Why people tune in to X-rated websites is easy to guess. But what makes a grainy video clip titled “Muslim aunty f***s her Hindu BF”, shot on a cheap cellphone, pick up more than 11 million views? Another one, this time titled “Hindu aunty f***s Muslim…”, has more than five million views. That’s “viral” by current standards. What exactly is happening here? Sex jehad? Flowing both ways? A playful subversion of politics?
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The heavy traffic around these lesser-known nooks and alleyways of the World Wide Web is obviously telling us something. The exotic other has always been an object of sexual fascination: xenophilia has been known through history, fuelled sometimes by a sense of inferiority about the self. ‘Interracial’ is an established genre of content on porn sites abroad, playing on a blend of fear and fascination. A fake National Geographic cover from May 2017 titled ‘Evolution Europe’—doing the rounds of social media and featuring a statuesque, ebony-toned Black man standing with a blonde astride his waist, both naked—reprised its most basic tropes.
Fear? Yes, the very biological fear that drives a lot of politics: of genes getting ‘corrupted’, of demographic invasions, of ‘races’ disappearing. And fascination? Yes, the ever-present image of the Black man as a sexually virile ‘type’. Reduced to his physicality, and desirable at that level for women.
India has its own versions of these underlying fears and animosities. The idea of love jehad—in the minds of those who believe it—essentially flows from the fear of the ‘handsome Muslim man’ seducing ‘our girls’. (The unstated, part-racial logic is: the latter obviously can’t help falling for the lure because the men, after all, are handsome—unlike ‘us’.) It’s no coincidence that politics around this has become so wrought at a time when popular culture is awash with images of desirable Muslim men.
The provocative labels on porn sites, then, tap into something deep and—judging from the numbers—viewers almost can’t help clicking on the links. The idea of a suitably labelled ‘inter-religious’ fetish might have been borrowed, but it will inevitably trigger a raft of responses. The background noise of social/political conflict perhaps adds to the idea of forbidden sex—Rakesh Batabyal, associate professor in media studies at Delhi’s JNU, calls it “social incest of a different kind” (the ‘incest’ here referring to the transgressive, illicit aspect rather than kinship).
Porn exists in a parallel, shadowy universe, feeding solitary auto-arousal, and the genres of this digital pantomime of sex draw from existing, real-world categories. But identity-based stereotypes, a stock-in-trade of porn, extending to a ‘Hindu-Muslim sex’ label is a startling subversion of mainstream narratives.
Why would fantasising about a Hindu man having sex with a Muslim woman, or the other way round, be such a turn-on? Batabyal links it to the thrill of violating taboos. Porn categories, he says, are often ranged along a kind of gradation based on the severity of the taboo being broken. “The taboo on incest is the first: the common ‘bhabhi’ type is based on that violation. I found those in most Indian porn videos,” he says.
In a subliminal way, the rendering of these as ‘fantasy’, while erotically charged in a make-believe way, could even reinforce the actual taboo, the professor adds. Hindu-Muslim sex is thus lodged on that slippery slope of taboo relations—the message emerging from the video titles is that “it is not acceptable, it’s incest”, Batabyal says. The fantasy works precisely because it’s unattainable—just like the pretty, manicured romance of popular cinema.
Instances of such fantasies abound—the fetishisation of white women in China, or Blacks and Latinos in a predominantly White audience. Indian pornography has tossed Hindu-Muslim sex into the same supermarket shopping basket. More than a hundred such videos are available on western sites—Xvideos and XnXX, to name just two—offering customised material for Indian viewers. Xvideos and XnXX were ranked #26 and #41 among the most popular sites in India, according to Amazon’s Alexa rankings (Twitter, job portal Naukri and Sonyliv, hosting the FIFA World Cup in India, are sandwiched between the two).
Unlike western inter-racial—where sub-groups such as white-and-ebony, black-and-Latino or Asian-and-white are easily demarcated—there’s no way to ascertain if the people featuring in the clips are from either community. The Hindu-Muslim profiling exists more as an alluring idea. “Moradabad’s Muslim boys are not racially different from its Hindu girls. Through such porn, they’re actually trying to create this profile within communities, with no material background,” Batabyal says.
“I’m not surprised (that these videos exist),” says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan. “There’s always the undertone of fetishising ‘the other’, especially in racist or ethnic movements.” In his opinion, “the obscenity of sexuality meets the obscenity of violence” in these videos, and what they are trying to accomplish is to foster hate because “violence is already a kind of pornography”. “Violence itself has become voyeuristic, for consumption,” he says.
He’s referring, of course, to the surge in visually recorded assaults, such as the hacking and burning of a migrant Muslim worker in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand last December. The lines intersect: the attacker justified his brutal action—saying he did it to save a woman from “love jehad”. Rajsamand hit millions of mobile phone screens exactly when the country was debating the case of Hadiya, a Hindu woman who converted to marry a Muslim youth, but the Kerala High Court annulled the marriage on her father’s petition in which he alleged her husband was only a stooge for ISIS to recruit her. The Supreme Court overruled the order last December, but the “love jehad” debate is one that has coloured our times conclusively.
Social scientists feel this new brand of porn promotes “hate sex”, with revenge as the motive. Since the beginning of recorded history, men have been using sex as a weapon to demean rival men, showing them as weak and inferior by “having sex” with ‘their’ women. These vanquished men are stigmatised as cuckolds, and ridiculed. Porn, which can seriously distort male perspectives on women and intimate relationships, becomes a platform to broadcast such hatred and tag an intended target as a cuckold with videos running under titles such as “Desi Hindu girl f***s her Muslim cab driver” and such like. The tacitly offered subtext is that Hindu women have to be protected, and vice versa, Batabyal says.
Says Visvanathan: “There’s a historical fear of conquest, a primordial fear about sexuality…concretised in the idea of ‘Muslim men’ raping ‘our’ women. Today propaganda combines the primordial fear of invasion with the historical fear about the ‘Mughal conquest’ to create new waves of violence—a dangerous symbolism.”
Rising social and communal insecurities are spawning this content. People will draw parallels from myth and history about “an invading army taking away your daughters and sisters and wives”, Batabyal says. According to Visvanathan, this porn has a political motivation: it’s hate-laced and there’s nothing spontaneous about it. “I remember, during the Gujarat riots a student said, ‘At last Muslim rule has been defeated’.”
But the phenomenon itself may have multiple valences. Sex, after all, is not only about men taunting other men—and compares favourably with lynching on almost all aspects as a means of social transaction. Even if it’s just badly acted fakes. At any rate, the dubious morality of porn sites benefiting from social friction is perhaps the least of the issues here.