Raj Kundra’s arrest in porn case puts spotlight on police-politician-underworld nexus behind industry

Watching pornography on personal devices is legal under a July, 2015 SC verdict, but its sale or transmission is illegal. This is where police, politicians and underworld dons come in the picture

Bangladesh's 'anti-porn war'
Bangladesh's 'anti-porn war'
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Nantoo Banerjee

Like it or not, the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to porn film industry in India, reaching practically every household using 4G cellphones and computers, desk or laptop. Watching pornography on personal devices is legal in India under a Supreme Court verdict given in July, 2015. The Supreme Court also orally remarked that it cannot stop an adult from exercising his fundamental right to personal liberty to watch porn within the privacy of his room.

Going by the legal definition of pornography, it is a material that depicts erotic behaviour and is intended to arouse sexual excitement. It could be a print, drawing and painting, or a film.

However, the government later clarified that only child pornography is banned. Fair enough. But viewing pornography is possible only when a porn film is available on one’s private devices. This requires filmmaking and sale or transmission. Therein lies the catch. The sale or transmission of pornography is illegal in India. This is where the police, enforcement agencies, politicians and underworld dons come in the picture.

In recent years, the consumer electronics industry has been witnessing a big boom, led by sales of cellphones. According to the telecom regulator, TRAI, India had 1.012 billion active mobile connections as of January 2018. This has boosted consumerism across the country. The entertainment business witnessed an explosion. And the pornography trade silently emerged as a big by-product. A producer’s investment in a fast moving, short duration porn film could be as low as Rs. 4 to 5 lakh.

The police ‘protection’ helps. Prices of cassettes and CDs, used earlier, could be as low as Rs. 25-30 each. Bigger budget porn films use hotels and resorts for shooting. These films have large domestic as well as overseas markets. A substantial part of the business is in cash. An NRI connection helps retention of export income abroad. The transfer of illegal earnings from India to any other part of the world is not normally considered as a crime in the recipient country. Only, a nagging police-politician-porn trade conflict over ‘kickbacks’ could prove to be costly for any illegal porn producer-distributor.

The latest case involving Bollywood film star Shilpa Shetty’s UK-based NRI husband Raj Kundra may have something to do with a possible police-porn producer discord, leading to the arrest of Kundra and Ryan Thorpe, an alleged co-conspirator. Public prosecutor Aruna Pai, representing the police, recently told the Bombay High Court that the two were arrested as they had “started deleting WhatsApp group and chats” to “destroy evidence.”

The duo are accused of “serious offences of porn streaming content.” The police said they “seized materials from phone and storage device”. Altogether, “51 pornographic films were seized”, it claimed. The public prosecutor said there was an email message from Kundra on his ‘Hotshot’ app with one Pardeep Bakshi, said to be his brother-in-law, “who owns a company in London…”

The case is certainly interesting. It is possible that Kundra may have had a long association with this business. In that case, one wonders why did the police take this long to catch the alleged offender. The allegations against Kundra involve the formation of a company to develop ‘Hotshots’, a mobile application purportedly used to publish porn, that helped Kundra manage and maintain it, supervise its functioning and monetary dealings through WhatsApp groups.

Kundra had allegedly set up another company to protect ‘Hotshots’ videos from piracy, and organise suspiciously large global bank transfers. Maybe, the Enforcement Directorate and Revenue Intelligence wings should have also been involved in the investigation as the business is allegedly linked with multiple bank transfers and foreign exchange dealings.

Thanks to habitual disregard for law by a large section of fast-buck makers and ‘hafta-hungry’ law enforcers, the existing laws against watching, publishing and sharing pornography have failed to achieve their purpose. The laws and their various sections are, of course, subject to interpretation. The freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right under the Constitution. Any restriction on free speech and expression should strictly conform to any of the eight grounds, which include ‘morality and decency,’ contained in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Asserting that porn websites violate “morality and decency”, the government had issued an order requiring internet service providers to ban pornographic websites.


The order was issued against the backdrop of a petition filed by an Indore-based lawyer calling for a ban on pornographic websites. Interestingly, a few days later, it was officially clarified that the ban was only temporary, and was aimed specifically at child pornography.

Raj Kundra may be just one of several hundreds of big and medium-sized producers and distributors of porn films across India. The Kundra case could just be the tip of the iceberg. One wonders why so very few get nabbed by the enforcement agencies and prosecuted by the judiciary for porn trade. Few will disagree that if convicted, Kundra and his associates should get exemplary punishment.

India’s porn market is roughly estimated at Rs. 3,500 crore. It is created by players who remain in the shadows. The shadowy business, encouraged to an extent by OTT binge-watch boom, may be bankrolling the police, politicians and underworld dons. Also, India’s law enforcers may be ‘deliberately’ ignoring ‘desi porn’.

Incidentally, numerous OTT apps have mushroomed mimicking the web-series explosion on platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime targeting millions of entertainment starved Indians.

The pandemic came as a big push to the industry as people were forced to stay at home under lockdown conditions. To a substantial extent, Bollywood producers took the plunge to test waters in erotica as one could push the envelope in an unregulated, uncensored market.

Left uncontrolled, the porn market may expand many-fold as India’s video market is expected to touch $12.5 billion by 2030 from about $1.5 billion in 2021 on the back of access to better networks, digital connectivity and smartphones, says a report by RBSA Advisors. It also promises to open a Pandora’s box for the country’s illegal porn trade, corruptible police, dishonest politicians and underworld dons, irrespective of the nature and content of judicial verdict in the Raj Kundra case.

(IPA Service)

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