The Indian government has told internet service providers and telecom operators in the country to block 857 pornographic websites, dpa reports.

A sign for an internet cafe is seen on a street in New Delhi
A sign for an internet cafe on a street in New Delhi. The Indian government says the curb on 857 pornographic sites is only a temporary measure

It is also  planning to set up an ombudsman to monitor pornography and other negative and harmful content on the internet.

Adult internet users called the curb on porn sites an attack on their individual freedom while Opposition parties liked it to the oppressive ways of Taliban, Afghanistan’s terror group.

Communications and information technology ministry dismissed reports of crackdown adding this was only a “temporary measure”.

“We are not a control-freak government and strongly object to the word Talibanisation,” communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said. “On the contrary, we are pushing for higher levels of internet use through Digital India.”

“The directive came after the Supreme Court last month expressed concern over the Home Ministry’s failure to block websites featuring child pornography,” an official who requested anonymity said.

“The idea is to honour court observations and protect the cultural fabric of the society,” he said, insisting it was not a ban since several such websites are available, and also through VPN (virtual private networks) and proxy servers.

 “This is an interim measure as the government contemplates building up a regulatory framework, which could include various measures, including mass awareness,” he added.

Telecom executives told local media it would take a few days to block all the websites.

Some users attacked the “conservative” and “prudish” move by the Hindu nationalist government, saying it ran counter to the Supreme Court’s position protecting the right of adults to access the internet.

The original petition, which led to the Supreme Court response last month, argued that crimes against women and children were influenced by the proliferation of porn sites, which is estimated to number about 40 million.

Watching porn is legal in India, although distribution and sale of pornographic material is illegal.

Hindustan Times daily cited data from Pornhub, one of the world’s largest porn content providers, saying Indians were among the most “prolific consumers” of internet porn, accounting for 40 percent of its 14.2 billion visits.

Indian filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma said that given that level of popularity, any government that puts a ban would lose the next election.

“To ban porn, saying it will be seen by who shouldn’t see it, is like saying to stop traffic because there will be accidents,” he tweeted.

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