Archive for the ‘ Democracy ’ Category

Pakistan Leader’s India Visit Hailed For Its Symbolism

By Mark Magnier for The Los Angeles Times

Pakistan’s president arrived in India on Sunday, the first official visit one leader of the wary neighbors has paid to the other nation in seven years. No breakthroughs were announced, but both sides hailed the meeting as a sign of easing tensions along one of the world’s most dangerous borders.

Spinmeisters on both sides worked overtime to lower public expectations of the “private” trip that saw Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discuss the 2008 terrorist attack on the Indian city of Mumbai, modest if expanding trade links, the disputed territory of Kashmir and efforts to bring various militants to justice.

The Pakistani president then visited a famous Muslim shrine for Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti, offering a $1-million contribution.

“I am very satisfied with the outcome of this visit,” Singh said. “The relations between India and Pakistan should become normal — that is our common desire.”

The rapid-fire luncheon and shrine visit weren’t enough to overturn long-standing distrust between the nuclear neighbors, however, as summed up in a headline in India’s Mail Today tabloid newspaper: “Eat, Pray, No Love.”

The meeting is part of an apparent effort to follow the diplomatic model in place between India and China, which fought a war in 1962 over their disputed border: Put aside the most nettlesome issues for the time being and focus on building investment and trade links that benefit both sides.

This year, India and Pakistan approved a most-favored-nation agreement, lowering taxes that impede trade. Although India had offered this benefit to Pakistan in 1996, it wasn’t reciprocated until recently. Official two-way trade of about $2.6 billion is heavily weighted in India’s favor.

Sunday’s one-day visit was heavy on symbolism if not on substance. Zardari invited Singh for a reciprocal visit to Pakistan, which the Indian leader accepted, although no date was set. Zardari’s 23-year-old son, Bilawal, invited ruling Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to Pakistan, which was also accepted, again with no date set.

On other fronts, both sides agreed in principle to ease visa restrictions. India offered its assistance in the wake of this weekend’s massive avalanche in the Siachen Glacier area, which buried about 130 people on the Pakistani-controlled side of the border in disputed Kashmir. And both sides did lots of glad-handing for the cameras.

“We had fruitful bilateral talks,” Zardari said. We “hope to meet on Pakistani soil very soon.”

But any bid to bring to justice those who planned the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed at least 166 people was sidestepped. India has long blamed Pakistani-based groups for plotting the attack.

Last week, Washington offered a $10-million reward for information leading to the capture of one Pakistani militant leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who enjoys widespread support in Pakistan.

Analysts on both sides of the divide welcomed the gradual thaw even as they acknowledged its slow pace. That no date was set for a return visit, and that Congress Party head Sonia Gandhi — characterized by some as India’s real leader behind the scenes — didn’t meet Zardari or attend the lunch, suggests the Indian government is wary of getting too far ahead of public opinion, some observers said.

“There have been some useful steps forward,” said B. Raman, director of Chennai’s Institute for Topical Studies and a former Indian intelligence officer on the Pakistan desk. “But the government has taken a cautious line.”

The fact that Zardari, 56, made the trip at all suggests that Pakistan’s military realizes improved relations are in its interest, added Talat Masood, an analyst and retired Pakistani general.

“They’re overstretched, realize the economy’s in a shambles and that you can’t have a genuine defense without a good economy,” Masood said. “It’s very sad in a way, that the process has been held hostage to jihadi groups and hard-rightists on both sides.”

Singh, 79, heading a weak government beset by corruption scandals, has pushed for improved ties with Pakistan in a bid to secure a legacy, analysts on both sides said. “Prime Minister Singh realizes he’s only going to be there a few more months,” said Masood. “He wants to do something positive so he’s remembered.”


Why President Zardari’s Visit Is A Small Bonus

By Soutik Biswas for The BBC

Hope is not a policy, but neither is despair, as South Asia expert Stephen Cohen says in a recent essay on Pakistan.

So it is with relations between India and Pakistan.

