The hypocrisy of India banning porn given the sexualisation of Bollywood

The Indian government has banned pornography. As many as 857 websites are for the chop, with internet companies ordered to turn off access to a variety of sexually explicit sites. The reason? To prevent children from viewing them and, according to a government official, to stop porn becoming a “social nuisance”.

Adults will still be able to access the sites using virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers, not that it serves to justify the ban. Instead of an adult now being able to freely view porn, they now have a reduced ability to do so and leave themselves open to embarrassment for having a VPN – not that it’s their sole use. But you get the point, it’s not as simple as just deleting your internet history.

Porn is not healthy. Whether it is objectification or the clutches of addiction, there is little benefit to be derived from sitting in front of a computer screen, beating off for a few minutes of unfulfilling pleasure. That, however, doesn’t mean the government should be policing it – it is an obscene violation of freedom.

After all, the porn business is perfectly legitimate and serves as a huge employment industry – especially, one would presume, for the unskilled sector. If somebody wants to consume it, good luck to them. They are doing nothing wrong, nor are those providing the product.

The decision though does come with a tinge of irony. Bollywood – India and the world’s biggest film industry – thrives on its heavily sexualised nature. Gone are the days where even kissing on screen was considered taboo, Hindi movies are now a haven for leggy ladies, muscle men and sexual innuendo. In fact, Bollywood even harbours a former pornstar, whose transition from adult entertainment to the mainstream has been quite remarkable.

Sunny Leone packed in porn after participating in Bigg Boss (the Indian version of Big Brother), where she concealed her identity, posing as a model who worked in the USA. She was soon approached by a film-maker and in 2012 Leone starred in her first Bollywood film, Jism 2, and has risen in prominence ever since.

From what I’ve seen, there is not much substance. Naturally, given her background, she has sex appeal but her acting skills are not about to win her an Oscar, or a Filmfare. Not that the latter matters – Leone’s looks are her selling point and those who hire her are in no rush to disguise that. Here she is in Vishal Pandya’s Hate Story 2, where she made a guest appearance to sing about her “pink lips”. It doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

While Leone may not have conquered Bollywood, Katrina Kaif certainly has. The actress, born in British Hong Kong, has acted alongside the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan – the kings of Indian cinema – to make some of the highest-grossing films in the industry’s history. Kaif’s dancing skills have seen her regularly indulge in raunchy item numbers – her Sheila Ki Jawani performance in 2010 is one of the most popular Hindi songs in recent times.

Image is everything in the larger-than-life Bollywood where the majority of films set out to send the viewer on an unashamed, three-hour escapist adventure. The idea is to create perfection and heroes without flaws, offering entertainment that caters for the entire population.

Therefore, the heroines often use and promote skin-whitening products which are deemed to make them more attractive. Kaif is one of those and it was her lighter skin that attracted the attention of film-makers in the first place. She is not alone, however. Bollywood’s best invariably have a fairer complex – indeed, it is nigh on impossible to succeed without one.

Katrina Kaif (pictured right) with fellow Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma
Katrina Kaif (pictured right) with fellow Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma

You can argue that the increasing sleaziness in Indian movies and the penchant for fair skin are problems – and perhaps they are – but in light of the porn ban, it highlights a glaring hypocrisy. The message seems to be that while crudeness and objectification in porn – which largely keeps out of the public eye – needs censoring, in the industry which arguably defines the country, it doesn’t. The only discernible difference between the two is the explicitness.

Thus, the themes that the government is trying to suppress are still readily available, and even more so than porn could ever make them, in Bollywood. The state interference which looks to prevent a “social nuisance” is futile. Banning porn will not solve any problems; it just creates more by directly infringing on freedoms and liberties.

If the government is insistent on engineering social change, then surely they should be policing Bollywood too? Of course they shouldn’t. Such interventionist policies evidently do not work, as the requirement for more and more of them demonstrates. It’s just a downward spiral towards oppression.

There is nothing great about internet porn. It is neither real sex nor a plus for the socially liberal movement, and its effects will perhaps only be known once the youth who have been with on-demand porn throughout their lives grow up. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and its availability is essential for a free society. Nobody is forcing anybody else to watch it – at least, I am pretty sure there isn’t a fetish for that.

If India really wants social change and improve treatment towards women, tackling porn isn’t the answer; it’s Bollywood that wields the real influence. There is no reason for sex to be taboo but showcasing it because you can achieves little, but it cannot be denied that sex sells.

Answers? I have few, although seeing Bollywood abandon cheap filth in favour of producing quality films again would not be a bad thing. But restricting porn is not the solution, censorship never is. One hopes the decision is swiftly reversed.

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