prostitution or porn, India needs to encourage a thriving sex industry that allows the government to crack down on exploitation and crime, because professionals will be interested in maintaining their licences to operate. Instead of fighting a token war against a tide of people interested in sex and profiteers thriving on exploiting women to provide it, the government can turn the bulk of consumers and providers on their side and really create conditions that deter crimes and exploitation.

[tweetthis]The only answer to inappropriate things is doing what is appropriate well. ~ PuLa[/tweetthis]

If porn is legal, it will become easier to monitor human trafficking, because the larger production houses that earn the most will have a vested interest in remaining legal and focusing on the money and they will have a way to be legal. Smaller operators in turn will not be able to earn enough from meager revenues from marginalized visibility to make the risks of crime worthwhile. It may not stop crimes altogether, but it will most definitely help to make them unnecessary as well as serve as strong deterrent for the vast majority.

One strength the government has, is the same one it exploits when it profits from FDI. The size of India's population is an asset when it comes to being a market. If the government can identify porn that encourages unhealthy attitudes about women and consent, it can pass a law requiring such content to carry disclaimers For example:

  • The following material is a fictional depiction of activities that are illegal in civilized countries - for enacted rape porn or "forced sex" etc
  • The actions depicted in this video can cause injury and are performed by practiced professionals. Don't try them at home - for extreme insertion porn.
  • The women in this video have consented to participate in a fictional depiction of dominance over women. Such actions without consent are illegal worldwide. - for rough sex, domination, BDSM, etc

Given the size of India's population, if sites that don't comply are blocked, it will result in a competition for the market share and allow the government to actively combat harmful messages potentially conveyed by porn.

The need is to not measure porn by the ethical standards of prudes with malice toward the industry, but by the standards of those engaging with it.

5

The porn debate is hitting public consciousness (read browsers) with a vengeance. Even as the Chief Justice of India's refusal to pass an interim order banning porn made reassuring headlines, reports of porn sites being inaccessible started hitting social media.

Chief Justice of India HL Dattu had said in early July, "Such interim orders cannot be passed by this court. Somebody can come to the court and say ‘Look, I am an adult and how can you stop me from watching it within the four walls of my room? It is a violation of Article 21 (right to personal liberty) of the Constitution.’ Yes the issue is serious and some steps need to be taken… the Centre has to take a stand... let us see what stand the Centre will take.”

There is no official stand from the government, yet several porn sites are reportedly becoming inaccessible for some users over some networks like MTNL, BSNL, Vodafone, Spectranet and ACT with users getting a blank page or a message saying "The site has been blocked as per the instructions of Competent Authority." Legally India and The Mint have independently verified, citing anonymous sources, with one and three ISPs respectively that the blocks on an unprecedented 857 websites were notified on Friday by the government and should be implemented Monday onwards.

This is problematic on several levels.

Lack of transparency in governance

The secret bans of websites are a non-transparent and undemocratic undermining of the rights of citizens of a democracy, with rules about what is allowed and what is not allowed decided and implemented in secrecy and with no opportunity for citizens to be notified or to have a dialgue on the subject. It is yet another mark of a "Pvt Ltd" government's contempt for democracy that fits in with a pattern of arbitrary restrictions imposed on people, ordinances replacing laws voted on by representatives of the people and serious and unscientific fudging of national data to create perceptions favorable to he government's image.

Violation of citizen rights

As pointed out by Chief Justice Dattu, such blocks are a violation of a citizen's right to personal liberty as enshrined in Article 21 of the constitution. That the government not only violates the rights of citizens, but does so in a manner that leaves citizens no opportunity to object is an alarming indication of authoritarian and arbitrary impositions of morality as defined by undisclosed persons.

Encouraging a culture of sexual repression

I have pointed out in another piece that a society that represses sexual expression ends up encouraging stress, frustration and aggression among citizens. Sex is a fundamental urge and a culture of taboos around sex is detrimental to self actualization and contentment among citizens.

The need to mitigate harms of certain kinds of porn without violating the freedoms of citizens

It is true that certain kinds of porn can influence people into seeing harm to another as acceptable entertainment. Rape porn, revenge porn or child porn in particular comes to mind. Porn with unusual object insertions can result in self harm as well as additional injury during rape. A person's freedom ends at another person's nose. However, there is also plenty of porn that is little more than harmless eroticism and even more that can enhance the sexual lives of people by providing them with ideas to pleasure their partners - something a sex-phobic culture of ours never allows dialogue about, even as they teach young adults about how to be a good husband or wife. Well, sex does make or break marriages very often, and perhaps regressive sex-phobic orthodox leaders can take comfort in knowing that their sacrifice may help keep the marriages they so revere, happier.

If something has the "potential for causing harm" and should be banned merely on the basis of that potential, we'd probably need to ban driving and elections altogether. They have both got way more potential to harm people than porn.

The need is to mitigate the influence of porn that can lead to potential crimes, while respecting the right of people to privately engage in whatever activity they will, as long as it harms no other. It isn't as impossible as it sounds, but it will take more effort than a lazy dismissal of citizen rights.

Can something be done to prevent harm of porn without banning it?

I think it can. Here are some suggestions.

Porn is a personal matter and not government business for the most part. Porn does play a constructive role in the sex lives/education of many people. However, there are harmful types of porn that can and should be regulated – not necessarily banned, but mandatory warnings added, etc. “The following actions are illegal in most countries” is not unreasonable to expect before rape or child porn in a country where smoking depicted in a film requires absurd disclaimers.

Ads like “single moms want sex” should not be allowed – they create an extremely dangerous perception about single moms at large – for example – ads should explicitly advertise either sex workers or sex products/services and not identities as a whole that may not be associated with a default of public sexual permissiveness.

A country the size of India has tremendous clout – if we legislate that porn depicting acts of violence or pedophilia must carry mandatory legal warnings or that extreme insertions type porn carries “don't try this at home” type warning, it helps viewers in a country with next to no dialogue on sex get a more realistic understanding of what the acts mean beyond jerking off. If we legislate that failing to provide such warnings, the site will get blocked, all sites doing business will not want to lose it to competition. It will be more effective than banning porn at large, as the availability of healthy porn and appropriate caution with violent porn will help shape public perception toward a more consensual view of sexuality as a whole.

The nation will be encouraged to have a far healthier view of sexuality if, instead of panicking over every instance of sex, we can encourage a healthy Sex Industry that educates, affirms rights of all, and protects from exploitation.