The past few days have shown how fragile the relationship can be – even as India welcomed President Asif Ali Zardari’s private trip to India on Sunday – the first by a Pakistani head of state for seven years – and PM Manmohan Singh invited him for lunch, the $10m US bounty for Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, provoked the cleric to openly launch a fresh attack against India (and the US).

But people live in hope, so Indian media is gung-ho about Mr Zardari’s visit.

They say the Pakistani president must be applauded for trying to end trade discrimination against India, easing petroleum imports from across the border, and moving towards a liberal visa deal.

“Under Mr Zardari’s watch, India and Pakistan are considering a sweeping agenda for economic co-operation for the first time in decades. The prime minister has every reason to welcome Mr Zardari warmly and consider the next steps in consolidating the unexpected movement in bilateral relations,” the Indian Express wrote.

Analyst C Raja Mohan believes Mr Singh must make an official trip to Pakistan after his meeting with Mr Zardari. “For his part,” he wrote, “Mr Singh should convey to Mr Zardari his readiness to move as fast and as far as the Pakistan president is willing to go.” Others like Jyoti Malhotra actually find Mr Zardari’s visit to the shrine of a famous Sufi Muslim saint in Rajasthan loaded with symbolism in these troubled times. “Clearly, Mr Zardari has stolen an imaginative moment from the bitter-sullen history of India-Pakistan, by asking to come to pay his respects to a cherished and much-beloved saint across the Indian subcontinent,” she wrote.

The relations between two neighbours remain complex. A 2010 Pew survey found 53% of the respondents in Pakistan chose India as the greater threat to their country, and only 26% chose the Taliban and al-Qaeda. At the same time 72% said it was important to improve relations with India, and about 75% wanted more trade relations and talks with India.

Pundits like Mr Cohen believe that it will “take the [Pakistan] army’s compliance, strong political leadership, and resolutely independent-minded foreign ministers to secure any significant shift of approach towards India”.

None of this appears to be in much evidence at the moment.

Both countries have seriously weakened governments that makes them unable to move towards any radical confidence building measures. In the current circumstances, President Zardari’s visit can only be a small bonus. And as scholars like Kanti Bajpai suggest, India must remain patient (even if faced with another Mumbai-style attack), continue to engage with Islamabad, help the civilian government in Pakistan politically, try to resolve a few outstanding disputes like Siachen and Sir Creek, build a relationship with the army and explore the possibility of cooperating with Islamabad on the future of Afghanistan. Despair does not help mend a stormy relationship.

Pakistan PM Prefers Jail to Writing to Swiss

As Reported by Agence France-Presse

Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Thursday he would rather go to jail than obey a court order and ask Switzerland to re-open graft cases against the president.

Gilani’s remarks revive speculation that he would rather risk losing his job than capitulate in a two-year showdown with the judiciary that culminated last month with him being charged with contempt by the Supreme Court.

He has always insisted that President Asif Ali Zardari is immune from prosecution as president and says the cases against him are politically motivated.

“If I write a letter it will be a violation of the constitution, which is treason and which carries the death sentence,” Gilani told PhD students in central Punjab province, with a few in the audience shouting “do not write, do not write”.

“If I don’t write, I will be convicted for contempt, the punishment for which is six months’ imprisonment,” Gilani said. “It’s better to face six months’ imprisonment than face the death sentence.”

Pakistan’s top court last week ordered Gilani to ask Switzerland to reopen corruption cases against Zardari by March 21.

It was the first time the court asked Gilani personally to write to the Swiss. It previously addressed repeated demands to the government since revoking in 2009 an amnesty freezing legal proceedings against key politicians.

Zardari and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, were suspected of using Swiss accounts to launder about $12 million in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in the 1990s.

Playing to the gallery, Gilani asked the students in Bahawalpur district whether he should write the letter, to which the audience shouted: “No, no.”

“Ok, we will send your message to the court and tell them that they should charge parliament with contempt of court because parliament has given immunity to the president. All heads of state all over the world have this immunity.”

Zardari is so tainted by corruption allegations that he is nicknamed “Mr 10 Percent”. He has already spent 11 years in jail in Pakistan on charges ranging from corruption to murder although he has never been convicted.


