Blocking pornographic sites – right or wrong?

During the past few weeks, there has been a lot of heated debate in the media on the issue of the government banning over 800 pornographic sites. Many argued that the state has no business to indulge in moral policing. Some said that kama is even glorified in our culture. So, why bother to curtail an individual’s freedom. Pressurized by such arguments, the government backtracked a bit and unbanned adult sites but retained the ban on the child porn sites. I was disappointed at this decision. I do not think it’s a case of moral policing. On the other hand, it’s appropriate on the part of any government to prevent moral corruption. One well-known columnist in the Times of India criticized the ban saying that the government is supposed to protect an individual from others but not from oneself! Why not, I ask. Governments are already doing this when they consider suicide as a crime. Suicidal tendency is a sign of a depressed mind and such people need to be protected from inflicting violence upon themselves. Likewise alcoholism is an addiction and one needs external help and intervention. Aren’t some states banning alcohol? These are the examples of a government protecting a person from himself. I’m sure that all right thinking people will agree that watching Porn sites is also an addiction and perversion which can cause damage to oneself.
The other argument against the ban is that the government cannot interfere with the rights of a ‘responsible’ adult watching porn in the company of another adult. Not all adults are responsible and we know of several cases where the so-called responsible adults have committed irresponsible sexual crimes. These are technology driven crimes which start with sending dirty video clips to a victim.

Let us consider another argument of the critics of the ban. They say that Kama is glorified and even celebrated by our ancestors. So, let us not feel ashamed or feel prudish and ban porn sites. While kama may be glorified in India in texts like Kama sutra and temple carvings of Khajuraho and Konarak, one should not lose sight of the fact that the same culture has written stories of how excessive obsession with sex can get out of control. The story of king Yayati narrated in Bhagavata is a case in point. See my post for a translation of the story.

It’s a complete misreading and a one-sided view of our scriptures to say that our culture celebrates sex. Our scriptures talk at length about desires in general. Let me specifically describe an interesting discussion in Taitriya Upanishad. This Upanishad has a famous section called ”Ananda Mimansa” meaning analysis of Ananda or happiness. This is about measuring Ananda. How does one quantify Ananda which is a qualitative feeling? There is only one way and the Upanishad shows how. It sets up a scale of Ananda beautifully. Here is a brief account of this:

It defines one unit of Ananda as that experienced by a young man who is emotionally mature, physically strong, well-educated and owns the entire earth. Now, multiply this by hundred. The resulting Ananda is that of a Manushya gandharva. Multiply this again by hundred and that is equal to the Ananda experienced by a Deva gandharva, who is a celestial being. Multiply a Devagandharva‘s ananda by hundred and the resulting happiness is that of a karmadeva. This process of multiplication continues to ten steps through the gods Indra, Brihaspati, prajapati and finally Brahma. According to this scale the Ananda of Brahma is ten to the power of twenty times that of a human being who is young, strong, mature and owns the entire earth. This is the scale that has been set up by the Upanishad to appreciate Ananda at different levels. Now let us see the correlation of Ananda to Kama.

The question is: Who, on earth, can have access to the extraordinary experience of Ananda of Brahma as defined above? Upanishad answers: It’s experienced by a simple man sitting under a tree who is not afflicted by Kama or desires and who has assimilated the knowledge taught in our sastras. That is the promise of the Upanishad. The text refers to this quality as AKAMAHATATVAM which is the status of not being afflicted by Kamas. The section Ananda Mimansa is in fact designed as a PRASANSA(praise) of AKAMAHATATVAM.

People who talk about depiction of kama in our scriptures should see what message our scriptures are conveying ultimately instead of considering the temple carvings and kama sutra in isolation. Our culture is not against kama as long as it does not lead one astray.

In any case our debate is on pornography which is not merely kama – it’s perversion of kama. Surely, pornography is not a cause worth standing up for.

Published in: on August 16, 2015 at 1:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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