Shafiq R Khan


So what do you do about smooching in cartoons?

A blanket ban imposed on adult content on television, following a PIL filed by some ignorant parents, shows neither the government nor the citizens have a fair understanding of the Indian culture..

THERE IS SOMETHING unbelievably wacky about the ban on the so-called obscenity in TV programmes. If such mindless moral policing is allowed to go uncontested, perhaps days are not far when flirting in Archie’s comics, smooching in Tom and Jerry, the comical attitude of Johnny Bravo and even Ramayana and Mahabharata will be the target of the ill-informed, hairbrained lot whose will has prevailed in this case.

The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was the outcome of the concerns of a mother, who is also a political science teacher in Mumbai. She was apparently upset over the violence and obscenity shown on TV channels. Before going ahead with the PIL, the idea of controlling her children or getting the cable connection disconnected from her home did not strike her as an easier and a better option. Probably, she did not want to sacrifice her daily pick of soaps on TV. Whatever, she chose the PIL route and filed a petition against obscene programmes on TV channels in the Mumbai High Court, seeking a ban on all programmes that were unfit for viewing by children. The judiciary came to the rescue of the upset citizen and granted her wishes by imposing a nationwide ban on such programmes.

The court ruled that only programmes with U or U/A certification would be allowed for unrestricted public viewing. It has now become mandatory for all TV channels to get these certificates, which are given by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), to broadcast a programme. Ostensibly, all adult content has to go off the air so as to provide a “clean environment” for the growing kids of the country.

But in this context, did the court mean adult serials or movies on TV? I don’t know of a single channel in India that airs adult programme. But that again depends on the definition of what is adult? The recent judgment of the Mumbai High Court echoes the Cinematograph Act, 1952, which says, “Unrestricted public viewing is allowed only for films and film-related content which has been given a U-certificate by the Central Board of Film Certification.” So, is the definition of “adult” based on the societal norms of 1952? Are we trying to take an about turn in the development of our society that we have so painfully achieved in the 59 years of independence?

A logical process of deduction may help us reach a more apt definition of adult content. It might refer to women wearing “insufficient” clothes, scenes of intimacy or violence. Despite being an adult, I like my pick of Hollywood movies. I also enjoy cartoons, travel shows and educative programmes. I hope mothers who think they are now relieved will be able to paraphrase the smooching scenes in Tom & Jerry or the attitude of Johnny Bravo towards girls. Will the government ban them too or pardon them because they are animated? Lonely Planet in Discovery and Globe Trekker in Travel & Living, my favourites, stand no chance due to obvious reasons (alas!).

If you think that the purpose of this article is to prove that the blanket ban is wrong, then you are right. But I will not harp on the ways to make separate arrangements for viewing by adults and children. They are all too well known. Why is the Mumbai High Court ignorant? The underlying argument is radically different.

Why are we as a nation shy of things that have been a part of our culture for thousands of years? Raas Leela is a legend related to the gods. Khajuraho temples were built when Aztecs and Mayans lived in the US and invasion by American culture was a non-issue. Polygamy, bigamy, polyandry were practices that developed from our culture and then spread to other regions and religions. Panchali was married to five men, all brothers! Somebody please file a PIL to remove this chapter from Mahabharata — this is so offensive to our pious culture! What was the purpose of Agnipariksha when Lord Rama got back Sita?

Does anybody want examples from the present? We have crossed the 1-billion mark in population, and will soon beat China. We grew by a whopping 21 per cent during 1991-2001. This feat we apparently achieved by not indulging in adult behaviour. No, these questions and facts are not unrelated to the matter at hand! These are glaring examples of hypocrisy that we indulge in.

What is morality and who decides that? The judiciary has actually a lot of things to do of its own. Thousands of court cases are pending in various courts across the country with hundreds of innocents waiting to be acquitted and criminals to be punished, the Judiciary can safely leave social evolution to which it belongs, the society, us.

This is not all. What steps has the government taken to introduce sex education in schools and colleges? Don’t we seriously need to educate our coming generations on such issues?
AIDS has become an additional evil in our already bagful of problems. Our society’s structure is also fast changing. Joint families are disintegrating into nuclear ones. Parents now are opting for smaller families (thankfully!).

Children born today don’t have siblings to learn from (even I did not), if one considers it a good option and parents still don’t talk about these issues. The government is non-committal. So, how do they learn? Like we did. From TV. Most of our worldview is based on information that we have gathered from various media, consciously or not, from our very childhood. This becomes all the more important for us on subjects we never got any parental input or guidance.

It can be safely assumed that such methods to curb individual freedom and bind the society will prove detrimental in the long run. And, the burden is on us as members of the society to do something about it.
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