Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Porn – The Good, the Bad and the darn right Sexy

By Amitabh Kumar - Head, Media Division - Centre for Social Research
Pornography comes from the Greek word: πορνεία, porneia, as in the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual gratification. Most of us have come across this Greek classic under various other names such as "porn" , "blue films", "adult entertainment movies" or if you have found yourself in conversation with Indian diplomats lately, "obscene films". Some people love it, some hate it, a few have censored this term from their vocabulary and most people deny ever having watched it BUT in my experience all Indians above the age of twelve (yes that does include people living in rural areas as well) know of its existence. As the expression goes, if it looks, talks and smells like pornography, it's most likely pornography. It's hard to miss.

In India, it's not a new phenomena given that our most ancient sculptures, scriptures and artistic renditions have been as sexually explicit as possible, often making the odd western tourist blush and giggle upon viewing. In fact the Kamasutra explores and celebrates our human form and sexual behavior in a manner which Playboy and Penthouse (cheap American wannabes ) can simply never aspire to be. However, without wanting to be accused of ranting and raving about how amazing we were 5000 years ago, I will defer to examining pornography as a contemporary notion that exists in India in 2013.

In order to do so, we must turn back the clock to 1995 with the advent of cable, foreign and western television being introduced into Indian homes, and conversely the rise of the adult entertainment industry. From a personal standpoint, I clearly remember the eighth grade when all the so-called "cool boys" in my class used to discuss in vivid detail the heavenly 30 mins of pleasure viewed on FTV at 3am when their parents were asleep. For the sake of honesty, I have to admit that I felt quite left out of these conversations as an eighth grader who felt no particular affiliation to any one tribe in the school yard. Indeed, I was neither part of the cool clan nor did I have access to premium cable television at 3am. Though most of metropolitan India was not in the same shoes as I. It was not a hidden secret, as the Indian judiciary is well aware of its existence, as FTV has had many cases against held them in the past, with the latest just a few weeks back.

In addition, with the advent of the Internet being introduced to the public on 15 August 1995 via the Ministry of Telecommunications, internet traffic reports soon highlighted 12% of all internet use being pornography-related with roughly 4.2 million websites catering to adult entertainment and 1.5 billion pornographic files being downloaded on a monthly basis comprising 35% of all downloads (Charged with obscenity, FTV faces 10-day ban) Inevitably, conservative Indians can always be relied upon to jump up in horror and criticize the rising popularity of such internet sites and decry in unison that this only takes place in the "West" and never in India. I would recommend that they all read Damayanti Datta's well-crafted piece The Dark Side of Sunny Porn Not only have various pornographic videos hit our national headlines, as with all the drama of a real-life "scandals", (be it the DPS kids or our very own Karnataka parliamentarians), but there are also surveys and statistics which demonstrate how common pornography truly is in India. There is no denying the fact that India is one of the largest consumers of porn, which is not a surprise given the size of our population, with the result being that we can normally be found at the top of most Top 5 lists.

Having established the fact that pornography is present in India, I would like to look into its effects. For starters it is confronting the hypocritical generation, which has put sexual behavior in the category of all "bad things", which includes (alcohol, drugs, pre-marital romantic relations, eating various sorts of meats (beef or pork depending on the color of your book) etc… There is no doubt that in such a multicultural and plural state, this list is exhaustive on its own.

According to a survey undertaken by the Max Hospital in Delhi over 47 % of children in public schools discuss porn on a daily basis (Internet Pornography Statistics). Sadly their curiosity and questions are rarely addressed by any reliable source. Parents, usually minimally informed themselves on this topic, consequently have no idea how to explain or contextualize their children's questions in this regard. Similarly, teachers are usually apprehensive of words such as penis and vagina being considered to be scandalous and therefore not worth mentioning aloud. If one is lucky, an elder mature cousin will explain sexual intercourse and the terminology in a neutral way (though I must admit the first time I was supposed to be this elder cousin, it was a hard task at which I failed miserably). Sadly most young people venture into this arena all by themselves. As a result, pornography steps in to this vacuum to parent and instruct our children.

Yes they experiment and yes they will mess up leading to various sorts of complications ranging from teenage pregnancies to naked pictures of friends circulated via text to non-consensual hidden camera videos showing up on the internet. Considering that we are one of the most talented and educated nations when it comes to victimization and the subsequent victim-blaming game, many young people have suffered because of these innocent misinterpretations. Some theories relate porn to the increased sexual violence amongst young adults and I must admit that I do see a correlation between the two.

