India Blocks Porn Sites, Sparking Censorship Debate

AP

Calling online porn "a social nuisance," the government blocks more than 850 sites in the first crackdown of its kind in India.

The Indian government has blocked 857 websites to prevent online pornography becoming "a social nuisance," a government official was quoted as saying by Reuters on Monday.

Considered India's first major crackdown on online porn, the government's directive has further fueled a long-running debate over censorship and freedom of speech.

The 17-page order, which was leaked online, lists the offending sites and directed Internet service providers to block access.

"Free and open access to porn websites has been brought under check," N.N. Kaul, a spokesman at the department of telecommunications, told Reuters, adding, "We don't want them to become a social nuisance."

Last month, the Supreme Court refused to impose an outright ban on online porn following a petition that claimed Internet porn fueled sex crime. Some activists have pointed to Internet porn as one cause of violent sex crime against women in India. The sub-continent has seen some particularly horrific incidents in recent years that have sparked a national backlash. In December 2012, a young woman was brutally attacked and gang-raped on a Delhi bus and later died in hospital. A controversial BBC documentary on the incident, India's Daughter, which included interviews with some of the jailed offenders, was banned from telecast in March by the government.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said individuals had a right to privacy and be allowed to access such websites in private. But the court asked the home ministry to submit its views, which the government has now done in imposing the ban.

The move has sparked debate online, with #pornban trending on Twitter.

"It's a proven fact by international surveys that instead of fueling sexual crimes, porn actually provides safer outlet for sexual repression," Bollywood film-maker Ram Gopal Varma said in a series of tweets, adding, "History proved it multiple times that if anytime anything is banned it will just gather strength in the underground."

According to a recent industry report by consultants KPMG India, India had about 280 million Internet users in 2014, with growth largely spurred by the increasing penetration of smartphones. The report predicts that India is expected to reach 640 million Internet users by 2019. Meanwhile, India has over 930 million mobile users and is expected to soon touch the billion figure, making it the world's second largest mobile market after China.

According to figures released last year by adult website Pornhub, India ranked fifth for daily visitors.

Meanwhile, Kaul was also quoted stating that the government was working on a long-term solution to regulating online pornography, suggesting that the ban would not remain indefinitely.

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