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Will Technology Bring a Sexual Revolution to India? Probably Not

Pacific News Service, Commentary, Neelanjana Banerjee Posted: Feb 04, 2005

Editor's Note: A cell phone video clip of two young Indians having sex became India's Paris Hilton moment. But access to Internet porn won't do much to change mores or bring sexuality -- particularly women's sexuality -- out into the open.

KOLKATA, India--"Hey, check this out!" my friend yells over the music at a trendy lounge. She hands over a cell phone displaying the infamous sex clip that a 17-year-old Delhi student took of his fellow classmate before setting it loose on the Web.

I view the grainy, two-minute video with a kind of disgusted fascination.

I pass the phone to the rest of our group -- mostly 20-something NRIs (non-resident Indians) from the States and England -- and they cheer India's own Paris Hilton moment, toasting this glaring sign of India's seething sexuality. But when I look again at the close-up of a young woman stumbling through oral sex, it strikes me that her father probably watched this clip. Suddenly, it's not so funny.

Before the tsunami came and washed it all away, the Delhi MMS (multimedia messaging service) clip scandal was on the front pages of Indian newspapers for weeks. Headlines like, "Smut Boy in Police Net" revealed India's sexual and technological revolution, caught in a few awkward moments. Part of the reason I had come to India was to investigate this shift in sexual mores. The MMS clip seemed the perfect evidence to support my theories on the convergence of sex and technology.

It wasn't just that the Delhi student recorded this girl in his bedroom with his cell phone and passed it around to his classmates at an exclusive prep school. Or that an enterprising 23-year-old college student decided to auction off the clip on Baazee.com, India's eBay subsidiary. The real global excitement came when Indian police decided to go after Avnish Bajaj, the CEO of Baazee and a U.S. citizen, for allowing the pornographic clip to be distributed on his site. Bajaj was jailed for several days, causing an uproar in the IT community, which saw this as a threat to India's rapidly growing market.

For all the hoopla surrounding the 17-year-old cell phone auteur, the horny/money-grubbing IIT student, Bajaj and the anxious IT moghuls, I was left wondering: What about the girl?

As an Indian woman who grew up in the West, the tug-of-war between repression and rebellion defined much of my identity. In my transplanted Indian community, pre-marital sexual activity was one of the worst "American" traits that could be picked up. My mother's constant and severe warnings about boys didn't scare me off, though -- it made me wilder. I learned how to sneak around, climb out my bedroom window and meet boys for late-night rendezvous.

But as much as I wanted the right to express myself as a hot-blooded American teenager, I was terrified of my parents finding out about my sex life. By the time I left for college, my sexuality was so removed from the identity I had around my parents and my community that I felt I had a split personality. Among my friends, I was the queen of casual encounters, while my parents were already hinting at an arranged marriage for their chaste little girl.

Now, in my mid-20s, I believe openness from my parents and community about sexual issues would have prevented a lot of confusion in my life.

That's why, at first, I wanted to make a heroine out of the girl from the MMS clip. She would be my symbol of a sexually free Indian woman, a firebrand who would help get people talking about and accepting sex. In retrospect, I realize I was trying to put a Western, sex-positive spin on the situation.

In reality, very few stories have been written about the girl. Soon after the scandal broke, she was reported to have left the country. Indian Web site Sify.com later reported that she may have been blackmailed into the sexual act. Indian media seem to be doing their best to deny her sexuality.

With Internet cafes in virtually every corner of India, and reports suggesting that more than 60 percent of Internet use is for pornography, there has definitely been an explosion of access to sexual images here. In fact, as I write this at an Internet cafe in Kolkata, three boys in the adjacent kiosk are probably not doing research for class. But does all this access to pornography change the ways boys and girls relate to one another?

Access doesn't mean education, I have come to realize. What are boys -- who are largely uninformed about sexuality -- doing with the copious amounts of freaky porn readily available at their fingertips? Suddenly, walking down the crowded streets of Kolkata, the leers from boys and men have a more sinister feeling. Knowing that they have so much access to misogynistic pornography, I wrap my shawl tighter around me.

I admit, the sexual revolution I sought in India -- hoping it would somehow validate my own struggle -- isn't quite what I expected. The MMS clip certainly got people talking about sex for a moment, but acceptance and validation of a young woman's sexuality was not in the cards. The real revolution will happen not in a corner of an Internet caf or in an illicitly captured video, but when Indian men and women learn to communicate in a positive way about sex.

PNS contributor Neelanjana Banerjee, 26, is managing editor of YO! Youth Outlook (www.youthoutlook.org), a magazine by and for San Francisco Bay Area youths and a PNS project.

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