However, let us not dismiss this as simply an issue that confronts our youth. Indeed, pornography has affected the older generation of 25-55 year olds significantly as well. Where some couples have found inspiration in these XXX rated websites, videos and magazines to rekindle their sex lives others have taken to this fantasy world so seriously that it is damaging their real relationships. Many marriages are on the brink of falling apart due to the unrealistic expectations advanced and expected by one partner. (I clearly used the word "partner" rather than "husband" as one in every three porn consumers is a woman. Shocking isn't it? Indian women also watch porn. Take a moment to absorb that (Perils of voyeurism).

So it exists and it affects us all, but what is our communal take on pornography? Some Indians believe it should be banned from the Internet completely, while others are of the view that it should be distributed in a regulated manner. The law, like most of our laws, is rather complicated on this front although it clearly states that pornography is illegal and yet the cyber crime cell has no clue how to implement it. Let's proceed into looking into them one by one. Much like movies, porn also has a multitude of genres to include child pornography, snuff films ( where the actor is murdered, mostly fakes but there are rumors of 'real' movies also being produced), rape and similar brutal/criminal/disgusting movies. I think the people making such films should be incarcerated and so should the consumers requesting and paying for such productions. To put it in context, on a daily basis 116 000 requests for child pornography are made with over 100 000 illegal sites offering such material and 1 in 7 youths having been subject to sexual solicitation. I think most individuals out there would agree that this form of "entertainment" causes more harm than it does good and even the most hardcore supporters of free speech would agree that the above-mentioned genres should be prohibited.

Heavens, did I just type PROHIBITED? Undoubtedly, my liberal, freedom of speech loving friends will rise up in contempt against the very introduction of such a concept. As this is a socio-legal issue, I think one needs to segregate in the two largely independent issues, namely how pornography is created and what are the effects of consuming pornography.

While the first issue can be clearly examined through a legal lens, the second one is an extremely complex matter, which has received significantly less attention of late. One could say that if pornography is made and disseminated with the consent of those who perform in it (provided they can be classified as legally defined adults), no one should really have an issue with it.

The effects of its consumption are both complicated and disputed. On the one hand, a study conducted in Japan in 1997-98 came to the conclusion that there was a clear correlation between sexual violence and rape, and on the other hand a paper by Todd T. Kendall entitled Pornography, Rape and the Internet claims that online pornography actually decreases rape. Suffice it to say, the evidence isn't as opaque as one might hope. In my opinion, if properly examined, the outreach of the legal pornography industry could be used for good much like spreading the message of the importance of consent. Using it as a tool to discuss sexuality, Dan Savage provides a concise and impressive review of its potential impacts .

Inevitably, the power of multimedia in our world as connected through the Internet is immense. If we can use this force to spread awareness we can certainly achieve a lot more in terms of gaining further clarity in terms of our questions, hesitations and confusion when it comes to our consumption of pornography and its effects on both an individual and communal level in the short and long-term. However, first we must tackle the authorities and leaders that bind us who maintain such a narrow approach towards the large horizon that is the internet that there is very little that can be achieved before this is addressed and taken in hand.

Inevitably, the power of multimedia in our world connected through the Internet is immense and has deep potential. If we can use this force to spread awareness we can certainly achieve a lot more in terms of gaining further clarity in terms of our questions, hesitations and confusion when it comes to our consumption of pornography and its effects on both an individual and communal level. However, first we must tackle the authorities and leaders that bind us, who maintain such a narrow approach towards the large horizon that is the Internet. There is very little that can be achieved before this is addressed and taken in hand. Indeed, let us not deny what is most obvious to us all, the fact that pornography can act as an agent of violence. However, the question worth asking is whether it can also carry valuable awareness messages. If executed properly and conscientiously can pornography develop into a tool for the dissemination of sex education? The optimist in me may be veering off course, but if the high minds at Disney managed to weave the pursuit for women into the narrative of Beauty and The Beast (and every other famous cartoon for that matter) surely the producers of pornography can find a way to shed some much-needed light on sexual behaviour through porn?

Many questions and fewer answers it would seem.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Virtual Threat : the new ‘Real’ for the Indian Woman

By Ishita Y. Aggarwal - Centre for Social Research
“If it’s not on your face (literally) it’s not important.” This may be the solacing refrain of all those women who continue to feel and fear torment not just physically but also virtually. Yet the “not important” has probably become the definition of the new “cool” for a certain somebody: the chic way to continue the abashed trend of harassing women. Let’s call these ‘youngsters’ trying to have some ‘fun’ or sometimes ‘proving points’ by dragging women to the virtual ground, as cyber-stalkers, cyber-harassers or just simply cyber-criminals: Chic?

