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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.


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.

Ansh Aggarwal got beaten to death by a mob of college students. This much we know for certain. Other details emerge. Some news stories speaking of it as a love triangle, others saying that it was over abusive messages sent to a girl on Facebook (without making clear who sent them), Ansh's family saying that the accused sent the abusive messages and the girl had filed a police complaint.... as though a murder can have explanations that make it palatable.

I am not going to talk about this murder, because it has already happened. I am going to talk about the murders that are going to happen and if we have any intentions of avoiding them, or if we are content getting our daily dose of horror and then pointing superior fingers. A few things in this situation speak of a very concerning state of our society itself. Questions that have been building and building and no one seems to want to take them seriously.

Failure of law and order

I am not only speaking about a person being murdered. I am speaking of  a society that has few alternatives than to fight battles themselves that the law will not. Let us begin with asking how many girls can expect police to act when they get abused on the internet? What alternative does a friend who wants to see her safe have other than confronting the culprit himself? Note that the abuser being a real life contact takes this beyond the realm of "ignore". This is at the root of a lot of security and human rights problems in the country.

The law barely works with very serious matters, that too if you are not discredited. If you are discredited, or your suffering is not sensational enough, our law has increasingly started looking like a multiple choice opt-in question. It is fairly evident that the first thought that comes to a police mind is if they need to take on the hassle, or if they can get away with dismissing it. Rampant victim blaming is also a result of this.

Failure of politics and radicalization

Our method of politics being that of forming lynch mobs - physical or verbal, this is the society we are creating. Supporting or opposing anything is less about what that thing is, and more about who is bringing it up and if you are on their side. The power of a mob to hold society and security at hostage has not been fought, but nurtured into a weapon of choice.

As I remarked in my post on riots, a person who would file a police complaint if their mother got killed will easily riot on the streets attacking the "enemy" for religious or political reasons in the name of hurt feelings.Apparently, feelings are only hurt if specific enemies do wrong things. Well, good morning. Once an action gets legitimacy, it no longer remains limited to the context of its origin.

In a society where political or religious rioting bought vote bonanzas and got citizens rallying to fight for the dignity of their religion, we have children forming mobs when they get outraged too. This is the world they grew up in, where certain wrongs, specially wrongs where "us" are insulted by "them" are best dealt with through physical violence.

While the mob that attacked Ansh was definitely wrong and criminal, we need to look at our own culpability in creating an environment where this is an acceptable action - unless something goes "really wrong". It is increasingly common to find people reacting to riots with an examination of the provocation, instead of seeing them as acts of violence perpetrated on citizens. Why would hormone laden teenagers not riot if their mother got abused over some conflict about a girl? They were provoked, and national role models do not take such things quietly. Police do not harm you if you have rioted for a "just cause". This is the world we have created.

Media Courts

There is a specific pattern to how media responds to an incident that is very unhealthy. Instead of limiting itself to providing factual information, media increasingly pronounces guilt or worse, tries to fix it on someone, which complicates the case a lot. So now, in the Ansh case, here are the different versions of "what happened":

  • Girl gets text message on Facebook. Ansh Aggarwal and the accused fight over it. (note, no mention here of who sent it)
  • Both victim and accused interested in same girl, but girl favored the accused.
  • Victim tried to get accused to not harass a girl
  • Victim's brother got taken to scene of crime
  • Altercation that led to victim's death was spontaneous.
  • Girl had got harassed by the accused on Facebook, post which she filed a complaint as well as Ansh (this was ridiculously easy to verify, but no one seems to have done it)
  • An argument escalated into the murder (doesn't explain the handy rent-a-thugs)

And so on. This is routine after every crime, every parliamentary sneeze. The media reports everything it finds with little analysis or verification. In the process it ignores questions that really need to be asked of the country by providing a clutter rich environment that allows everyone to pick what they think is most important to be addressed, which usually involves something with least responsibility on them.

From being a mirror and a change agent, media is fast becoming a parrot for the convenience of those in power. So you have fight over a girl, and such things being spoken of freely, but little along the lines of why this is happening at all or what needs to be done to fix this. The parotted answer is to fix the police force. Yet, what do we do to fix ourselves?

Meena Kandasamy got abused on Twitter over her tweets on the beef issue. Threatened with being butchered, gang raped and such violence. "decent" people ignored it. If the threats get acted upon, the same "decent people" will then vent their anguish - led by the media. But while they read the tweets threatening her, they don't object. They don't "tangle with such people". After all, what she supported hurt sentiments of people, so they will retaliate. This is the world we have created. A world with laws that have nothing to do with the Constitution or penal code and everything to do with the war between power lobbies to conquer the country.

