Claiming to be the world’s largest democracy, India recently blocked up to 857 pornographic websites. These events quickly led to a dispute relating to freedom of speech.

Last weekend, the Indian Minister of the Ministry of Communication and Information issued a 17-page government order requiring Internet Service Providers (ISP) across the country to block 857 freely accessible pornography websites. A spokesperson of the Department of Telecommunications, NN Kaul, says, “Free and open access to porn websites have already been brought under check, we don’t want them to become a social nuisance." Many state-run ISP’s, such as India’s Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) have already complied with the government order.

More and more Indian authorities are trying to get all sorts of high-sounding reasons to limit people’s rights, and this time the reason seems fairly obvious.

In recent years, India has repeatedly been hit by a wave of sexual offences, shocking the entire planet. New Delhi has been dubbed the capital of rape by the public and has been endlessly tiring the government. Some people blame gender inequality in the Indian society, while others say it is because India is influenced by Western cultures.

Last month, India’s Supreme Court overruled a lawyer’s petition that indicated porn websites encouraged sexual offence. The court said people have the freedom to watch pornographic videos, but at the same time they demanded the Ministry of Civil Affairs to research and provide means to limit pornography resources.

Pranesh Prakash, policy director of the Centre for Internet and Society, points out that the Indian government apparently hopes they can implement the ban illegitimately, as it contradicts the spirit of the law.

Prakash says, “It is illegitimate because it is not as though the government has found these websites unlawful. This is a blanket ban and the government has not thought the consequences through."

He also adds, “Yes, the law does block certain obscene websites, but it does not authorize the government to wipe out all related websites."

According to a leaked copy of the government order, released by the Centre for Internet and Society, the legal basis for blocking the websites is the violation of Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution. The constitution states, “There may be reasonable restrictions for instances where the society’s morality is violated."

PEN International, a worldwide association of writers, published a report last year, attacking the Indian law on harming public free speech. They said it was infringing people’s ability to voice their opinions.

This is not the first time the government has limited Internet freedom. Last December, up to 32 websites were blocked, including Vimeo, Github, and DailyMotion. This March, India’s Censor Board also blocked the movie, “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

People started voicing their opinions after the new restrictions were publically announced. Besides the Twitter label #pornban going viral, the label #NextBanIdea also spread like wildfire on the Internet. They mock the government by saying they wonder what the next ban will be.

India’s best-selling author Chetan Bhagat says on Twitter, “Porn ban is anti-freedom, impractical, not enforceable. Politically not very smart too. Avoidable. Let’s not manage people’s private lives."

Former Minister of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Milind Murli Deora, believes the ban will bring India a step closer to Talibanization.

India constantly taking measures to prohibit the spread of a particular images undoubtedly comes from authorization of the ultraconservative government. It is feared that many other bans are yet to come before the next election in 2019.

Translated by Sarah Grasdijk
Edited by Olivia Yang