Security Forces in Kashmir Charged With Rights Abuses

By Riyaz Masroor for The BBC

The authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have launched more than 400 cases of alleged human rights abuses against security forces personnel. The region’s minister for internal security released the figures in the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly.

Kashmiri officials want to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which prevents prosecution of security staff. There has been a rebellion against Indian rule in divided Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan.

Thousands of people have been killed in the region since the rebellion began in 1989, though violence has dropped off recently. India’s defence ministry has resisted moves to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

According to the state government of Indian-administered Kashmir, 444 soldiers, police and security officials have been charged in the past three years.

Nearly 300 cases have been seen in local courts, the government said on Monday in a written response to the Jammu and Kashmir assembly. Human rights activists say the Indian authorities are forcing the Kashmir government to move slowly on these cases.

Kashmiri officials have been pleading with Delhi to scrap the AFSPA so they can proceed with prosecuting security officials against whom cases are pending.

But army officials say it is needed to prevent militant groups based in Pakistan from focusing their resources on Kashmir.


Islam & the NYPD

By Dr Qanta A Ahmed for NY Post

The relentless campaign to paint the NYPD as Islamophobic is itself an offense to Islam. In fact, our faith compels American Muslims to stand with the NYPD — both to protect the faith, and by its direct dictates.

Let me be clear: By investigating Islamist sympathizers who seek to curtail the freedoms of all Americans, the NYPD is aggressively protecting the freedoms and privileges that Muslims enjoy in America (freedoms that aren’t available even in the birthplace of Islam).

Islamism is distinct from the beliefs the majority of Islam’s 1.6 billion followers hold dear. The cry of “Islamophobia” is often merely an effort to silence those of us who seek to communicate this distinction, or to express concerns about Islamism. Most Muslims are spiritually private, committed persons active in their societies without a subversive political agenda. Think of them as pluralistic Muslims.

Because America’s religious freedom is protected by constitutional ideals, Muslims can pursue this pluralistic life — an American life that makes private space for faith, in parallel to public roles. Indeed, Muslims in America are freer to do this than Muslims in Pakistan (where my family is from), Saudi Arabia (where I have lived) or even Indonesia, because each of these Muslim-majority countries imposes laws restricting the practice of religion.

In many ways, Muslims are best able to follow their Islam — to become Muslim in the fullest sense — here in America, because of this nation’s astonishing, constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

Political Islamism — variously called radical Islam, jihadism or Islamic fundamentalism — is completely different. In contrast to our centuries-old faith, it’s a modern political project that seeks to return any society to a supposed “scriptural foundation” of the Muslim community, removing existing forms of government and laws.

Sound like a war? Well, in the wider world and here in America, there is indeed a war afoot — a war of ideas, a “Battle for the Soul of Islam,” as my colleague, American Islamic Forum for Democracy president Zudhi Jasser, has termed it.

In this battle, the Islamist thrives — citing freedom of speech, claiming disadvantaged civil rights, exploiting the privileges that a liberal democracy accords him. Often operating via advocacy groups or “Islamic societies” that purport to represent mainstream Muslims, he or she truly serves a political agenda centered on replacing liberal democracy with fundamentalist theocracy.

In fact, the Koran is explicit on the loyalties a Muslim must accord his host nation, mandating a Muslim’s duty to be an unwavering and loyal patriot:
O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey His Messenger and those who are in authority from among you. (Ch.4: V.60).

That verse demands the Muslim express loyalty to any ruling authority. This isn’t a suggestion, this is mandated Islamic duty.
The Koran does not state leadership specified as Muslim. Leadership is whomsoever is empowered in the society where the Muslim finds himself. For us here, that includes loyalty to the NYPD, the FBI and their work to safeguard our highest authority — the principles of our liberal democracy.
Can any one group speak for the entire American Muslim community? Islam is diverse — especially in America. Islamism isn’t. The sooner we understand this, the better — because at stake are America’s ideals.

America’s extraordinary freedoms afford us an ability to define our own expressions of Islam as Muslims in a way that no Muslim-majority nation secures for any Muslim anywhere today. We must preserve these values, and join the NYPD, in understanding the Islamist threat to these values.
This means we must support, not vilify, our policemen and -women, our federal agents and our police commissioner — especially when they gather and interpret information they need to preserve us and our values.

