Three Karnataka ministers were caught on television on 7 February, pouring over a cell phone watching a woman in a petticoat gyrating wildly. The ministers lost their jobs for watching pornography in the sacred boundaries of the Legislative Assembly. The incident is a high-profile example of a classic reality: porn is pervasive through the Internet across India, easily and freely accessible, and not just available to wary politicians but to children and adults in millions of ordinary homes, writes Damayanti Datta from India Today.
The times have changed in India too. Sunny Leone, 30, the most famous international porn star with Indian roots appeared on Indian television, on the reality show Big Boss 5 and has now launched a ‘clothes-on’ Bollywood career.
The organized $12 billion (60, 000 crore) American adult entertainment industry, to which Sunny belongs, has bred explicit images beyond the limits of imagination and they are free. Fuelled by the Internet and facilitated by high-speed data service, pornography, born in dozens of studio lofts around the world, has managed to enter teenagers' mobile phones with the force of a dangerous flood. It threatens to squeeze conventional notions of morality, raises tension in bedrooms, tempts children into a world they do not understand, and initiates a culture that threatens the ethnicity of family life.
Google Trends reported that the search volume index for the word 'porn' has doubled in India between 2010 and 2012. Online porn is increasingly affordable, accessible and acceptable with instant net connectivity and flexible payment options. 7 Indian cities are among the top 10 in the world on porn search, as per Google Trends, 2011. According to a 2011 IMRB Survey, one in five mobile users in India wants adult content on his 3G-enabled phone. More than 47 percent students discuss porn every day, suggests a public school survey by Max Hospital in Delhi. Porn tops the list of cyber crimes in India, as per the National Crime Records Bureau.
New terminologies and innovative formats, borrowed from foreign cultures are trendy on the web. Anime and manga refer to Japanese formats of sexually-explicit animation and comics. The new spotlight is the service sector, with ‘shy massage girls’ seducing clients, doctors and ‘hot babes in nurse uniforms’ getting wild.
Sunny Leone takes the credit for the 'pornification' of India. She said to India Today "My presence on Bigg Boss has empowered a lot of people to be open about their sexuality." She is one of the richest adult actresses in the industry, with her SunLust Pictures in Los Angeles reporting a top line of over $1 million and she is the most-searched Google celebrity-powered by India, Bangladesh and Pakistan and has 1, 47,326 Twitter followers.
Sunny's success indicates greater acceptability of porn in everyday life. Internet is the new tool, exploding every embarrassing sexual adventure of public personalities and making every striking detail an item of private consumption. Coming after the midwife Bhanwri Devi's sex cds with Rajasthan politician Mahipal Maderna in November last year, public reaction to the Karnataka disaster has ranged from resentment to amusement, but not shock.
While Leone seeking some respectability said "A porn star doesn't automatically mean prostitute," as reported to India Today. She spoke of her parents' initial shock turning into respect, years of hard work, professionalism, restrained personal life and how they taught her to be a "good person” and lack of regrets. Her attempt will not be too difficult for today's young adults, who grow up with cable TV, DVD players and the Internet, exposed to much more adult material than their parents.
Also, the arrival of smartphones is changing the country's porn landscape further. India has the lowest access of smartphones, 10 percent, among the youth globally. With email, social networking, chatting, messaging and gaming, it is a device much craved for by the youth. And now there are porn applications as well. It is like a 'pocket' girlfriend or boyfriend, who can strip, talk dirty, and make sexual noises. "These are some of the 'apps' that can be downloaded on smartphones," Pranesh Prakash, programme manager with Bangalore-based think-tank Centre for Internet and Society was qouted as saying to India Today. He added "App download data shows the popularity of sex-themed apps on smartphones, apart from the adults-only stores." As for the age restrictions for applications, mostly there is just a pop-up asking if one is over 17. Smartphones are the future of anytime-anywhere porn, as estimated by TRAI, as over 50 percent of all Internet users in the country access the web via mobile phones today.
The threshold of what can be called 'pornography' is changing. Mainstream and hardcore entertainment is coming closer. It's also hard to draw the line between porn and art in vulgar item numbers, from Sheila ki Jawani to Munni Badnam Hui.
Pornography lately is growing big in India. But, the U.S., particularly the Los Angeles area, has the biggest porn industry in the world, followed by London and Budapest, estimated between $4 billion (20, 000 crore) and $15 billion (75, 000 crore) annually. Top porn stars without doubt earn a quarter of a million dollars annually.
Going by India Today Sex Surveys, Kolkata has the least taste for pornography. But still it is one of the top seekers of porn online, as per Google Trends reports. Sunny Leone's CDs are bestsellers in Kolkata. Step inside the dirty alleys between shops selling electronic goods, and piles of pirated blue film come out of hiding with 120 for just a CD and 250 for one with Leone on the cover. You ask too many questions and they show you the door. The police are their friends, though motorcycles stand ready for sudden crackdowns. One said "Sunny's CD is selling like hot cakes, 200 a day." While a 33 year old customer puts away the CD in his plastic bag with quiet satisfaction and says "I will have to watch when the wife is not looking."
Watching porn alone is another rising trend among men, all thanks to the Internet. India Today Sex Surveys in 2009 suggested video as the most popular porn format with just 10 percent men out of 2,661 watching porn alone. This year the number has gone up to 44 percent. Dr Vijay Nagaswami, Chennai-based expert on sexual psychotherapy said "It is usually a sign of cybersex addiction." He said that "Compulsive porn-watchers often become dysfunctional. They stay up late for online porn to get active on instant messengers, webcams, demand more private time, neglect family, work and normal sexual activity." As for what most Indians watch. Google Trends indicates that the typical Indian porn-watcher opt for more tame keywords, 'sex' and 'how to kiss', the most.
So, has the battle against porn been lost? Anti-porn feminists in the U.S. have admitted defeat while India is not quite there. In spite of the hyper-sexualized climate, ministers do get thrown out over porn. Cyber law expert and senior associate of SNG & Partners, Rahul Sud points out "Personal consumption of porn has never been an offence. Child pornography, publishing and transmitting are."