The problem with porn

Can pornography be given free play when the state remains an integral expression of male power?

Written by MRINAL PANDE | Published: May 1, 2013 1:01:37 am

Can pornography be given free play when the state remains an integral expression of male power?

There are many things we need to know that we wish we did not have to. The existence of domestic violence against women and children is one of them. The use of pornography as a tool for learning and justifying such brutal behaviour,is another. We have lived in denial of links between the two for too long,despite ample evidence that patterns of abusive sexual dominance are often first picked up by males at home and then honed through viewing porn that furthers the idea of the inferiority of all females. Recent cases of gangrape also verify what feminists and criminologists have been saying for a long time: violent abusers of young women and female children are mostly repeat offenders,and known area bullies. Such men will become even more prone to abusive predatory behaviour after bouts of heavy drinking and collective viewing of pornographic material with similarly inclined male friends.

Despite this,the moment the issue of banning pornography or regulating the sale of alcohol comes up,loud protests erupt,citing the constitutional right to earning a livelihood and the basic freedom of speech and expression.

Think,for a minute,that material containing propaganda justifying the killing or torture of specific groups on the basis of caste or creed were made freely available. Would we not become outraged,knowing that such propaganda precedes and justifies casteist and ethnic violence? Why,then,should the easy availability of pornographic material depicting the grossest forms of violence against women and children,remain an exception,and Article 19(1) be invoked for its continuance? Even in a liberal state,can pornography be given free play,even when it comes at the cost of the free speech of women victims who,as it is,do not have full freedom of speech within homes?

Liberal theoreticians of both sexes are so confused by the din of the erotic versus obscene debate that they mostly refrain from delving into how pornography capitalises on the tacit approval for male freedom of speech by the same state and the civil society that say they can book offenders only if the victims speak up. Even those outraged by the police dragging its feet and demanding better safety and policing of streets,ended up looking schizoid as they asked for dramatically swift state intervention and gory reprisals against the guilty on behalf of the sexually abused women and children,quite forgetting that they had found the state so useless that they wanted all leaders to resign.

The state,as victims of sexual violence encounter it first hand,is not a free floating reality. It has a clear face and voice: that of the SHO who tries to bribe a child victim’s father and buy his silence,that of an ACP who slaps a young female protester,an MP who looks upon the anger of women protesters dismissively,calling them a bunch of “dented and painted” females. With such movers and shakers,can even a vociferous demand for positive state intervention tilt the scales of justice in favour of women and children? Can the battered victims and their families be coaxed into believing that the state as it is,must be viewed as a primary tool of their empowerment?

It is true that gender is first the construct of a social system,but in a country like ours,it has a long history that predates democracy. There are many who still seek to explain the upswing in rapes as linked to the wide dissemination of pornographic material to new technology. They like to remind us that we were a much kinder,safer society just a century ago,before the birth of the present day Westernised system. But they are wrong. Burning up TV sets or shops selling DVDs will not help. Violent and abusive behaviour against the weak,women and children in particular,has had a long history in India. Less than a century and a half ago,notorious gangs of thugs roamed our unsafe highways,unwanted widows were routinely being sent away when not being burnt on pyres,children from poor families were being sold to the highest bidders by their impoverished families and unpaid labour was routinely subjected to hair-raising acts of sadism by landlords and princelings. I have heard many stories about how,earlier,in large joint families,young girls and indigent widows felt the spectre of molestation by some male relative or family friend hanging over their heads. Some girls were saved from predatory family males by their prudent and watchful mothers,some were not. But all of them,when they reported sexual abuse to mothers or family elders,were forced to hold their tongues for fear of family reprisals and a social stigmatising that would render the victim as unmarriageable commodity. Fact is,since male dominance over women remains basically sexual,even in a democratic set-up,rape and porn are not deviant phenomena,but only one extreme example of the way in which men will use women and simultaneously show them their true place within a state they control and have moulded in their image.

Since the modern Indian state is founded on male power,male dominance over women is clearly visible socially,economically and politically. Since nothing is gender neutral in India,and the state remains an integral expression of male power from the thana to Jantar Mantar to Parliament,how can it serve the interests of women on whose brutal dominance,powerlessness and guaranteed silence its porn and sex industries thrive? Go to the police first!

Ironically the thanedar who lets boys be boys,finds young women out late at night on streets,women in pubs with male or female friends,women in comfortable cool short dresses that make mobility easier,abetting the crime,while the eroticisation of dominance and submission in popular films and myriad item numbers continue to be seen as entertaining by all. Unless the basic theory of such a schizophrenic state is questioned,can we assume that full implementation of laws amended by liberal jurists will solve the problem and lead to better-crafted legal arguments in favour of women that will show everyone,from our parliamentarians to the police and the courts,the error of their ways?

The writer is a Delhi-based journalist and chairperson of Prasar Bharati

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