Having paid a king’s ransom to import these accessories at a premium, including shipping charges, customers realise it only after the toys reach the Foreign Post Office, that it’s illegal to import items resembling the human anatomy. The sellers of such toys do not indicate on the websites that the sale of such products are governed by the laws of the land, and having pocketed the sum, the items remain undelivered.
This is not an isolated incident. Two years ago, responding to an RTI filed by a Mumbaikar, it was revealed that the Airport Special Courier Cell of the Mumbai Customs Department had confiscated sex toys worth Rs 8 crore between the years 2017 and 2019. More recently, in March, India’s first brick and mortar sexual wellness and accessories store, set up in the tourist hotspot of Calangute, Goa, was shut down less than a month after it was launched. The local panchayat had objected to the presence of such outlets in their neighbourhood, to which citizens had expressed their reservations.
While such stories might have invoked chuckles, the stance adopted by the government on policing the personal choices of its citizens is laughable. Take, for instance, the following laws aimed at stunting the flow of any such items in the Indian marketplace. Section 11, subsection 2 (u) of the Customs Act, 1962, prohibits the import and export of sex toys. The wording of this law is so specific, one cannot help but imagine, what are the dangers it implies. The law specifically targets “any goods or materials of specified description that would cause grave injury to the maintenance of public order and standards of decency or morality.”
Further, the IPC (Section 292) also bars the import of sex toys, literature, video films or negatives. But that is a moot point when one considers the profusion of such toys smuggled into India and discreetly sold in grey markets, both in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. Apart from this, there are many websites of Indian origin that can ship any and every product right to one’s doorsteps in innocuous packaging.
So, what prompts this culture of prudishness, in a country which revels in its stature as one of the most populous nations, as well as being the birthplace of one of the most celebrated literary treatises on sex, and pushes forth its agenda of tourism that is reliant on heritage sites that are rife with sculptures of an erotic nature? The answers are hard to come — thanks to the double standards we employ when it comes to talking about sex. It was only in 2018 that India decriminalised homosexuality when it junked Section 377 of the IPC which prohibited all sexual acts which go against the order of nature.
That we waited 157 years to repeal a law that was constituted in 1861 during the British Raj and was modelled on – and we couldn’t joke about something like this – the Buggery Act of 1533, constituted by the British parliament, says a lot about how old habits die hard. We frown upon couples indulging in PDA, and we stare them down when they attempt to book a room in a hotel. We wag our fingers at OTT platforms when scenes of an intimate nature are depicted in films, but happily ignore footage from the temples of democracy where parliamentarians are caught watching X-rated material on smartphones. And we are yet to criminalise marital rape.
India has a long way to go in matters of individual freedom as well as the adoption of progressive attitudes towards citizens. And unless well-informed adults take it upon themselves to deliberate upon topics such as sex and sexual wellness in the mainstream, we will be relegated to putting up with medieval policing.