India Bans Cartoon Porn Queen

India likes to brag about what a free, liberal and tolerant democracy it is. But while it is certainly a democracy — and Indians do enjoy plenty of freedoms on paper — its claim to being a liberal democracy remains dubious. The freedom of expression, in particular, remains constantly under threat, both from right-wing groups whose intolerance and vigilantism is tolerated by the state, or from the state itself. And even as it tries to shake off the vestiges of socialism, state paternalism is alive and well on the subcontinent. The latest case in point: Savitha Bhabhi, the cartoon porn queen.

Savita Bhabhi is the star of an eponymous pornographic cartoon strip distributed online. The comic was the brainchild of Puneet Argawal, a British-Indian businessman. And he certainly hit on a winning idea: this tale of a very buxom and very married Indian woman (the term “babhi” means sister-in-law) who gets it on at every opportunity was drawing an estimated 60 million viewers per month. But apparently Indian censors decided that the cartoon broke one cultural taboo too many. In fact, they decided that the cartoon posed a grave threat — and not only to India’s moral fiber. Earlier this month, they used brand new laws passed after last year’s Mumbai terrorist attacks and designed to safeguard India’s national security to force Internet service providers to block links to the site.

The apparent abuse of these laws, which were intended to ban sites that threaten “the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence and security of the state” or that endanger “friendly relations with foreign states” has many in India up in arms. But so too does the apparent hypocrisy of outlawing Savita Bhabhi, while allowing continued access to far more graphic forms of pornography. (Porn is technically illegal in India, but it is widely — if somewhat clandestinely — available in all its forms.) Critics say the government has chosen to single out the cartoon porn queen more because she is depicted as a sexually-liberated upper-class housewife — rather than because of any specific act or acts she performs in the cartoon.

As Richard Menon, the Indian founder of the US-based erotic film production house Ecstasyvision, told the AFP, “it has to do with how mature a society is.” Exactly. So what does it say about the maturity of Indian society that the government feels a cartoon nymphomaniac poses an existential threat?

Jeremy Kahn is an independent journalist based in New Delhi, India, where he covers everything from politics and foreign affairs to business and the arts. In addition to The Faster Times, his work has ...read more

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