But, what or where’s the ‘real’ threat in a virtual world? You do not like what they say? Don’t read! You do not like what they do? Do not see! You do not like being soiled in an argument with them? Do not speak! There we are! We have replicated the 3-monkey-model of the Gandhi era. Who does it apply to in the IT era? Women, of course! That now, is ‘threat’ enough.

They say women have been targeted globally but what is more important (let’s not also forget) is that they have been targeted, essentially. The factor which makes women “essential” targets is the urge both men as well as some hallowed women (who have reached the same consciousness as that of these men) feel in order to: set things right or just oblige themselves under the ‘fundamental’ Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. To their utter delight these persons have of late been helping themselves to the free, easily accessible, ‘world wide web’. The web spins itself out with a single ‘click’, much like how Spiderman would do it. But this one is for your eyes only.

Weaving crime online may be somebody’s game but for the rest it is step in a dangerous whirlpool. The’ Tamil Nadu Federation of Women Layers’ in a report spoke extensively of the cyber threats women face in the country . A list of identified crimes drawn is:
  • Harassment via e-mails
  • Cyber Stalking
  • Cyber Pornography
  • Defamation
  • Morphing
  • Email Spoofing
While it is not completely appropriate to say that victims of cyber-crimes are women alone, 75 per cent of these cases have been known to target women. With regard to cyber-stalking and cyber-harassment a study was conducted in 2007 which revealed the shocking data that at least 12.5 per cent women who were being stalked online had a personal or intimate relation which the abuser. 62.5 per cent of the harassers set themselves into the process through online chats or e-mails.

The ‘Quick Heal Annual Windows and Mobile Malware Report, 2012’ revealed that while the PC continued to be a potential target, malware is increasing on mobile platforms, especially ‘Android’. There has been a 90 per cent spurt in ‘Windows’ malware in India while attacks on mobile platforms have risen by 30 per cent. This now puts at risk women android users who may be using networking ‘apps’ such as the popular “Whatsapp” amongst others.

The rise is social voyeurism is being fed by digital nuisance. 50 per cent of the websites available contain pornographic content .The latest MMS sex-scandal involving a popular small screen actress, has been confirmed by the Cyber Crime Cell as ‘morphed’ . The offending sites have been booked under the IT Act 2000 and IPC 1860. This case stands as an example of the multiple MMSs which spread like plague while the police authorities keep grappling for cyber-monitoring.

Delhi has been zapped by the sudden spurt in cyber-crime which has gone up by 1850% since 2010 which reported 2 cases and 2011 which saw 39 . Only 15 persons were arrested for cyber crime in Delhi in 2011 under the IT Act and 36 under the IPC. There were 496 reported cases of obscene publication online in the country in 2011. 443 arrests were made. Without delivering a direct comment on that number, it is more convenient to understand the issue this way: out of 3682 crimes registered under the IT Act in 2011, the number of arrests was 1600, but the number of convictions was 7 .

Apart from sexually-laced incidents against women online, a general trend of viewing women as easy targets for harassment, in an easy situation, is also growing. The benefit of the virtual space for the criminal is that it keeps the identity of the offender conveniently veiled. The government and the Indian Police are also thoroughly unaware of what constitutes cyber-freedom. The ‘Palghar Facebook arrest’ case outraged the country when two young girls were arrested for posting a comment on social networking site, Facebook. They were questioning the ‘bandh’ over Shiv Sena supremo, Bal Thackray’s death. The police itself subsequently dropped charges against the girls but the Maharashtra government has been left red-faced for a long time to come. The dropping of charges may be a welcome act but why did the illegitimacy behind the arrests not oblige the authorities to render compensation to the two accused?

Activists have recently been mass targeted by pro-Modi supporters for having expressed views and concerns over his policies and claims. Misogynists roared “like the women in Gujarat, you should have been raped because you converted”. Any steps taken against this one? None.

The greatest dilemma of our system is that though the IT Act, 2000 covers online abuse and its various forms, it does not anywhere mention cyber-crimes specific to women. The closest we get to the common online women-abuse law is Section 66 A of the IT Act, which states/covers :

  • Punishment for sending offensive messages via electronic mail message
  • Any electronic mail message that is grossly offensive or is menacing
  • Any false information causing annoyance, insult, danger
  • Causing inconvenience
  • Deceiving or misleading recipient
If found guilty of the crime offenders may face up to 3 years in jail as well as penalty. Aggrieved women can also charge under Section 509 of the IPC which considers “Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman” as a crime.