How many devout Muslims were among the thousands killed on 9/11? Let us never forget that Islamists — moving among the broader Muslim and secular communities — have wrought atrocities in this city and around the world, and seek to do so again.
If you choose to smear the NYPD for its work to protect us and our society, so too you choose to smear me, a pluralistic patriotic Muslim in America, for demanding an honest discourse.

Dr. Qanta Ahmed practices medicine in New York. She is the author of “In the Land of Invisible Women.”
Twitter: @MissDiagnosis


Rick Santorum, Meet Hamza Kashgari

By George Packer for The New Yorker

President Kennedy’s 1960 speech on religious freedom makes Rick Santorum “throw up.” “What kind of country do we live in that says only people of nonfaith can come into the public square and make their case?” Santorum says. It’s a central part of his campaign strategy to distort such things as a Kennedy speech, or an Obama speech, to whip up outrage at the supposed war on religious people in America. Here’s what Kennedy said:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President—should he be Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him… I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair.

Kennedy said much more, but this is the strongest passage of that famous campaign speech to a group of ministers in Houston, in which he argued that the election of a Catholic President who believed in the Constitution shouldn’t concern any American who believed in the Constitution—and, Santorum says, “That makes me throw up.” Santorum’s rhetorical eloquence is about equal to his analytical skill. Kennedy had nothing to say against believers entering public life, or believers bringing their religious conscience to bear on public policy. He spoke against any move to make religion official. The Constitution speaks against this, too—Article VI establishes an oath to the Constitution as the basis for public office, and explicitly prohibits a religious test, while the First Amendment forbids the official establishment of religion and protects its free practice. Santorum claims to be a constitutionalist, but that’s just rhetoric and opportunism. Santorum believes in a religious test—that may be all he believes in. (Mitt Romney believes in a religious test of a slimy, halfway, Romneyesque variety: in 2007, he reportedly dismissed the idea of appointing a Muslim to his Cabinet, saying, “Based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a Cabinet position would be justified.” So does Newt Gingrich, who has made atheist-baiting a central part of his political business.)

Kennedy seemed to have someone like Santorum in mind when he warned, “For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been—and may someday be again—a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you—until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.” In 1960, it would have been hard to imagine how thoroughly religious sectarianism and intolerance would infect American politics, and especially one major party. The outcry over Obama’s policy on health insurance and contraception has almost nothing to do with that part of the First Amendment about the right to free religious practice, which is under no threat in this country. It is all about a modern conservative Kulturkampf that will not accept the other part of the religion clause, which prohibits any official religion.

Santorum, like most conservatives these days, says he is a constitutionalist. Jefferson wrote, and Madison worked to pass, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, which held that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Jefferson included an even stronger phrase that was eventually struck out by amendment: “the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction.” Presumably, all of this originalist nonsense makes Rick Santorum heave, gag, vomit, and puke.

What makes me throw up is the story of Hamza Kashgari. It’s a shame that every American doesn’t know his name. He’s a young, slender, philosophical-minded columnist and blogger from Saudi Arabia who, earlier this month, dared to tweet phrases of an imagined conversation with the Prophet Mohammad: “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you…I loved the rebel in you…I will not pray for you.” Within twenty-four hours, more than thirty thousand furious replies had been posted on Twitter. Within a few days, more than twenty thousand people had signed on to a Facebook page called “Saudi People Want Punishment for Hamza Kashgari.” (So much for Arab liberation by social media.) One commenter wrote, “The only choice is for Kashgari to be killed and crucified in order to be a lesson to other secularists.”

