Dry spellBanning pornography is misguided, myopic and diversionary
On September 21, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology announced through a press release that it was going to institute a blanket ban on online pornography. Declaring that pornography is against the values and morals of Nepali society and arguing that such “obscene” material contributes to sexual violence and malpractices, the ministry, citing Article 121 of the Criminal Code, directed internet service providers to block all pornographic websites.
There are numerous problems with the government’s decision to ban pornography. First, the link between pornography and sexual violence is disputed. Some studies claim pornography can act as an outlet for sexual aggression. Even the studies that do purport a causative link between the two single out violent and abusive material. It is true that a lot of the pornography available online is violent and degrading towards women, but even websites that promote sex-positive pornography fall under the ban hammer.
Second, what does the government’s allusion to Nepali “values and morals” mean? What are these values and morals and who gets to decide what they constitute? A government deciding on behalf of its population what citizens do in the privacy of their own homes reeks of paternalism and moral policing. Same-sex relationships, queer identities, single parent households, living together out of wedlock have all, at one time or the other, been seen as against Nepali values and morals. This narrow definition of what constitutes Nepali values alienates a vast majority of Nepalis who might not fall under Brahmanical Hindu, Khas-Arya, heteronormative definitions of what is acceptable.
Third, it is nearly impossible to ban material from the internet, especially something as ubiquitous as online pornography. There are millions of websites out there and the government cannot possibly ban them all. Furthermore, there are many easy ways to get around the ban, including the use of free virtual proxy networks (VPNs) or changing your domain name system (DNS) address. The government would do well to take cognizance of what is loosely termed the ‘Streisand effect’ whereby any attempt to censor, ban or suppress a piece of information on the internet has the opposite effect of publicising that information and prompting more people to seek it out.
Finally, and most importantly, this ban is not about preventing sexual violence. Driven against the wall by rising public anger against the proliferation of reporting on rape cases across the country, especially high profiles ones like the Kanchanpur case that gripped the nation, the government decided, as it so often has in the past, to adopt a diversionary tactic that is knee-jerk and arbitrary.
This blanket ban is already leaking on to websites that have little or nothing to do with pornography, like the websites College Humor and Urban Dictionary. In effect, the government is restricting Nepalis’ right to information, as the ban also applies to educational websites, queer spaces and forums that facilitate the healthy exploration of the full spectrum of human sexuality in a sex-positive environment.
Rather than this myopic and misguided attempt at vilifying and scapegoating sex, the government would do better to ensure safe spaces for women and sexual minorities, pursue crimes of gender-based and sexual violence with rigour, and prosecute those convicted of sexual crimes with tenacity. Nepali citizens do not need a patriarchal, paternalistic government to police its private, personal choices.