Indians are getting more open about their craving for the risqué — from literature and movies, to costumes and sex toys. Markets are only too happy to keep up. Joanna Lobo examines how erotica entered the mainstream
When Samir Saraiya told his mother about his new business, this was her reaction: “Why can’t you do something that has some prestige associated with it?”
No wonder then that Saraiya, founder of an e-commerce site selling adult merchandise, was initially hesitant to talk about his new enterprise.
But once thatspersonal.com was born and attracted global and local media attention, Saraiya figured it was time to stop hiding. Now, he proudly talks of how “fun stuff like body paint, bikini shaving kits and role-playing costumes are selling out” and how “people keep sending in their resumes saying they want to work for him”.
RIP uptight India?
The launch of websites like thatspersonal.com, buyundercover.com and the proposed launch of imbesharam.com have one thing in common — they deal in adult merchandise and indicate that there is a demand in ‘uptight’ India for such products.
Of course there is, says Saraiya, quoting market research that shows that 5-10% of global searches for adult lotions, erotic lingerie, adult literature and games originate from India. The legal market for adult merchandise is still very small because our hypocritical attitude towards anything even remotely related to sex makes it difficult for anyone to source adult merchandise without the fear of being slapped with an ‘obscenity’ suit.
Now, armed with a bunch of lawyers who are experts in internet and obscenity laws, some entrepreneurs are addressing the demand for adult merchandise through the relative anonymity of online shopping.
It’s the demand, silly
Thatspersonal.com began in January and stocks 20-25 international and Indian brands. Most of their launch stock sold out before Valentine’s Day. “The sale volumes are indicative of an unmet demand,” says Saraiya.
You can buy ‘sexual wellness’ products like massage oils, lubricants, lotions and creams, condoms, erotic edibles, shavers, deodorants, games, gifts, literature and even men’s lingerie from thatspersonal.com. “I get feedback from customers thanking me, and even suggesting other products I should stock,” he adds.
It’s evident that there is a demand. The year-old site buyundercover.com, that sells racy lingerie, costumes and other accessories, has seen a 50% month on month growth in sales.
The online store imbesharam.com hasn’t begun operations in India yet but it’s already attracted over 1,00,000 fans on Facebook.
“Imbesharam.com is that one-stop shop for Indians to browse, shop and experiment with products and experiences they have desired for a while, but did not have a suitable outlet to look at,” says Raj Ar, one of its co-founders.
The site has a collection of over 5,000 products that have been approved by consultants familiar with cyber law, customs and import rules and laws pertaining to Indian Penal code 1860 & Customs Act, 1962.
“We only offer products that are allowed to be imported legally,” says Raj, who adds, that during their initial research, they found stores were selling substandard ‘sex toys’ illegally.
Over The years, the Indian market for adult merchandise has been largely underground. Places like Mumbai’s Fort and Delhi’s Palika Bazaar were where people in the know still pick up what they desire surreptitiously. But there isn’t much choice and the quality of products is questionable. Also, women aren’t comfortable shopping in such markets.
“Earlier you would find these products only if you travelled abroad... and how many people had access to such stuff?” says Anaida*, 35, an entrepreneur from Mumbai. She and her friends have bought and used erotic products available online in India and find them to be “quite nice”.
But she hopes the market eases up further to allow for a wider choice.
As far as adult merchandise goes, the strange thing is that there is no law that actually prohibits people from selling sex toys and racy apparel. The problem arises more from the manner in which these products are displayed, says lawyer Lekhesh N Dholakia, who specialises in internet laws.
“Anything that is obscene, or which appeals to the prurient interest of people could be perceived as being ‘obscene’, and that could attract certain provisions of the law,” says Dholakia. Since it is usually believed that sex toys and other erotic products are obscene, they carry the risk of attracting the ‘obscenity’ sections of the law.
“India is not as open a market. It has too many rules and regulations which is perhaps why the choice we consumers get is limited,” says Anaida.
Fighting for freedom
That there has always been a demand in India for risqué business can be seen in the success of the online porn cartoon Savita Bhabhi that started in 2008. It’s another story that censorship laws forced the website to shut down. “I do not think the general Indian male is a prude, but the agenda and actions taken by those in power forces him to keep his desires to himself,” says the toon’s creator, London-based Puneet Agarwal, aka Deshmukh.
Deshmukh is now out with a Savita Bhabhi movie that he plans to release online on May 4, for a price. At last count, he has had 2,00,000 ‘Bhabhians’ sign up for more information about the film. He expects at least 10,000 people to pay to view the film that will be streamed online.
If the film does well, Savita Bhabhi could well pave the way for other risque characters to find a welcoming home here. India, it appears, has grown up and is waiting. Now only if the laws would keep pace.