India Obscenity Arrest Sparks Global Uproar

Rhett Pardon
LOS ANGELES — With more American companies increasingly turning to India for e-commerce opportunities, the arrest of an eBay unit’s executive over a porn video for sale on his company’s website has caused an international stir.

Caught in the middle of the sex scandal is Avnish Bajaj, the Indian-born American executive who heads Baazee.com, where the clip was put up for sale.

But of greater concern to many in the online adult and mainstream business community is Bajaj’s arrest under the ambiguous Information Technology Act of 2000, which makes it a criminal offense to “publish, transmit, or cause to publish any information in electronic form, which is obscene.”

Bajaj was arrested last week and freed after posting bail Tuesday. While granting bail, the New Delhi High Court told Bajaj he couldn’t leave India without permission. If convicted, Bajaj could be jailed for up to five years; be fined 100,000 rupees, or about $2,300; or both.

The arrest stems from a listing on Baazee of a video depicting oral sex between a teenage boy and girl at one of India’s top schools —The Delhi Public School — that was captured on cellphone and later burned onto CDs.

Lasting 2 minutes and 37 seconds, the video clip has since traveled all over the country and overseas through the Internet. It didn’t draw much attention until an engineering student at a prestigious Indian college listed it for sale on Baazee, which has 1 million registered users.

Now the 17-year-old girl who performed in front of the camera has been sent to Canada by her parents, and the boy, 17, is now in a juvenile detention center until Jan. 4, when he’s expected to end questioning by India authorities.

Though public transmission and sale of pornography in India is a crime, possession and viewing is not. Pornographic videos are available in most Indian cities, where there is a flourishing underground trade.

Pawan Duggal, a cyber law expert, told the Times of India that Bajaj’s arrest has serious implications, especially when Internet usage in the country is rapidly growing and foreign investors are increasingly looking to India for business opportunities.

“Ultimately we have to see a bigger picture,” Duggal said. “We want to increase Internet penetration.”

Kiran Karnik, president of India’s National Association of Software and Service Companies, agreed — somewhat.

“There should be no inhibition of e-commerce,” Karnik said. “But companies must respect the laws of the land respecting pornography.”

Duggal, however, said changes need to be made to the obscenity laws to plug some loopholes that drag Internet companies into legal problems.

“I believe the government is in the process of plugging them,” he said. “The law needs to be more industry friendly and more pragmatic.”