Indian Government Blocks, Then Quickly Unblocks Porn Sites : Parallels The government move against more than 850 websites, most of them pornographic, sparked a firestorm on social media this week. After just four days, the government on Wednesday reversed course.

Indian Government Blocks, Then Quickly Unblocks Porn Sites

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India is an ancient, traditional country. It's also a democracy with a huge population using the Internet. And there's been a big debate there over access to pornography, with some accusing the government of acting like moral police. Well, today, the government restored access to nearly 1,000 adult and humor websites it had banned just four days ago. From New Delhi, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Publishing or distributing pornography in print or on the web is illegal in India. Viewing is not, says Supreme Court lawyer Vijay Panjwani. But in his opinion...

VIJAY PANJWANI: Pornography is a criminal activity from A to Z, completely.

MCCARTHY: Panjwani argued the case before the Supreme Court last month, seeking to block pornography as broadly as possible. A ban, he says, is impossible given the growing number of Indians using the Internet and smartphones.

PANJWANI: Mobile phones - 20-year-old has mobile phone. Ninety-year-old has mobile phone. Who's going to stop them?

MCCARTHY: You feel that somehow this has a corrosive effect on society.

PANJWANI: Yes. I definitely feel.

MCCARTHY: For a few days this week, it appeared the government agreed with him. In one of the biggest dragnets of its kind, India's Telecommunications Ministry ordered Internet providers to block over 850 sites. Swept up in the directive were even sites like Pranesh Prakash, policy director for the Center for Internet and Society, obtained the list of sites that had been kept secret from a whistleblower and published the list himself online.

PRANESH PRAKASH: Until I did that, no one knew what all had been blocked. The government was essentially arguing until that point that it was only blocking child pornography, and we saw that that was not true.

MCCARTHY: The Internet mandate sparked a raging debate on social media where the government was scorned for playing nanny to the nation and accused of Internet censorship. #NewBanIdea sprang to life, and Indian irreverence reigned. Ban tax collection, tweeted Parikshit Joshi, and corruption will end. Twitterer Sandhya Naidu wrote, land of Kamasutra, too much nudity on some of your sculptures. Do something, please. Shirish Kunder tweeted about Modi's pet manufacturing project. Forget make in India; now we can't even shake in India. Under the embarrassing barrage, the government relented and lifted the ban for all sites except those engaging in child pornography.

This move left feminists such as Ranjana Kumari distressed. The adult site ranks India as one of the world's most prolific users of pornography, and much of it, Kumari says, is about eroticizing the subjugation of women. Why, she asks, ban only child porn? Stand-up comics, on the other hand, were lapping up the new material. Comedian Anuvab Pal joked, the government reversed itself to indulge its core supporters.

ANUVAB PAL: A large number of their voting base are young men who want economic development, strong government. But they're also large consumers of pornography. So, you know, that's a base you don't want to alienate, I think they realize.

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.

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