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Why Does ‘Beef’ Become **** And ‘Shit’ Become ‘Jerk’ On Indian Television?

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By Ashni Dhaor:

For almost a year now, television shows across networks have been periodically running a strip that urges viewers to voice their complaints regarding the content, if any. Although the shows are highly censored before-hand, particularly the American television shows, the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) invites complaints and expects ire from the Indian viewers too.

Censorship in India involves the suppression or other public communication, raising issues of freedom of speech, which is nominally protected by the Indian Government. Here, I would like to put light on the issue of censorship of the American television shows being broadcast in India. Television channels like Zee Café, Star World, FX, to name a few, have been broadcasting some of America’s edgiest shows, but without the edge.

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‘Beef’ censored in the Indian telecast of American show Friends

How would you like the shows ‘Mad Men’ or ‘Californication’, produced on the theme of drugs, sex and debauchery, without any of it? Well, the idea seems appalling. It’s just as perplexing for the audience to watch David Duchovny’s “Californication” lead Hank Moody, to disappear into a bedroom with a beautiful woman and then suddenly appearing in a disjointed scene from later in the episode. The latest addition to the list is ‘Homeland’, which is based on the theme of Iraq-America war, wherein, the obvious violence is censored which is the basic taste of the show. More absurd is that words like ‘sex’, ‘gay’, ‘beef’ or even so, ‘mosque’ are censored. While some channels completely bleep out the word and put asterisk (*) in the subtitle, others replace the word with its softer synonym in the subtitle. Hence, few of the many instances can be that ‘sex’ becomes ‘intercourse’; ‘gay’ becomes ‘queer’. In the process, the sense is totally lost. For comedy shows like ‘Two and a Half Men’ or ‘Friends’, the word bleeped out is many a times the punch line for the episode and the Indian audience is baffled on why the laughing track is being played in the background. For example, in an episode of comedy hit sitcom, ‘Friends’, the character Rachel mistakenly makes pastries out of beef and the events turn out hilarious, but the Indian audience wouldn’t know because the word ‘beef’ was bleeped out.

Examples like these are innumerable, which makes the younger audience turn to the internet for online episodes which they are able to enjoy and more importantly, understand since there are no bleeps. People who watch the American shows on Indian television find this blatant blanket censorship counter-productive in shows and films, and news channels outright mind-numbing, offensive and insulting these days.

This baseless censorship has made India a ‘nanny state’, where media content is approved for public viewing beforehand. People have raised concerns about what this regime of censorship means for the freedom of expression. While the young and hip audiences that attract advertising dollars want foreign imports, no broadcaster wants to upset conservative viewers or attract government ire. Broadcasting these shows, while editing them into confusion, underscores the fine line entertainment companies like the NewsCorp-owned Star and FX are trying to walk to attract urban youth while not angering their more traditional parents. Hence they resolve to self censorship concluding to taking away the feel from the shows. It is understood that violence, nudity, obscenity and sexual content needs to be censored, but taking away the theme of the shows by doing so only results in a poor viewing experience.

Debates over censorship of television content have been on for years now. While the government justifies these on the basis of ‘cultural sensitivity’, their repeated attempts to advocate conservatism not only shows how deeply insecure our culture has become of taboo subjects, but how uncomfortable we get in our own skins when confronted with love and sex. Nevertheless, young Indians who have embraced Levis, McDonalds and MTV are hungry for Western television. Consequently, people get really curious, and want to get to the real stuff, and then they hit the download button on illegal torrent websites to watch shows.

For television programs, the viewer who holds the remote is the censor. It is up to them whether they want to see the program or not. It’s like assuming that parents are not responsible enough to put curbs on their children. An average Indian household manages to bring up their children by exercising some sort of personal censorship, despite all of it. In India, where every citizen has the right to freedom of expression, nothing can be completely banned.

As India positions itself as a global leader in the 21st century, one of its greatest strengths is its loud, boisterous and often frenzied democracy. The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental pillar of our democracy, and efforts at curbing this right through arbitrary laws and rules will only serve to turn back the clock on the country’s social and economic progress. Mahatma Gandhi once advised a newly independent India to pursue a path of spiritual and inner purity embodied in the principles: “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.” Surely a state that censors and curbs the free flow of expression isn’t what he had in mind.

RECOMMENDED READ: Censoring Cleavages: 5 Things That Are Horribly Wrong With The Decision Of The Censor Board

You must be to comment.
  1. Sonal Agarwal

    Totally agree! It is incomprehensible how something that is meant for humour is considered derogatory by our Censor Board and banned on account of hampering our so-called culture. Well, haven’t someone ever wondered how these daily soaps crowding on Indian TV channels degrade ‘family values’ on a day-to-day basis with the saas-bahu rivalry, nanad as the vamp, children born out of infedility… It is hilarious how such programmes have managed to become the face of the nation, the majority of whose population is youth and prefers Modern Family over Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki. No wonder these shows have been entertaining us for decades, but have you ever wondered how your mother will feel if the TV is on mute and she could see the vamp plotting, but can’t hear her. Well well, hello BCCC… that is exactly how we feel when you feed us the adulterated stuff, which makes no sense…

  2. Mehul Gala

    Agree censor-board is too harsh these days or rather it has been since its inception but considering the social scenario of the country, wouldn’t it be justifiable? Humor is perceptive and cannot be generalized as everyone have a different taste of it. Humor that affects someone’s religious sentiments can invariably ignite violence and as a precautionary measure to avoid such dreadful situations these steps are taken. It is better to prepare and prevent than to repair and repent.

  3. Suroraj Sen

    So what can we do about it? Most people in urban areas have paid satellite tv access. We pay good money to subscribe to HD English entertainment channels so it’s our right to expect unadulterated content. Do we sign a petition? Take to the streets with placards? What do we have to do to safeguard our freedom of expression?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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