Opinion: ‘Dirty films’: NITI Aayog member’s remarks on Jammu and Kashmir betray a twisted mind
Had VK Saraswat said it before August 4, 2019, one would have dismissed it with a smile. In the current scenario, his lewd remarks have rubbed salt in the wounds of J&K – where residents have been denied many basic rights after having been rendered politically disempowered.
Why do we feel so shy to discuss sex? Delivering his farewell speech in the Rajya Sabha in 2018, senior NCP leader DP Tripathi — who passed away earlier this month — had asked the question, wondering why the Indian Parliament never debated on the subject.
“In a country where Kamasutra was written and Vatsyayana (ancient Indian philosopher) is considered a Rishi (a great seer), Ajanta and Ellora caves, Khajuraho (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and all (exist) …Parliament has never discussed sex in a dignified and a decent way. Why?” he had said emphatically, adding, “there have been two great leaders: Mahatma Gandhi, who discussed sex in his own way… Then Ram Manohar Lohia was the last (public figure) who wrote about sex especially in association with women’s rights.”
The late parliamentarian couldn’t have called out national sexual hypocrisy in a better way. When it comes to the taboo word in India — which has the highest rate of population growth, besides the highest rate of problems like sexual violence, teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS — even if it is related to sex education, and we the people of India know it very well, it is considered a threat to our spotless culture.
NITI Aayog member VK Saraswat’s predicament reflects the same mentality which invariably tends to look down upon “sex” in public life.
Speaking like a hyper troll at the annual convocation of Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology in Gandhinagar on Saturday, Saraswat had stated: “What do they (residents of J&K) watch on internet there? Besides watching dirty films (sic), they do nothing there.”
#WATCH: NITI Aayog's VK Saraswat says "...They (politicians) use social media to fuel protests. What difference does it make if there’s no internet in Kashmir? What do you watch on internet there? What e-tailing is happening? Besides watching dirty films, you do nothing. (18.01) pic.twitter.com/slz9o88oF2— ANI (@ANI) January 19, 2020
His remarks are problematic on many counts. Had he made such remarks before August 4, 2019, being a resident of J&K one would have probably dismissed it with a smile. What makes his comments outrageous is the timing and context. In the current scenario, his rather lewd remarks have only rubbed salt in the wounds of the former state that has unilaterally been downgraded into two centrally administered Union Territories after the revocation of its semi-autonomous status. Even as J&K’s three former Chief Ministers and a host of mainstream political leaders continue to be under detention, its residents have been denied several basic rights and civil liberties for over five months now.
Still, Sarswat is “a rare combination of an innovator, technologist and visionary”, reads his profile on NITI Aayog’s website. Currently, chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and a Padma Bhushan awardee, Sarswat has previously served as scientific adviser to a Defence Minister and a DRDO chief. As a top scientist, he has been credited with the development of Liquid Propulsion Rocket Engines and missiles like Prithvi, Dhanush and Prahaar.
His accomplishments notwithstanding, the selection of words and the arrogance with which he justified the internet shut down in the erstwhile state, would definitely make anyone curious about his own browsing history.
Going by the facts, Saraswat seems ill-informed. It’s not J&K that has the highest consumption of pornography in the country. If Google analytics is anything to go by, the state where porn consumption was the highest in 2018 happens to be Telangana followed by Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, and Goa.
As far as sexual crimes are concerned, J&K — according to NCRB data — doesn’t figure among even the top 20 Indian states and UTs.
In 2018, India also became the third-largest porn-viewing country in the world, according to statistics released by the world’s most popular porn website, Pornhub. Or in other words, as per Saraswat’s parameters, despite the porn ban and all the hoopla around Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s favourite campaign, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, India remained the third dirtiest country in the world. By that logic ‘Digital India’ must go offline without any further delay.
Interestingly, after the porn ban, media reports in December last year disclosed that mobile downloads of virtual private network (VPN) apps in India grew 405 per cent to 57 million in the 12 months starting October 2018, when India banned hundreds of porn websites, according to data from Apple’s App Store and Google Play analysed by London-based Top10VPN website.
Thankfully, Sunny Leone continues to be at the top of the list of Most Googled Celebrities in sex-starved India. She even surpasses PM Modi and Bollywood superstars Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan.
Caught watching a porn clip on his phone during state assembly proceedings in 2012, Karnataka BJP MLA Laxman Savadi had to resign as minister in the state government following orders from an “embarrassed” party leadership. But almost six years later, he was chosen by Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa as his deputy.
Well beyond this hypocrisy surrounding sex and sleaze, Saraswat also asked, “What e-tailing is happening there? What difference does it make if there’s no internet in Kashmir?”
From freedom of speech and expression to e-governance, e-commerce and facilitation of emergency services, a blanket ban on internet services has wreaked havoc on routine life in J&K, in a manner in which people in no democracy have experienced so far. Even the Modi government’s much-touted health programme, Ayushman Bharat, remained a casualty until January 2, when internet services were restored in some hospitals.
Not new to the controversies, Saraswat also touched upon the issue of law and order, alleging that “They (residents of J&K) use social media to fuel protests?”
He doesn’t seem to know much about the region, its people, and its politics. Given the anti-India sentiment in Kashmir Valley, even if one assumes for a while that social media could be misused for creating trouble, what explains the communications lockdown in Jammu and Ladakh, which are the governing party’s strongholds? Going by the official narrative, people in Jammu and Ladakh had “celebrated” the revocation of the state’s special status.
Despite the Supreme Court verdict, only low-speed 2G internet data services were recently restored in five districts of Jammu and two districts of Kashmir, leaving out the remaining 13 districts of J&K. While access to social media has been barred, users in these seven districts can only access “whitelisted” sites.
Notably, even low-speed 2G internet services have not been restored in BJP J&K chief, Ravinder Raina’s constituency, Nowshera-Sunder Bani.
On August 22, 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Office had called the internet blackout in J&K a “collective punishment”. The disgraceful comments of the designated “visionary” have only rooted for such “collective punishment” when at least 36 union ministers are planning to visit the troubled region for spreading the message of “peace and development” on the insistence of PM Modi.
Not long ago, several senior leaders of the ruling party were rejoicing at the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A, telling young workers in public rallies that it would enable them to marry “fair girls” of the former state. The NITI Aayog member has made an addition to the long list of such “nationalists” who will go to any extent to defend the government’s unilateral act that has resulted in the political disempowerment of the people of J&K.