A Manipuri student got beaten to death by his seniors in the college hostel in Bangalore. Why? Because he changed the channel while they were watching the IPL. Yet, there are hundreds of people who have known college bullying to happen without interfering. Only if the person died, then it is wrong. It is high time we faced the fact that we tolerate it till the point it becomes visibly ugly. Hence such energy in distancing ourselves and condemning. It is a disowning of own complacency.

We want to pretend that till a certain point it was ok, which is why we didn't speak up, and now it is not ok, because if we don't speak up, we'll be outed for the bigots we are. These kids - these murderer kids are also among us. They have vented hate, and we have said "oh, let it be - they are like that only" till one fine day we can't let it be, and it is so out of control that we declare ourselves innocent and wash our hands off our problem.

Either way, we do nothing. Society gets fragmented to pander to these individual power grabs. We are more comfortable like that, because we don't have to do anything. We can condemn bad happenings after they happen and turn them into showcases of our great values and integrity.

In my view, yes, Anush Aggarwal's murder was wrong. But more than the murder, my worry is that a bunch of ticked off teenagers can easily turn into a murderous mob that fast. It is the India we are creating with our increasing list of things it is okay to protest with violence. We need to change our whole environment, if we are to expect children to not grow up with this kind of "normal".

We are as responsible for the wrongs we allow to happen unopposed, as we are for those we do.


The Mumbai Slutwalk had died when the police required us to provide an undertaking on the letterhead of an NGO with details of the walk. We could have falsified it, but the fact is that it was purely a citizen's initiative, and there was no NGO involved enough for us to feel justified in representing ourselves on its letter head.

Other problems cropped up, and we decided to let things be.

Today, the Bangalore Slutwalk was cancelled. The update from the organizers says that their permission for peaceful assembly was withdrawn under objection and pressure from BJP and related organizations.

As the permission was withdrawn at the last minute, the organizers decided to land up at the venue to inform people arriving for the SlutWalk that it had been called off.

What followed is better than a hundred SlutWalks in making the point, but.... our media is oblivious.

This group of ex-protesters, now only updaters, dressed in jeans and T-Shirts, were arrested by the cops and taken on a long drive to some remote police station. Their phones were taken away and they were detained without explanation.

These people detained were directing people that the SlutWalk was cancelled. They were cooperating with the police. Some of those detained were walking away from the venue exactly as directed by the police when they were hauled back and arrested.

This, dear friends, was Bangalore's SlutWalk. A live demo by the cops of the need for a SlutWalk.

  • Moral Police had a problem with what they perceived as characterless behavior
  • They pressurized the government with threats of illegal action
  • As usual, the victim was suppressed to avoid a problem and permissions cancelled
  • Organizers were arrested in spite of co-operating
  • Protesters leaving the site were arrested because "they shouldn't have been there in the first place"

THIS is why slutwalks happen. Moral policing in society. Character judgments about women/men based on what goes on in the minds of those thinking about them. Morality being rigidly defined by whoever is able to bully the others. Bullying leading to comprehensive silencing of women asserting their constitutional rights that have been deprived. Government and police making absolutely no effort to safeguard those rights. Police actively persecuting those who attempted to assert themselves, even if they are fully cooperating.

Shows a dead society that will not let others live because they are not able to face the dirt in their own minds and would rather blame someone for it.

In my eyes, the Bangalore Slutwalk is a success.

I think, we have gone beyond the time for protest walks. The time is for us to live our realities, and insist that the police maintain law and order.


Some points to learn from while organizing Mumbai's Maal Chaal. This post is more of a to-do list for me, not really an article. Feel free to read, follow or contribute or use the list to help you act. Stuff will keep getting added, removed.

  1. Remain open and available. Coordinate with main people so that all of us aren't inaccessible at the same time on declared points of contact.
  2. Prepare better. There was little preparation in terms of working with the society before the walk and in communicating the need. More reach needs to be organized.
  3. Specifically target and ensure communication with a range of "groups" of people ensuring diversity of age, gender, caste, class, locality, religion, etc. The attempt is to create such a diversity of people, that the message becomes totally generic - moral judgments and victimization are not okay regardless of who does it to whom.
  4. Make sure that the scope of the slutshaming being protested as not limited to streets and public transport - it is in every aspect of lives - in how we treat each other at home, at work, in school, on the street, in public transport...
  5. Engage with disagreeing voices in genuine debate. Understand concerns, make real attempts to address them as far as possible.
  6. Create effective communication on why words like "slut" and "maal" are needed and what is their significance in this protest against the ills in society - help people reach beyond automatic denials to common interest.
  7. Communicate better with journalists to ensure that the message of the slutwalk reaches viewers unmangled.
  8. Create a few standard letters, photos, graphics, etc that supporters can use to spread the word.
  9. Keep the voice loud and clear all through right up to the walk.
  10. Keep an eye on the kinds of clothes people have in mind, so that there is an idea of the diversity or the lack of it and action may be taken if needed.