mid-day view: It's not about porn, it's about our freedoms

The Union government’s directive to Internet Service Providers to block access to online pornography is an assault on any Indian citizen’s personal freedoms. India is not a nanny state, and the government must be told in no uncertain terms.

A spokesperson for the Department of Telecommunications, the government body that issued the order to the ISPs, said that the blocking of sites was a result of a Supreme Court observation during a 2013 case involving child pornography. NN Kaul, the spokesperson, said, “We have written to the ISPs to restrict free and open access to 857 websites. This direction is based on the observations made by the honourable Supreme Court on 10 July and using section 79 (3)(b) of the Information Technology Act read with Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution.”

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This is disingenuous, to say the least. The Supreme Court had pulled up the Centre for not acting on child pornography, and not pornography, per se. Let us be clear: child pornography is evil, it’s non-consensual, and it needs to be dealt with by the harshest of laws. Paedophiles are an international scourge, and the law needs to get after them with all the might of the state behind it.

But blocking of adult pornography is myopic. It implies a state that essentially tells its citizens that they are not mature enough to understand what they can and cannot consume.

To be sure, the protest should not be about pornography; the ban on it is merely a symptom of a larger malaise -- the state’s control over individual freedoms. This is also not about ideologies either; both the Congress (as UPA) - with its featherbrained support for the draconian Section 66A of the IT Act -and the BJP (as NDA), with its own middle-school hostel warden attitude vis-a-vis online pornography, have trampled upon freedoms. Consider what the Chief Justice HL Dattu had observed: “A ban (on online adult pornography) would be a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution.” Article 21 describes the Right to Personal Liberty, and the CJI would know a thing or two about our laws and our Constitution.

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As a society, it should be our collective responsibility to hold onto our liberties, at all costs. As George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Make that the right to tell the government what it does not want to hear.

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