Kashgari backed down, apologized profusely, and continued to be attacked. He went into hiding. Clerics and government officials threatened him with execution for blasphemy. He fled to Malaysia, hoping to continue to fly to New Zealand, where he would ask for asylum. But Malaysian officials, behaving against law and decency, had him detained at the airport and sent back to Saudi Arabia, where he was promptly arrested. Since mid-February there’s been no word of Kashgari. The Saudis have said they will put him on trial. What a pity there’s no First Amendment to protect him.
If only he had more powerful friends—if only Christopher Hitchens were still alive—Hamza Kashgari would be called the Saudi Rushdie. There would be a worldwide campaign to pressure the Saudis into releasing him. The United States would offer him asylum and quietly push our friends the Saudis into letting him go. But we’ve come to expect these things from our friends the Saudis.

We’ve come to expect these things from the Muslim world. We expect Afghans to riot for days and kill Americans and each other because a few NATO soldiers were stupid enough to burn copies of the Koran along with other objects discarded from a prison outside Kabul. Yes, those soldiers were colossally, destructively insensitive. Yes, we should know by now. Yes, the reaction has a lot to do with ten years of war and occupation and civilian deaths and marines urinating on Taliban corpses. Still, can we have a little outrage at the outrage? Can we reaffirm that human lives are more sacred than books? Can we point out that every time something like this happens, there’s a manufactured and whipped-up quality to much of the hysteria, which has its own cold political calculation (not unlike the jihad against secularists by Sean Hannity and other Salafist mouthpieces)?

Saudi Arabia needs an absolute separation of religion and state so that Hamza Kashgari can say things that other people don’t like without having to flee for his life. Afghanistan needs it, too, and so does Pakistan, so that mob violence and political assassination can’t enjoy the encouragement of religious authorities and the tolerance or acquiescence of government officials. And America needs it so that our Presidents’ religious views remain their own private affairs, and Rick Santorum and his party can’t impose dominion of one narrow, sectarian, Bible-based idea of the public good over a vast, pluralist, heterodox, freedom-loving democracy.


The Pornification of New India

By Damayanti Datta for India Today

On February 7, three Karnataka ministers were captured on television poring over a phone screen, watching a woman in a petticoat gyrating wildly. They lost their jobs for watching pornography in the sacred precincts of the Legislative Assembly. The incident is a high-profile sample of a definitive reality: porn is pervasive through the Internet across India, easily and freely available, not just to leery politicians but to children and adults in millions of ordinary homes.

It is a sign of the times that the most famous international porn star has Indian roots and was on Indian television. Sunny Leone, 30, appeared on the reality show Big Boss 5 and has now launched a clothes-on Bollywood career. Her fake breasts, that won the 2010 fame Award for Favourite Breasts in Los Angeles, have brought her the honour of being named among the 50 Most Desirable Women by the nation’s biggest daily this month.

The organised $12 billion (Rs.60,000 crore) American adult entertainment industry, to which Leone 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 entered teenagers’ mobile phones with the force and sweep of a dangerous flood. It threatens to swamp conventional notions of morality, raise tensions in bedrooms, lure children into a world they do not understand, and initiate a culture that threatens the mores of family life as we know it.

The writing is on the wall. Google Trends show the search volume index for the word ‘porn’ has doubled in India between 2010 and 2012. With instant Net connectivity and flexible payment options, online porn is increasingly affordable, accessible and acceptable. Seven Indian cities are among the top 10 in the world on porn search, reports Google Trends, 2011. One out of five mobile users in India wants adult content on his 3G-enabled phone, according to an 2011 IMRB Survey. Over 47 per cent students discuss porn every day, says a public school survey by Max Hospital in Delhi. Porn tops the list of cyber crimes in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

Rape, penetration, oral, anal, lesbian, gay or group porn are yesterday’s news. There is now a hectic crossover of porn subcultures on the World Wide Web. Consider MILF (or Mothers I Like to F***) porn. “Check out the most notorious hot, mature moms going crazy and getting f****d by young studs,” invites one of the 40,600,000 MILF websites. “A hot and sexy bride is getting raped brutally,” says a ‘ravished bride’ porn site. There is ‘pregnant porn’ (“Are you ready to see these moms-to-be in action?). There is ‘incest porn’ that welcomes you to sites with “xxx videos full of mother and son, dad and daughter”. Child porn blends with ‘teen porn’, promising “fascinating porn actions starring our young models”.

