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Opinion Op Ed 18 Jan 2020 Porn, children and t ...
Tellis is an academic, a journalist, an editor and a writer on LGBT and other minority issues

Porn, children and the obscene state

Published Jan 18, 2020, 2:37 pm IST
Updated Jan 18, 2020, 2:39 pm IST
IFF also piously points to the need for consultation with feminists, with LGBT activists and experts
Representational image
 Representational image

A committee was constituted late last year (December 12, 2019) in the Rajya Sabha to actually discuss pornography. Before you think this is a welcome move, the title should arrest any excitement on your part. It was “Committee to study the alarming issue of pornography on social media and its effect on children and society as a whole.” The committee has been asked to submit its findings in the absurdly short time of a month (January 12, 2020).

Nobody was asked for any submissions. The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) nevertheless offered unsolicited, uninvited comments but it is unlikely that they will be paid any heed.

 

The IFF’s own conceptions are somewhat wonky. It argues that the Indian position on pornography and obscenity laws are marked by some mythical notion of ‘Victorian sensibilities’ (sic), draws on US lingo calling these ‘toxic’ and undermining of “rights of autonomy, consent and sexuality.” Further, it argues, it “criminalises adult behaviours and represses desires.”

Also concerned to ‘protect minors,’ it advocates measures from sex education in schools to parenting tools (whatever that means) to, shockingly, the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The US is one of the most paranoid cultures around child sexual abuse and has, as with all other things US, exported this paranoia globally. There is no rational discussion to be had on child rights or child sexuality with the US and the IFF advocating the draconian COPPA runs against precisely what they have been talking about earlier – autonomy, consent, sexuality and repression – all of which also children have a stake in.

IFF also piously points to the need for consultation with feminists, with LGBT activists and experts.

In their short three-recommendation document, IFF focuses on the need for further study, the dangers of image-based abuse muddying the distinction between adult consensual sex and abuse-involving images and also the technology (PhotoDNA) being used for other kinds of state surveillance. Finally, it criticises the ‘Victorian’ sexual morality underlying obscenity laws and the misuse of the IT Act to censor porn and individuals from sexual expression and sexual pleasure.

Stressing once again the need for further study, the document unfortunately does not ask fundamental questions that might be asked whether conceptually or based on what we already know. It does not, for example, speak of child agency at all and how it is erased by laws like the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) and the paranoid conception that undergirds COPPA. Both laws do not actually examine their own assumptions from the conception of the child to the sources of the abuse of children as external to the family and located in the big bad internet or the demonic figure of the paedophile and, of course, most emphatically, the child as no more than brain-dead, agency-less victim.

We have enough studies from organisations that work with children across the country that children are having penetrative sex from 12-13 onwards, that most are watching porn, across class and caste, at around the same age or even younger, that the very same people who claim to be ‘protecting’ children – the hideous Indian middle class are sexualising them across the board from advertising to TV to cinema to toys and abusing them within the family.

Parents are the most unthinking idiots who lurch between extreme sexual repression with their children (no discourse around sexuality at all) to uninterrogated nonsense about good and bad touch learnt from NGOs and taught to their children as ‘parenting tools.’ The only parenting tool needed is a brain but most parents lack one.

Children also become the perfect excuse to shut down all discussion around porn. The very title of the committee in foregrounding children is clearly moving toward the shutting down of porn altogether. All you have to do is mention ‘protecting children’ and everyone is willing to put down arms and succumb to US paranoia about it all.

The idea that feminists and LGBT folk should be brought into the discussion is hardly the solution. Feminists in India have never really developed a critical take on porn and the dominant voice of ‘feminists’ is against porn (as against sex work and against sexual expression of any kind). LGBT folk in India have not developed a critical perspective on porn either. Both these ‘movements’ are, in fact, in the current conjuncture, not movements at all. The former was once a movement and is now dispersed into atomised NGOs; the latter was never a movement at all but a notion circulating via NGOs and pitched into international sexual governance speak, largely in US lingo, so they will have no problem folding into US child paranoia lingo.

Who are the experts on pornography or child sexuality and agency in India? Do such people exist? If they do, they are certainly not the IFF.

We need a much more frontal attack on this sexually conservative Hindutva repression of the internet. These barbarians will use anything from children to porn to suppress dissent and use PhotoDNA for facial recognition of all kinds from dissenters to demonstrators, from Muslims to minorities of all kinds.

But laws and committees and acts and bills are being passed behind our backs as we are on the roads protesting and cameras are storing us in the really dangerously obscene databases of the state.

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