In response to my piece “Censorship on the Internet“, a friend from Mumbai emailed me two questions: “How should we look at issues like pornography. Is it okay to let people say/show what they want to and let children and other vulnerable groups see/listen to all that ?” and “How can India move in the direction of First amendment?”
Let’s take the issue of pornography. Different societies have different standards about what’s acceptable in all aspects of living — what to eat, how to dress, how to worship, sing, dance, make music, make art, etc. These evolve with time and technology. Whether we like it or not, the moral code too evolves.
What’s considered obscene also differs among societies, and the standards change with time in the same society. There was a time, for example, when the sentence “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” was considered too vulgar to be uttered in a movie. (Gone with the Wind, 1939.) Now you can say WTF to that and no one would bat an eyelid.
Standards change and sometimes retrogress. India gave the world the Kamasutra and the erotic temple carvings of Khajuraho. Under the baleful influence the British colonial rule, Indians adopted the standards of Victorian prudery. The British of course have moved on but Indians remain prisoners to an outdated, regressive morality. There are laws in India that punish adult consensual behavior which no civilized society has any trouble with. (As I say, Indians are ruled by dead Britishers, not just in this but in all respects. It’s shameful.)
Once upon a time, before the advances in communication technologies, particularly the internet, hardly anyone had access to pornography. The problem of children being exposed to porn is a modern phenomenon. One way to address that is to ban porn legislatively. It has been tried, and predictably enough, failed. Regardless of whether something is objectively good or not, if people have a taste for it, they will figure out a way to get it. When people demand something, the supply is assured. Demand creates its own supply, never mind the laws. Banning porn is not going to work any more than banning drugs works.
But what about the children! Won’t someone please think of the children! Ah yes, the children. The funny thing is that whenever there are children, there are parents. The parents have to think about the children. It’s the parents’ duty to take care of the children. They cannot abdicate that responsibility. The protection that children need has to be provided by the parents, not the government.
Talking of the government, there is no justification for the government to attempt to dictate morality. The government must not be allowed to intrude in the personal and social domains.
So therefore my stance on porn is this: it’s adult business. Meaning adults are involved in the production and consumption of porn. There is no justification for banning porn, even if banning could be effective (which it is never.) My attitude is summed up in the Americanism, “honey, do whatever floats your boat.”
Unfortunately, these days porn is easily accessible by children. Part of modern parental duties is to shield children from exposure to porn. Every advancement in the human condition not only has benefits but it also has costs. If you want for your children the benefits that the internet provides, then you have to be willing to pay the cost of spending the time to limit what they do on the internet.
Over 400 years ago, Sir Francis Bacon observed, “He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils, for time is the greatest innovator.” Porn is not new but innovations of the modern age have made it imperative that we come up with new remedies, all of which are in the hands of the parents.
Moving on, the question about the First Amendment of the US Constitution. My position is that the Indian Constitution needs to be replaced. Only then can Indians have the equivalent of the US First Amendment. Until then, Indians are doomed to be slaves to their government.