New jargon and innovative formats, borrowed from foreign cultures, are trendy on the web. For the uninitiated, chikan (“to grope” in Japanese) porn is all about public molestation in trains. ‘Bukkake’ parties involve repeated ejaculation on a woman by several men. Shemale and futanari porn mean “live action” with transsexuals. Anime and manga refer to Japanese formats of sexually-explicit comics and animation. A new focus is the service sector, with “shy massage girls” seducing clients, doctors and “hot babes in nurse uniforms” getting wild. In ‘corporate porn’ “busty secretaries” go down on their knees to pleasure their boss.

Sunny Leone (or Karen Malhotra) takes credit for the ‘pornification’ of India. “My presence on Bigg Boss has empowered a lot of people to be open about their sexuality,” she tells India Today. One of the richest adult actresses in the industry, with her SunLust Pictures in Los Angeles reporting a top line of over $1 million (Rs.5 crore), she is now getting ready to debut in filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt’s Jism 2, playing a professional body double. The most-searched Google celebrity-powered by India, Bangladesh and Pakistan-she has 1,47,326 Twitter followers.

Leone’s success indicates the greater acceptability of porn in daily life. Internet is the new tool, exploding every embarrassing sexual adventure of public personalities and making every lurid detail an item of private consumption. Coming after the midwife Bhanwri Devi’s sex cds with Rajasthan politician Mahipal Maderna in November 2011, public reaction to the Karnataka fiasco has ranged from indignation to amusement, but not shock: if political parties engaged in a morality-in-politics war, social activist Anna Hazare demanded the ministers be sent to jail and media professional Pritish Nandy summed up Bollywood’s reaction by calling them the “3 idiots”.

“A porn star doesn’t automatically mean prostitute,” says Leone, now seeking respectability. She talks about her parents’ initial shock turning into respect, how they taught her to be a “good person”, years of hard work, restrained personal life, professionalism and lack of regrets. Like the girl-next-door, she tweets how she is learning Hindi, cooking sabzi and massaging hair oil. Her endeavour will not be too difficult. Young adults, who grew up with cable TV, DVD players and the Internet, have been exposed to much more adult material than their parents. As filmmaker Pooja Bhatt points out, “Young people don’t respond negatively to Sunny because they have already logged on to her website.”

She is not wrong. Even school students discuss porn. Dr Samir Parikh, chief psychiatrist, Max Healthcare, calls it “risky indulgences”. In a survey on 1,000 children from top public schools in Delhi in 2010, he found 47 per cent boys and 29 per cent girls visiting porn sites and talking about it in school. “I understand sexual inquisitiveness and peer pressure around sexuality, but pornography on the Internet is fake, unreal, often violent and downright perverted,” he says. “Moreover, a new technology in young hands could lead to irresponsible behaviour and ruin their lives.” He obviously has in mind the stream of MMS scandals that have hit campuses across the country since 2004, when two Class XI students of a school in Delhi created a sensation. In many of these cases, either one partner was not aware of being filmed or did not anticipate the videos would get circulated-as in May 2011 when JNU student Janardan Kumar, 22, made a video of the girl he was intimate with and used it to blackmail her after being rejected.

Campus porn is a thriving subterranean culture. Try talking to students in various campuses of Delhi: “Have you ever heard of MMS videos of students being circulated on the campus?”

Diksha Singh, 20: “Every couple of months there is a fresh case. It’s so common, I don’t even blink.”

Raghav Verma, 19: “All the time. It’s shocking to see a classmate’s intimate details on video camera.”

Mehak Suri, 18: “My ex-boyfriend tried that with me, and when it didn’t work he sent me threatening emails and messages.”

Amaira Kapoor, 20: “You will be surprised to know how many cases go unreported and unaccounted for.”

Sakshi Wakhlu, 21: “A year ago, one girl got high, went with a group of boys and had sex with them. The men came back and talked.”

