Why Challenging The Recent Spate Of Bans Is Important

Posted on March 10, 2015 in Society

By: Sushmita Sihwag:

After Leslee Udwin’s documentary, which according to our Minister of Urban Development, Mr. M Venkaiah Naidu, was “an international conspiracy to defame India”, it was the erotic thriller, Fifty Shades of Grey’s turn to be banned in the country.

50 shades

Even after cutting out all the sexually explicit scenes and nudity from the film, its release has been blocked. The ban is believed to be because of some of the dialogues in the film.

From the AIB roast to Fifty Shades of Grey, India seems to be moving back in time, as far as access to explicit content is concerned. What I fail to understand is – what is it that our highly-moralistic government and the ever considerate censor board are trying to protect us from? Is it the fear that the audience will lose its moral decency and go around the streets indulging in rampant licentiousness? Or do they think of us as not mature enough to handle the explicit BDSM content?

Good to know that we have someone keeping a “check” on us and ensuring that our cultural values are upheld, and the societal decorum is maintained.

The Censor Board has, of late, been in the news after the board’s chairman, Leela Samson, quit in January, accusing the new government of interference in the working of the Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC). The board also came into limelight when it issued a list of banned cuss words for Bollywood films. According to Reuters, Shravan Kumar, the chief executive of India’s Central Board of Film Certification, did not give a reason for the film’s ban; however, he did say that Universal Pictures, the Comcast Corp unit that released the film, could appeal the decision.

Maybe, not all is bad about living in a country governed by a Hindu dominated, right-wing party, where the bigger concern is muting out the word lesbian in a Bollywood movie, than putting an end to forced religious conversions. After all, what more could the citizens of the country want than high-rise buildings and super-fast bullet trains?

Coming to the Indian culture, which these people propagate over-enthusiastically. There is a need for them to be reminded that it was this culture that gave the world the ancient sex compendium the Kama Sutra.

Taking a jibe at the current situation, Mumbai-based comedian Ashish Shakya tweeted:

What these recent incidents of bans have brought to light is the lack of respect being given to the freedom of expression, which is guaranteed to every citizen of this country. The question that I have for these guardians of morality is – how is banning explicit content going to help in restoring and maintaining morality in the society? Will it help lower the rate of crimes against women?

Answer is – it won’t. It will neither change the misogynistic ideology inherent in our society, nor turn the depraved lechers like Mukesh Singh into chivalrous women-worshipers.

Another important thing that they forget is that India’s netizens are one of the most active ones in the world of the web, and they will always manage to find a way to access the content that is not available to them otherwise, as was the case with India’s Daughter, which was viewed by a lot of people on YouTube despite the ban. According to a report by Variety, only two days following its release, Fifty Shades of Grey’s pirated version was downloaded more than 453,109 times around the world, and India was one of the countries to top the list with around 19,298 downloads. These statistics only serve to prove how ineffective these bans are in preventing the content from reaching the screens of millions of Indian web users.

However, the Modi government has started realizing the potential of the internet and plans to curb it in India. In a report submitted by Additional Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, before a bench of justices, J Chelameswar, and Rohinton Fali Nariman, he mentioned how on the internet, there is an individual approach and there are no checks and balances or licenses. He said, “Considering the reach and impact of medium, leeway be given to the legislature to frame rules. On the internet every individual is a director, producer and broadcaster, and a person can send offensive material to millions of people in a nanosecond, just with a click of button.”

I believe that restricting content and freedom of expression on the internet will not only be detrimental to India’s overall progress, but it will also deprive people, especially the youth, of the only medium available to them for sharing their views and opinions freely. Economic development alone is not equivalent to a nation’s development.

When the fundamental human rights are being challenged in a country which calls itself the world’s largest democracy, being mute spectators and watching it happen is no longer an option for the youth. We did vote for the visionary dreams and the sugar-coated poll promises they made, but not in exchange for the basic dignity of having the freedom to say what’s on our mind. It’s time we channelized our collective strength and demand our rights from those who seem to have little respect for them.