It was a private act of two hormone-charged teenagers that lasted 2 minutes and 37 seconds on digital video. But offered for sale on the Internet, the fuzzy images of the 17-year-old...
NEW DELHI — It was a private act of two hormone-charged teenagers that lasted 2 minutes and 37 seconds on digital video.
But offered for sale on the Internet, the fuzzy images of the 17-year-old girl having oral sex with her high-school sweetheart have sent shock waves through urban India, exposing the growing friction between the conservative middle class, its increasingly Westernized progeny and modern technology.
“It came to me as a surprise that kids are having sex so soon,” Barkha Dutt, who hosts an Indian television talk show on social issues, said in an interview. “Even we are not aware of how much things have changed.”
India may be the birthplace of Kama Sutra, the sixth-century sex manual, but sex today is a generally taboo subject. Premarital sex is not widely condoned, and public displays of affection draw frowns.
Arrested last week under an ambiguous Indian law on cyber porn, Bajaj was freed after posting bail, but his U.S. passport remained confiscated.
Bajaj’s arrest triggered a diplomatic spat between the United States and India and a threat by eBay executives to reconsider doing business in a country that would toss one of their top managers in jail as a scapegoat.
“This incident has certainly given us pause and raises concerns about the safeguards that are in place for businesses operating in India,” said Henry Gomez, an eBay vice president in the United States.
“This situation is one of concern at highest levels of the U.S. government,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington.
Bajaj set up Baazee.com in 2000 and sold it to San Jose, Calif.-based eBay, the Internet’s leading auction company, for about $50 million in June. The Harvard-educated executive has since headed the Bombay-based subsidiary.
The sex clip was recorded weeks ago and passed on by the bragging schoolboy to three of his friends and eventually made its way to video-disc sellers in New Delhi. It did not draw much attention until an engineering student at a prestigious Indian college listed it for sale on Baazee.com.
Now the girl’s parents have sent her off to Canada. The 17-year-old boy, the son of an affluent businessman, is in a juvenile detention center. He went to Nepal to escape the media glare and was arrested at the airport when he returned to the capital on Sunday. A judge yesterday ordered him held until Jan. 4 for questioning to try to determine how the video clip reached the man who tried to sell it.
The controversy over the clip — it’s the talk of urban India, an obsession of newspapers and talk shows — is typical of a society in transition, said Dr. Ranjana Kumari, the director of the think tank Center for Social Research.
India’s recent economic boom has created unimaginable wealth among the tech-savvy urban population, who live in a globalized world dominated by the Internet, international brands and Western lifestyle with its relatively liberal sexual values.
Kumari says urban India is being pulled apart by these new values and its own centuries-old social conservatism.
“It is this transition which is resulting in a lot of confusion,” Kumari said.
Observers such as Kumari think a variety of people share the blame for grossly amplifying this sex scandal — including the authorities who arrested Bajaj and the boy, who remains unidentified because of his age; the teenagers’ parents, who weren’t aware of their children’s activities; and teachers, for sidestepping sex education in schools.
Many are outraged by the arrest of the schoolboy, who along with the girl attended one of the capital’s best-known private schools, The Delhi Public School.
“What are we trying to say here?” talk-show host Dutt asked. “What do we believe is wrong? Was it that he had sex? Was it that he sent out the clip? Which part is the disturbing part?”
Of greater concern to many in the business community is Bajaj’s arrest under the Information Technology Act of 2000. The law makes a criminal offense of “publishing, transmitting, or causing to publish any information in electronic form, which is obscene.” But it also says an Internet provider or Web-site manager can’t be held responsible if he acted diligently to remedy an electronic offense after learning of it.
Baazee.com maintains it yanked the sex-video listing as soon as customer-service managers noticed it, and Bajaj had traveled to New Delhi to cooperate with authorities.
Pawan Duggal, a cyberlaw expert, said 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 e-commerce opportunities.
“Ultimately we have to see bigger picture. We want to increase Internet penetration. All this will only happen if you allow service providers the freedom,” he said. “The law needs to be more industry friendly and more pragmatic.”
Associated Press technology writer Rachel Konrad contributed to this report from San Jose, Calif.