The thought of apathetic cyber-jurisdiction, loss of evidence online, lack of cyber-savvy police and jurisdictional personnel, is mind-boggling. It is up to the nation to learn the tricks before the democratic women of this country continue to be soiled with the increasingly undemocratic cyber-abuse. A nation where only 39 per cent of 137 million users are females, the online perception of women may be as skewed as the user ratio itself. The virtual reality reflects societal reality. The woman who cannot exercise her basic freedoms to speech, movement and individuality in reality is assaulted the same way when she is found navigating spaces, online. The call for online morality will lead to a subjective debate. What the women need is to brace themselves up. They need to report and be assured that arrests would lead to convictions! There is no reason why a virtual threat or offence should not be looked upon with as much seriousness as any physical assault. In fact, it is essential to note here that nothing about these threats is, ‘virtual’. It is as real as it can get. Women cannot continuously be given solutions for prevention. What they deserve is redemption: from all the crass, virtual or not.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Police Initiatives for Women Related Offences

By Ishita Y. Aggarwal - Centre for Social Research
In a bid to make the cases of ‘violence against women’ and ‘sexual offences’ more transparent and rid them of controversial clauses, certain amendments have been made to the procedural conduct of cases. For dowry or rape related cases the police now bear the onus of communicating, through any possible means, the listing of bail applications in favour of the accused. It had been observed earlier that since the police were not bound to inform the complainant about the issuance of bail by the court, the victims were unable to challenge the bail due to their absence and lack of information. This had been widely interpreted by complainants as collusion between the police and the criminals.

Whenever a bail matter is listed for a rape accused, the lawyer of the Delhi Commission for Women should be immediately informed at the following numbers of Rape Crisis Cell’(RCC) of the Delhi Commission for Women-

RCC Help Line No. : 011-23370557(10 AM to 5 AM)
Mobile No. : 09013707460 (after office hours)
Fax No. : 011-23378325
Email ID : dcw.rcc@gmail.com
Address : Delhi Commission for Women, ‘C’ Block, 2nd Floor,Vikas Bhawan, I.P.Estate, New Delhi.

The representatives of the Delhi Commission for Women have assured that they would send their lawyers to oppose the bail if timely information is given to them. To reaffirm the commitment to treat sexual offences at workplace as a crime, districts and units were advised to set up committees headed by a Women Police Officer, with 50% women members in each district/Unit. A central committee consisting of Chairperson, two members and an NGO, ‘Nav Jayoti Delhi Police Foundation’, situated at, Vikas Bhawan, Sanjay Amar Colony, Jamna Pusta, Delhi-110007 has also been constituted at Police Headquarters to over-see the action taken by the committees.

The Supreme Court of India has held that harassment at work place includes:-
  • Physical contact and advances
  • A demand or request for sexual favours
  • Sexually coloured remark
  • Showing pornography, and
  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non verbal conduct of a sexual nature
Necessary steps have been taken in the direction to ensure the protection of the ‘Right of Privacy’ of the victims of sexual offence. in all cases of sexual assault, particularly cases involving gang-rape or cases where the identity of the accused is not known to the victim is a child, DNA profiling should be conducted mandatorily. The Rohini Court has observed that the PV or finger test is not a required means of investigation to corroborate the charges of guilt. In fact it was stated that the opinion of the Doctors rendered after conducting such a test had no bearing with regard to the guilt or the accused.

It has also been directed that the investigating officers exercise professional attitude while handling cases of sexual offence. At the time of recording of First Information Report, the victim should interact with the Investigation Officer in a peaceful environment to ensure maximum information about the incident and victim herself. After getting initial information, a responsible lady police official should talk to the victim at length to yield purposeful personal information about the victim. This will help prosecution to produce the victim in the Court during trial. During this interaction, expert members of NGOs working in this filed can also be associated so that the victim may feel more comfortable. The interaction between the victim and the Investigation Officer should be an effort to gain maximum details from the victim so as to enable the victim to produce substantial evidence before the court.

DNA Profiling in Sexual Assault Case Mandatory
Instructions with respect to victims of sexual offences/rape etc
Listing of Bail to be Communicated to Complainant
Sexual Harassment at work place
Report to mention if approval of DCP over bail was sought
No PV/Finger Text for Sexual Assault Cases
Opposing bail of Rape accused in Courts by lawyers of the Delhi Commission for Women