Due to my involvement with construction industry, I end up meeting a lot of migrant labour coming from rural India, and if there is one transformation that is most noticeable in last five years, it is the increased use of mobile internet in this group that is straddled between rural and urban India.
Though it is annoying to see a daily-wager staring at the mobile screen instead of working, I have now started realising that this is deeper than just loss of productivity. It is a multidimensional social transformation that may impact lives of millions of rural women drastically.
If you visit any construction site, you will notice that smartphones are extremely common and their ownership pattern is very clear. It is the men who monopolize the access to the wonderful and highly educating World Wide Web. The other absolutely clear feature is, all the content that they access is in video format and will have a woman appear on the screen once every ten seconds.
It is easy to deduce that internet use is a male prerogative and their preferred content is video-women, but it is surely not a trivia that we can ignore, because it could be a tool that is shaping an unpleasant future for crores of real Indian women living in villages across India.
While pornography is obviously proliferating across rural India via this migrant populations, I am not brave enough to face the wrath of the freedom-of-choice sympathisers who will vociferously rise to educate me that it is completely harmless and it is only my medieval mind-set if I link it with sexual crimes. So, instead of discussing pornography, I rather skirt it and focus on the other comparatively innocuous looking theme riding the great internet revolution spreading across India due to internet access getting cheaper and cheaper.
One of the most interesting numbers to look at is the YouTube viewership statistics for non-adult content. If I type in “sexy dance” on YouTube, what will most likely appear will be some Bhojpuri video of a show staged in rural India that is seen by lakhs, but if I type in “sexy dans” it will get even better, as videos that appear now have viewer numbers reaching millions.
Looking at the quality of content, it is clear that pornhub watching urban youth is not a typical viewer here. This content is solely catering to rural population. If you dig deeper, it soon becomes obvious that there is a massive market out there for such videos, and it is produced using local talents.
My rough guess is that, thanks to cheap internet, a migrant labour working in a city today is living on a sensory diet of nearly two to three hours of video content depicting women that look like real women has he seen but are behaving in a manner he has never experienced.
As men born in conservative rural India are now growing up on a diet of video-women displaying radically open sexuality, it is impossible that it will not impact their relationship with real women in their lives.
While the most common mistake we all make is to club urban and rural population under one umbrella, the bitter reality is that life of a not-too-educated rural woman revolves around her marriage.
We like it or not, but crores of women living in rural India have no other format of life to explore, and all our migrant labour heroes gobbling up video-women content over internet are actually married or will marry women of this profile.
So the fate of these marriages and in turn these women hang on how successfully these real women can compete with the video-women.
It is easy to see that it is an unequal struggle. Real rural women are bound to fail to match up with video-women. And if it happens, its aftermath will be completely different than what we city-dwellers imagine.
Impact of marital dissatisfaction depends on the financial and social situation of a woman.
For a rich globe trotting woman it may be a shift to drinking whisky from wine, for a middle-class urban woman it could lead to sessions to learn salsa or calling friends to eat paani-puri at home, but for a rural woman it is a life-destroying disaster.
However unjust and objectionable we may find, for a rural woman, her marriage is her only lifeline. Impact of martial dissatisfaction caused by arrival of video-women in her life would alter her life completely. If internet will lead to destroying man-woman relationship by changing what men want from the women, it will be a nightmare for rural women.
What we have failed to realise is that it is the urban humanity that is deciding what is right or wrong for the planet. Critical decisions that will impact entire humanity are being taken by few of us living in cocoon of urbanity. We are not realising that we are incapable of extrapolating what our decisions can do to people living in a different context.
Rural Indian society is not built to accept such a rapid introduction of alien ideas. Video content riding on cheap internet needs to be taken seriously here because it has power to rip through the social fabric of rural India.
A bricklayer who has stopped working to enjoy waist gyration of lady doing “dans” is not just wasting productive time, he is also altering his reality and entering an illusion that his wife can never be a part of. It is changing what he wants from a woman, while his woman living in a distant village has no idea that this is happening.
Cheap internet is a real recipe for a social disaster. Even if it has power to educate and inform, all its advantages are dwarfed against its power to impact human societies that are not prepared for the sexual and in turn social disruption it is bringing.
The world needs to rethink about how internet access is governed, because a large part of humanity is not ready.
As there is no qualitative control over content, it is obvious that content that provides gratification to primordial brain circuits will be most sought. And, left to market forces, we are bound to see an exponential growth in stuff like pornography and sex-linked entertainment on a unregulated internet. It is a reality that needs to be accepted.
So, to all those who feel that freedom of choice is the true essence of human life, I have a request to make.
You may be ready, but the whole world is not as exalted as you. A free and choice-driven democratic model of internet is a great idea for you, but not for many others.
Sex and human relationships are deeply interwoven threads that hold the social fabric together, and entire human society has not evolved as much as you to handle the kind of freedom that we are living with today.
Especially in India, it is a freedom that will cause pain to millions of rural women, and hence it is not justified.
While I have skirted pornography out of my pathological fear of freedom-brigade, reality is, lives of urban women are impacted just as adversely by it.
Internet is a sex highway that is altering man-woman relationship across the globe, but I pray and hope that urban women are more capable of dealing with this inescapable development, as cities do offer various ways of life.
It is the rural women that really need help as they have no choice. It is an serious issue that needs attention as happiness of millions of women is at stake.