SC wants blanket ban on all pornographic content

If moral policing by the Indian state was not repressive enough, the Supreme Court has stepped in to curtail personal choice. Seven months after stating that a blanket ban on pornographic sites was not possible, the apex court on Friday took a U-turn, asking the Centre to find "ways and means" to block "blue films" on the internet.

Obscenity was a crime under Indian law and "cannot be allowed to be perpetuated", the bench said.

The court is also exploring the possibility of banning watching of pornographic material in any form at public places and also sought the view of the centre if it can be made a crime.

Despite stiff objections from the Centre, which said it only favoured banning child pornography sites and not "going beyond", considering a citizen's right to privacy and also because it did not want to be seen as "moral policing", the court directed the Centre to "develop a mechanism" for blocking all porn sites with the help of IT experts and service providers.

A bench headed by justice Dipak Misra was hearing a public interest litigation filed by Indore-based lawyer Kamlesh Vaswani, demanding complete ban on porn websites on the ground that crime against women and children is "majorly influenced" by such videos.

"Obscenity is recognised by the law. Pornography can be obscene. Obscenity has been linked to misogynism, perversion, sadism, and voyeurism. These are acts depicted in pornography which have a direct nexus with obscenity as crime under Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code. Somebody doing it for gain cannot be entertained. Other countries have not accepted defeat on this account. Look at the UK," observed the bench.

Significantly, the judges also said the right to free speech, thought and expression is not "absolute" and does not extend to viewing or compelling others to watch porn in a public place.

"The government has an obligation to block such sites. You tap the knowledge of IT and scientific experts. Also take the assistance of National Commission for Women. Some mechanism has to be developed," the bench told Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, who represented the Centre, as she said blocking all sites "cannot be done and was not our job".

Observing that blocking was a "difficult but not an impossible task", Justice Misra pointed out how successfully the government had on its orders stopped Google, Yahoo and Microsoft from advertising kits for foetal gender determination and displaying addresses of foreign clinics that provide assistance in the act which is an offence in India.

The Centre has a difficult task at hand as in August last year it was forced to revoke its order blocking 857 porn websites after facing flak from the social media and votaries of the right to privacy.

On a separate plea filed by Supreme Court Women's Association (SCWLA) for complete blocking of pornographic sites and making viewing of pornographic material in public an offence, the bench asked the ASG to take instructions.

SCWLA said the situation is so alarming that even school students - both boys and girls - now have access to porn clips through the crew of their school buses and cabs. "Due to easy access to porn, even bus drivers and conductors of school buses, cabs and taxis have porn clippings / videos on their mobile phones. As these are publicly shared without compunction, even the children would be exposed to this, critically affecting their emotional and psychological well-being.

''It is a serious matter of concern and such type of behaviour cannot be tolerated. It has become very common these days for drivers, conductors / cleaners to take advantage of innocent children, induce them to watch porn on their mobiles and indulge in molestation and sodomisation of the child," said the petition filed by the association's secretary Prerna Kumari, and argued by senior lawyer Mahalakshmi Pavani.

Reacting to it, the bench said, "We note the anguish as children need to be protected from this kind of moral assault and it has the potential to bring them physical disaster."