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Vaswani and the puritan league – Times of India

Hitler, followed by AIDS, cancer and the nuclear holocaust…When Indore lawyer Kamlesh Vaswani declared all these to be less dangerous than porn in his first ever PIL at the Supreme Court, he was hoping that his petition seeking the blocking of adult sites would be treated more seriously.

Vaswani is now on his way to becoming an internet meme for this fantastic analogy alone. But there are plenty who do take him seriously — the government which actually blocked 857 sites based on his petition though it partially withdrew it later, some conscientious technologists, anti-obscenity campaigners, and even a victim of revenge porn.

While a Varanasi-based techie supplied a list of 857 porn sites along with his affidavit in October 2014, a Mumbai-based moral crusader and her NGO became intervening parties to the case two years ago when it first hit the headlines.

The campus campaigner

“Ideology” is what supposedly drove most of them to join Vaswani. “I read about the case and then Vaswani’s petition and found that there is merit in his argument,” says Pratiba Naitthani, a Mumbai-based political science professor who had campaigned against adult content on TV in 2004. That’s how ‘Hamari Sanskriti’, her NGO which lists its mission as ‘upholding India’s cultural values’ by rejecting ‘obscenity in media’, became a party to Vaswani’s case. She believes that free access to pornography leads to rise in crime, corrupts young minds, and insists that there are enough studies to prove it. “When the internet first came, the computers were at home and parents could monitor them. Now, with the mobile phone, there is no such possibility,” she says.

Tech that blacklist

Varanasi couple Suresh Shukla and wife Sonal, who run a software firm, decided to reach out to Vaswani only when he hit a technical snafu last year. In response to a query, the government had informed the SC that it was next to impossible to ban adult websites. “We knew it wasn’t so. But if the government was saying that it was difficult, we thought that we should pitch in,” says Suresh, ex-IITian and founder-director of an IT startup, which was incubated at IIT-BHU, Varanasi and has made an anti-porn filter. The Shuklas also firmly believe that porn objectifies women and is the reason behind a spurt in sexual crimes, especially against children.

Suresh convinced Vaswani about the effectiveness of his software and promised to submit an affidavit clarifying how adult sites can be blocked. The affidavit talks about how a blacklist of adult websites can be created with better software and that there should be age restrictions on the use of search engines like Google so that children won’t ‘stumble’ on pornographic content.

Along with the affidavit, Vaswani’s lawyer also submitted the list of websites from Shukla’s company database. This, Suresh says, is the list that the government eventually sent to various internet service providers asking them to block the websites in question. “It took us eight months to create it and we had feedback from around 3,000 users of our filter to refine it,” says Sonal. The database has all kinds of samples, from completely adult stuff to ‘sex stories’, she says.

But how did non-adult sites such as CollegeHumor, 9Gag.tv, and Barstool Sports get on the blacklist? Suresh claims that on the days his team scanned them, they might have carried objectionable material. “Some keep changing content or shut down servers,” he says.

Her route to justice

The latest addition to Vaswani’s team is a young woman who says that she is a victim of revenge porn by her ex-husband. “I read about Vaswaniji and called him up because this is my last resort,” she says on the phone, adding that she hasn’t been able to get the offending videos removed from various sites though she filed a case with the police and cyber cell two years ago.

“The officer in charge of my case says that he has written to the sites requesting them to remove my videos. Some did, but others didn’t,” she says. So her affidavit was also filed with the original plea last month. “I am waiting for the final orders. Hopefully, something good will happen at the hearing on August 10,” she says.

Advocate Vijay Panjwani, who is appearing for Vaswani, says the woman might get justice only on the basis of a separate criminal complaint. “The point was to make it difficult for the common man to access porn,” says Panjwani. He recalls an anecdote. “A 55-year-old friend of mine said that this case helped her realize how easy it is to watch porn and she did so for the first time. She told me she felt ashamed after the second time, and I asked her to not get addicted,” quips Panjwani.

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