The arrival of smartphones is changing the country’s porn landscape further. India has the lowest penetration of smartphones, 10 per cent, among the youth globally. But with email, social networking, chatting, messaging and gaming, it is a device every youth craves for. And now there are even porn applications. Imagine a ‘pocket’ girlfriend or boyfriend, who can strip, talk dirty, make sexual noises. “These are some of the ‘apps’ that can be downloaded on smartphones,” says Pranesh Prakash, programme manager with Bangalore-based think-tank Centre for Internet and Society. “App download data shows the popularity of sex-themed apps on smartphones, apart from the adults-only stores,” he says. Age restrictions for applications? Mostly a pop-up asking if one is over 17. With over 50 per cent of all Internet users in the country accessing the web via mobile phones already, as estimated by TRAI, smartphones are the future of anytime-anywhere porn.

The threshold of what can be called ‘pornography’ is shifting. Mainstream and hardcore entertainment are coming closer. The Dirty Picture, biopic of south siren Silk Smitha, raked in Rs.50 crore in its very first week in December 2011, with its noisy orgasms, titillating cleavage and fiery dialogues. It’s also hard to draw the line between porn and art in raunchy item numbers, from Sheila ki Jawani to Munni Badnam Hui. “What heroines do in films today is what vamps did yesterday,” says filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. Some item numbers are more obscene than nudity, he feels. “People tell me, how can someone who made Saaransh, Arth and Zakhm, make films like Jism and Murder” he adds. “I say, get off the high horse.”

Kolkata certainly is getting off the high horse. A city with the least taste for pornography, going by India Today Sex Surveys, is also one of the top seekers of porn online, reports Google Trends. Leone’s CDs are bestsellers here. Teenage boys creep up and ask, “Sunny Leone ka CD chahiye?” (Want Sunny Leone’s CDs?), at Chandni Chowk market in central Kolkata, the city’s piracy hub. Step inside the dingy alleys between shops selling electronic goods, and piles of pirated blue film come out of hiding-Rs.120 for just a CD and Rs.250 for one with Leone on the cover. Ask too many questions and they show you the door. The police are their friends, although motorcycles stand ready for sudden crackdowns. “Sunny’s CD is selling like hot cakes, 200 a day,” says one. Leone is not pleased. “If you are stealing my movies in Kolkata, that is flipping horrible,” she has tweeted. But who cares? A 33-year-old customer puts away her CD in his plastic bag with quiet satisfaction. “I will have to watch when the wife is not looking,” he grins.

If a married man watches porn,is it considered cheating??

My husband secretly watches porn. Why are men like this? He knows I hate porn.

My husband watches porn alone. He refuses to watch it with me.

My husband watches porn very often. Should I be worried?

I feel insulted whenever my boyfriend watches porn.

There are 2,690,000 such postings on Google, from wives and girlfriends globally, on a range of sites on the web-health, marriage, empowerment, agony.

Watching porn alone is a rising trend among men, thanks to the Internet. Check out India Today Sex Surveys: in 2009, with video as the most popular porn format, just 10 per cent men out of 2,661 watched porn alone. This year, with smarter access and gadgets, it zoomed to 44 per cent. “It is usually a sign of cybersex addiction,” says Dr Vijay Nagaswami, Chennai-based expert on sexual psychotherapy. “Compulsive pornwatchers 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.”

Even five years back, it was difficult to get locals to dub foreign porn films in Gujarati. But now, mobile shop owners in Ahmedabad do brisk business in porn, supplying primarily to youngsters. They download content on hard discs and then transfer those to the memory cards of eager youngsters-Rs.100 to Rs.200 for a 30-minute film. “It’s good business. Sometimes I get more than six customers, all boys,” says Rajesh Patel, a porn-provider.

It’s good business in Chennai, too. In a small shop opposite the high court in Burma Bazaar, the hub of pirated movies in Chennai, Ramu is doing his puja. He throws flowers at the gods, and looks at his customer. “English, Tamil also.” His voice goes an octave lower, “Triple.” Who cares for storylines? Many of these films are shot in the city or taken off the Net. Ramu sells at least 100 discs a day, mostly to distributors. The CDs are mostly of Indian couples having sex, sometimes verging on rape. “This business can’t be hit by recession,” Ramu says. “People will always buy porn.”

