Meera Dharan is a 22 year old British born Asian student with a long-term boyfriend (what a shame!!!). She lives in a residential middle class area in London. Dharan is fortunate enough to have parents who will not enforce an arranged marriage upon her. She is sexually active and guilt free. Dharan is not alone in her desires, as many Asian female friends have expressed the same sexual attitudes.
My very existence as a British-born Indian woman appreciating the right to view and read pornography appears to have become a contradiction in terms. Originating from the land of the Kama Sutra provides little comfort for me, and absolutely no bearing in present day Indian society. I can imagine my parents' friends now, frowning and shaking their heads in solemn unison; " How could she bring such shame to her culture? She comes from a 'good family'. I can't understand what could make her write such filth." They will of course conclude that 'Western society' has somehow corrupted me. How strange it is for Indian society to make such condemnations, when our own art is so rich with deliberate, sensuous and voluptuous images.
'Pornography' is not a topic that enters the homes of most Indian families; however, one would be foolish not to draw inferences from deliberate silences. Sex is a taboo topic of conversation for the unmarried, especially so for Indian women. Throughout my teens I had equated porn with unnecessary sexual excess. I assumed the women were short of money, forced into a degrading and humiliating profession. Those who produced porn, to me, were capitalizing on the declining morality of society. Perhaps the worst judgements I held were for those who bought porn- labeled them as 'perverts' who were unable to cope with relationships of any kind. I had at this point not come into contact with any pornographic material. I know now that my views were based wholly upon a combination of my middle class and cultural background which together deemed porn as immoral - no questions asked.
University softened my harsh opinions. I was certain that porn could never appeal to me but understood why men might feel the need to relieve themselves; however distasteful the means, I concluded, porn was a necessary evil. Perhaps the turning point in my opinion was achieved while I was undertaking a project on pornography at university. I decided that to be objective I would need to see the 'unseeable'. I asked my boyfriend to purchase some so that I could make an informed decision on where I stood on censorship and porn. I was ready to feel shocked and vulnerable at the sight of women catering to men's pleasure. As I turned the pages of Whitehouse, Playboy, and High Society I was amazed at how little female submissiveness there was. If anything, I saw powerful women who were sexually aware, confident dent and in control - it was the rest of the media that portrayed women as the submissive sex, unable to cope without the 'capable man'. How could I have been so wrong? Ms. Catherine Itzin, you lied to me when you said that the pro-pornographers had a "callous disregard for the absence of women".7 I saw no abuse as I sifted through pages of porn, all I saw was sexual interplay.
People have sex all the time, why does sex have to be so sacred all the time? Sometimes, some women would like to 'fuck' rather than 'make love'. My culture has placed enough guilt on me without the double burden of radical feminists telling me that I should be feeling disempowered by porn, when clearly I am not. Disempowerment to me means being turned down for a job for the colour of my skin, being told that I am incapable because "I am only a woman". A woman having sex on film or on camera, being paid over three times as much as her male counterparts, looking sensual throughout, sounds more like empowerment than being rendered helpless. Why are we as women always expected to be the victims of male lust? The women I saw in the pornographic magazines seemed to have control of their sexuality and be in full control of their bodies.
My culture has little tolerance for those who do not conform to the submissive stereotypical female. Secret desires must remain so. I am silenced through fear of being ostracized and embarrassing my parents, who will be blamed for not exercising control over my thoughts and actions. How could I tell Indian society that I find the reading and viewing of sexually explicit material sexually exciting and it can help heighten pleasure in sexual interplay? As far as Asian circles are concerned I am still the submissive Indian virgin - at 22 years old, are they kidding?! The thought of an Indian woman enjoying pornography and sexual relations will prove too much, instantly making me the devil incarnate who will of course be the dangerous woman who mothers will want to hide their daughters and sons from, in fear that I will somehow corrupt them. No longer the dutiful and compliant daughter-in-law to be, but the woman with a mind of her own.
My'virtue', 'honour' and 'moral fibre' will be placed under careful scrutiny. As old fashioned as these semantics appear, they are an accurate measure of Indian attitudes towards outward signs of sexuality. My interest in pornography extending beyond academic interest will be seen as an unnatural obsession. I feel condemned to hide my interest until I have reached the sanctity of independence, as it would provide me with the confidence and conviction to defend myself. Without independence I am forced into secrecy, my sexual soul is entombed by a restrictive and oppressive state. This schizophrenic existence of the 'good little Indian girl' on the one hand, and the liberated, morally confident woman on he other has been tearing me apart. This state of diaspora has caused me much pain and confusion, yet I have come to confront my lust and desires.
With all the virtues of Indian society, they may be unable to reconcile my opinions and ideas with that of their own. I have always been confused as to the correct Asian attitude towards porn. I still remember visiting Asian owned newsagents to find the top two shelves full of pornographic material. The greater irony is that if I were to purchase porn from an Indian newsagent that I would receive strong disapproving looks with with mutterings of immorality under his breath. Yet if they believe it is immoral, who is it that commits the greater crime: the person who purchases such 'evil' or the person who supplies and receives money from the sale of that Evil'?
I am more than a prospective wife and child-bearer; my sexuality cannot be denied. Being the untouched sensuous virgin simply is not me. I enjoy watching porn, although if the truth be known, I wish there were better produced porn films and magazines. If it is not the Obscenity laws restricting porn, it is the lack of finance. Like my dislike of cheap films and cheap wine, I do not like cheap porn—although there is sometimes the occasional gem—but in the main I like good direction, production, lighting, acting, and plot from a porn film—I can ask for nothing more.
Why can no one recall the Gupta period in Indian history where sexuality was prevalent in art, until the thirteenth century when Islam became a powerful force in India? The banning of sexual representations of the human form in India ceased the production of sexual images dating from before the third millennium BC. Indian gods and goddesses are overtly sexual —especially Kali (goddess of destruction). Why are Indian people pretending the beautiful sexual images are not there, condemning those who then use it to explore their own sexuality; what went wrong?
My true sexual inclinations must be hidden. I have to fight the guilt placed so beautifully by Asian attitudes that always seem to bring 'the family honour' into every confrontational aspect of life. Because of my culture and a need for total honesty I have adopted a pseudonym. I feel very disheartened by my need to hide behind this veil of anonymity, but to survive in an Asian society a guise of purity is essential, as I am not prepared to find out the extent of Indian wrath.