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Author Wendy Doniger: Indian government becoming extremely intolerant

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New Delhi: Author Wendy Doniger is back with “The Mare’s Trap” which revisits the Kamasutra. Doniger, an American scholar, is no stranger to controversies. Her previous book, “Hindus – An Alternative History” ran into rough weather last year over its alleged misrepresentation of Hindus. Eyebrows were also raised over the publisher Penguin India’s decision to withdraw and pulp the book after a court settlement.

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In her new book, Doniger argues that the Kamasutra is more of a feminist text and it is crucial for Indian society to follow its liberal outlook towards sexuality and gender issues. In an email interview with IANS, Doniger said that the Indian government is becoming intolerant and the ban on pornography is indicative of the repression by the state.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: From beef, books to porn, the government is on a banning spree. You were also at the receiving end last year for “Hindus – An Alternative History”. What is the sense you are getting?

A: I fear that the Indian government is becoming very intolerant. It is a terrible shame that India, a culture that was once so open in its support of the arts, has now become so repressive of the arts. Even in the time when the Kamasutra was originally composed, there were elements of the Hindu world that did not accept its values. India has also always had a streak of puritanism, linked to the renunciant and ascetic tradition, and this part of Indian culture grew stronger under the British and again in the post-colonial backlash. Colonialism was repressive of Hinduism in many ways, including a negative valuation of the erotic aspects of the worship of the gods, and this gave rise to a negative valuation of these parts of Hinduism by certain Hindus too. Finally, the rise of fundamentalism around the world in the present period has played upon those old colonial resentments, to produce the present repressive regime in India.

Q: If ancient India was a liberal place according to you, why has it become conservative now? How relevant is the Kamasutra for modern India?

A: My answer to the first question is also an answer to the question of why India has recently become so conservative. As for the relevance, the Kamasutra values pleasure in the broadest sense, including sexual pleasure. Surely today’s global society shares these values, and so the Kamasutra is more relevant than ever. At a time when sexual violence has become a growing concern in India, this book, which is concerned with ways to tame the more savage aspects of sexuality, should be essential reading. The intellectual leaders of India should let people know what sort of a book the Kamasutra really is and encourage them to read it. This would greatly improve the general level of understanding about the nature, including the dangers, of sexuality.

Q: What was the idea behind revisiting the Kamasutra?

A: I was concerned that the Kamasutra was being largely neglected in India and hoped that by writing this book I would make more people aware of the actual nature of the book – and make them want to read it. Among the so-called “triad”of basic Hindu values – dharma, artha, and kama – kama has always been the third, the least valued. This is the result of the cultural ascendancy of the renunciant aspect of the Brahmin tradition.

Q: You describe Kamasutra as a feminist text. How can we ignore the class and caste realities of today’s India?

A: I think it is a feminist text, in the general sense of advancing women’s interests, because it argues that married women should have the primary financial responsibility in the household, that women may leave husbands who do not treat them well, that women’s pleasure is an essential part of the sexual act, that sex should not be limited to the production of babies. All of this, if taken seriously today, would greatly improve the condition of women in India. And the passages that caution against sexual violence may also be useful in making people in India aware of the causes of rape, and possibly some measures to deal with it. This, surely, will be for the benefit of women in India. As for caste, the fact that the Kamasutra finds caste totally irrelevant, that it specifically says that people of all of the “twice-born” varnas can live the life that it describes, is a total denial of the power of the caste system and a fine example of the sorts of attitudes that we need to cultivate today. Neither feminism nor human rights is a primary issue for the Kamasutra, but its extraordinarily liberal attitude to women and people of all castes makes it a valuable weapon for people who are fighting more directly for feminism and human rights in India today.

(IANS)

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Government Pressure: WhatsApp to Limit Message Forwarding In INDIA

WhatsApp reacted: "In India, where people forward more messages, photos, and videos than any other country in the world, we'll also test a lower limit of 5 chats at once.

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The app is adding more features to group chats. Wikimedia commons

 Hauled up second time by the government on its failure to check the spread of fake and provocative content on its platform amid growing lynching episodes, Whatsapp on Friday said it is launching a test to limit message forwarding to five chats that will apply to its users in India.

In its second notice on Thursday, the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) took a tough stand, asking WhatsApp to come out with more effective solutions that can bring in accountability and facilitate enforcement of law in addition to their efforts towards labelling forwards and identifying fake news.

“It has been conveyed to them in unmistakable terms that it is a very serious issue which deserves a more sensitive response,” MeitY said in the notice.

WhatsApp reacted: “In India, where people forward more messages, photos, and videos than any other country in the world, we’ll also test a lower limit of 5 chats at once.

“We will also remove the quick forward button next to media messages,” WhatsApp said in a statement.

The test, once comes to practice, will curtail WhatsApp’s services for over 200 million users in India. Globally, the company allows users to forward messages for up to 20 chats (either individuals or groups).

WhatsApp said that with new changes, which it will continue to evaluate, “will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app”.

“We are deeply committed to your safety and privacy which is why WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, and we’ll continue to improve our app with features like this one,” it added.

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“We will also remove the quick forward button next to media messages,” WhatsApp said in a statement. Pixabay

In its first reply to the IT Ministry, WhatsApp said the company is “horrified” by terrible acts of violence.

The IT Ministry had asked WhatsApp to ensure that the platform is not used for malafide activities over the growing instances of lynching of innocent people owing to large number of irresponsible messages filled with rumours being circulated on its platform.

The mobile messiging service listed several measures — including labelling Forwarding messages — in its first reply to control the spread of misinformation and abuse on its platform but failed to meet the requirements from the IT Ministry.

Several people have lost their lives in the past one year by lynch mobs after rumours of child lifting triggered via messages on WhatsApp.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh for the first time admitted in the Lok Sabha on Thursday that fake news on social media has resulted in many mob lynching incidents in the country, saying the government has asked service providers to put a check on rumour mongering on social media.

Also Read-WhatsApp Begins Rolling Out ‘Restrict Group’ Feature For Admins

Expressing concern over the misuse of social media, Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu also asked the government to evolve a national policy after discussing with all stakeholders including political parties to combat the menace.

The Supreme Court also issued 22 guidelines this week for the central and state governments to put an end to “horrendous acts” of vigilantism, lynching and mobocracy and directed them to work in tandem to take “preventive, remedial and punitive measures”. (IANS)