The buzz is, although the Karnataka ministers claimed they were watching clips of a real-life gang-rape at a rave party, they were either watching Indonesian hardcore ‘abik’ porn or model Poonam Pandey’s YouTube video, Bathroom Secrets. But what do most Indians watch? Google Trends indicates that the average Indian pornwatcher opts for more tame keywords, ‘sex’ and ‘how to kiss’, the most. New research by computational neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam from Boston University, US, on a billion porn and erotic web searches across the world, shows that the five most popular porn sites for men are webcam or video sites featuring anonymous graphic sex, with a monthly traffic of 7-16 million visitors. For women, the most popular is the “erotic” site, which gets over 1.5 million visitors a month and has more than two million stories, 50 per cent being “romance”.

How big is pornography in India? Of the 500 top Indian websites this month ranked by the leading global web information company Alexa, at least 24 are porn sites. Nearly a dozen porn sites are more popular than some leading news sites and that of the Bombay Stock Exchange. Leone, one of the top five global porn stars, says 80 per cent of her web traffic and 60 per cent of her “high six figures” revenue come from India. The content, she says, is “everything and above”. “I can sell anything you want as long as you have a credit card.”

The only other major-league porn actor of Indian origin in the US, Priya Anjali Rai, also says she has a lot of fans in India, but not many paying customers. Adopted from New Delhi by American parents and brought up in Arizona, Rai keeps her Indian name for her work: “That’s what makes me different from everybody else.” Both Leone and Rai insist they only do “vanilla” porn, “boy-girl stuff”. The US, specifically the Los Angeles area, has the biggest porn industry in the world, followed by London and Budapest, estimated between $4 billion (Rs.20,000 crore) and $15 billion (Rs.75,000 crore) annually. Top porn stars easily earn a quarter of a million dollars annually.

Those who think production and distribution of pornography in India are not allowed, think again. “A lot of amateur videos are being produced,” says Namita Malhotra, author of Porn: Law, Video and Technology. “They have been there for long. But now from print they have gone digital. Amateur videos are a new phenomenon,” says a lawyer associated with Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore. “It’s unorganised,” says a Bangalore-based photographer involved with the porn industry. There are a few big houses who run multi-crore businesses. The small players use small video cameras so that they can be seen on mobile phones. “Ever since the mms scandal, we make false scandal videos, called kaand,” the photographer says. “It’s normal sex. Not like those foreign videos where they use horses and 10 men at the same time.” Do they go online? Sometimes they are sold, but always with the permission of the model, “No force,” he insists. “The money is good, so that we don’t tell anyone.” His best moment? When a model asked him to shoot her in different ways, to try to create a scandal and get noticed.

Has the battle against porn been lost? Anti-porn feminists in the US have admitted defeat. India is not quite there. Despite the hyper-sexualised climate, ministers do get thrown out over porn. To cyber law expert and senior associate of SNG & Partners Rahul Sud, India is on the right track. “Personal consumption of porn has never been an offence,” he points out. “Child pornography, publishing and transmitting are.” Press Council of India Chairperson Justice Markandey Katju has rolled out the red carpet for Leone, but not before comparing her to history’s “fallen women”, Amrapali or Mary Magdalene.

Does Leone care? She is busy stretching, bending and sweating. Not in a girl-boy-girl orgy online but on a Bikram Yoga mat in Hollywood. “OMG, I’m so tired,” she tweets. She has the same vital statistics as Marilyn Monroe, 36-24-34, and she is determined to look her best for those semi-nude scenes in Jism 2. “We Indians are proud of you!,” tweets one of her admirers. “Thank you,” she tweets back. She has every reason to be grateful.

– With Indira Kannan, Nishat Bari, Kiran Tare, Gunjeet Sra, Shravya Jain, Avantika Sharma, Lakshmi Kumaraswami, Uday Mahurkar and Tithi Sarkar contributing.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The porn phenomena is not isolated to just India in the subcontinent. Across the border, Pakistan was recently ranked as first in the world in terms of pornographic Google searches. This is a result of two conservative societies where sex is a taboo. One can only hope that these ancient and slow changing cultures can adapt to the new realities regarding sex.

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