India rescinds ban on Internet porn after public outrage, ridicule

Bowing to a public outcry, the Indian government on Tuesday said it would lift a days-old ban on hundreds of pornographic websites after critics accused the government of encroaching on personal freedoms.

Over the weekend, Indian authorities ordered Internet providers to block 857 websites deemed to carry pornographic material, saying the ban was needed to protect public morality.

But the order drew outrage and ridicule, particularly after many of the websites were found not to feature any pornography, and even Indian officials acknowledged that the ban could be subverted by readily available Internet tools.

Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said late Tuesday that “the ban will be partially withdrawn” and that only sites that carry child pornography would remain blocked, according to Indian news media. That appeared to be an attempt at face-saving, however, as pornography featuring minors already was illegal under Indian law.

Ashwin Mahesh, who runs the news website indiatogether.org, said the ban had been carried out in “an ad hoc manner.”

The ban stemmed from a 2013 court case filed by Kamlesh Vaswani, a lawyer in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, who drew a connection between crimes against women and pornography. Vaswani’s petition said that consuming pornography “puts the country’s security in danger, encourages violent acts, unacceptable behavior in society, exploitation of children and lowers the dignity of women.”

India’s Supreme Court, hearing the case, observed that a blanket ban on such websites would violate Indians’ personal liberties, but a judge last month criticized the government for not taking action against websites featuring child porn.

Those comments prompted the temporary ban, which many Indians criticized as the latest in a series of sweeping decrees limiting what people in the world’s largest democracy can see, hear and eat.

Earlier this year, the central government banned a BBC documentary on a deadly 2012 gang rape in New Delhi because of controversial comments made by one of the convicted rapists. The western state of Maharashtra also outlawed the consumption of cow meat on the grounds that it is offensive to Hindus, who view the animal as sacred.

National censors also muted the word “Bombay” — the former name of the commercial capital, Mumbai — from a pop song.

“If you start banning everything you did not wish existed, then there is no end to it,” Mahesh said.

The country that gave the world the Kama Sutra — an ancient Hindu text on human sexual behavior — has become one of the world’s biggest consumers of online porn. The Pornhub Web portal released data last year showing that India, which has the second-most Internet users in the world, ranked fifth in daily visitors to its site.

Special correspondent Parth M.N. reported from Mumbai and staff writer Bengali from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Follow @SBengali for news from South Asia

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