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Shocking: Indian Television Censorship Rules That Won’t Let You Say ‘Sex’ And ‘Jesus’

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By Tabu Agarwal:

It was just another lazy afternoon when I was watching a rerun of one of the episodes of my favourite sitcom, Friends, when I heard the beeping of the word ‘boobies’ throughout the entire episode. In the 21st century, it is hard to believe that the ‘watchdogs’ of our Indian society would believe the audience to be this easily excitable when exposed to this word. Not only is it inconvenient for the viewers to watch the same, but it also downrightly rejects their level of intelligence.

Recently, the English subtitles for British and American TV content broadcast on Indian channels have been subjected to ridiculous self-censorship for fear of a government confrontation and crackdown. Censorship at this scale began in 2011, when the Indian Broadcasters Federation created a set of self-regulatory guidelines that all non-news channels would have to abide by, because unlike films, television shows don’t go through a censor board before being aired. If viewers are offended by the content, they can make a complaint, and the result of these complaints can be quite disastrous for channels. ‘The Dirty Picture’, a film about soft porn actress Silk Smitha that starred Vidya Balan, came in for 59 cuts, but still couldn’t make the ‘cut’ for television.

the dirty picture
Image source: Wikipedia

Words like ‘Fucker’, ‘Sex’, ‘Jesus’, et cetera that are all deemed offensive by one channel or the other are either entirely muted, or changed in subtitles during an episode airing nowadays. For instance, unless and until the content show is seen under the light of ‘education’, IBF guidelines are against the showing of nudity, and even the depiction of movements of sexual activity. This made watching the early seasons of Game of Thrones on Indian television next to impossible, which prompted viewers to turn to the Internet and find out what exactly followed up whilst the scene was censored. Similarly, a scene in Sherlock series (Season 2) involving nudity was considered problematic for Indian television viewers as it was considered too ‘explicit’ and ‘objectionable’ for them. This doesn’t pertain to just HBO and BBC and foreign channel content. Even the lovemaking scene between Saif Ali Khan and Preity Zinta in the film ‘Salaam Namaste’ was removed from the televised version of the movie.

In one of the shows, the word ‘breast cancer’ was censored and replaced with the word ‘chest’. In another instance, in a conversation about breast cancer on an English channel the station inserted an asterisk to partially mask the word ‘breast’ in the subtitles, even though we could hear it on screen, resulting in unintentional bloopers.

However, what needs to be questioned is – should the public be shielded away from terms like breast cancer and rape when they are sadly becoming an everyday reality in our country? It is strange that this needs to said out loud, but cancer is a serious issue; not one to be trivialized by censorship. There are reports that breast cancer cases in India are likely to double by the year 2015. These are living, breathing people battling a life-threatening illness; one that needs to be understood and empathized with. And, by trying to treat it off as a disease or something to be ashamed of is washing away the entire purpose of using television as a medium to educate the masses about social issues. Similarly, depictions of rape on screen can be powerful; shocking, yes, but effective when handled correctly, and television shouldn’t shy away from it.

The entire practice is done in the name of protecting the kids from stumbling across any ‘objectionable’ content on television. More than the television’s responsibility to do so, it is parents who should be looking into what their children should be exposed to. As a free adult, if I want to see two adults talking about sex as openly as they do in the West, I don’t think I should be deprived of that. Moreover, this kind of censorship is only resulting in producing a generation of people who would have skewed notions about important issues, and will look down upon such problems. India will become a country where nobody will talk about sex and diseases, sex-related health issues and drug problems will conveniently be swept under the carpet, hidden from all eyes instead of being understood and addressed. Such activities will only produce couch potatoes who will still consider sex a dirty word, and believe skin show in public is still something good girls do not engage in, and despite legal cognizance, homosexuals are by and large still not acceptable and normal. After receiving numerous complaints from viewers as well as the National Commission for Women and social activists who accused the channels of showing explicit content, shows like Bigg Boss and Rakhi ka Insaaf were allowed to only air between 11 PM and 5 AM.

Image source: Blogspot
Sherlock’s controversial episode. Image source: Blogspot

As India is trying to sell itself as a global power today, Indian censorship in television, practised through arbitrary laws and rules, will serve to turn the clock back on the country’s social and economic progress. India has around 125 million people who speak English, out of which many in urban India follow American shows and watch Hollywood movies.

Those who have been ardent followers of such series and Hollywood movies have witnessed a major turmoil in this scenario even more so after a Hindu Nationalist Party formed the government. There must be uniformity in the exercise of deciding what needs to be aired or bleeped on television. Hundreds of millions of people in India go to temples, being exposed to sex and nudity through the carvings, drawings etc. This is acceptable, but the fighting scenes in X-Men: Days of Future Past were deemed unsuitable for airing? By resorting to inconsistent and clumsy self-censorship, snipping scenes that are central to a show’s plot, raising serious questions about the audience’s mentality, is this the first step in the Government’s growing sense of insecurity?

You must be to comment.
  1. Avinesh Saini

    Why grumble? Just download movies and shows. Never watch them on the television. You are in India.

  2. B

    We certainly don’t want to watch TV with our families with words like ‘fucking’ and ‘sex’ being aired, or have to watch skin show. Furthermore, sex is something beautiful but private, and something we wouldn’t discuss on the dinner table.

  3. The Hulk

    We live in a world of hypersexuality where indecency is being normalized and promoted, even though there are deadly consequences. Everything is now normal – fornication, homosexuality, premarital sex, etc. All of those things are redefined as honorable and loving expressions. As long as there’s love, we hear, it’s okay. Everything is for sex, everything. And it has corrupted our culture to the core. The family, the home, the place where unselfish love is learned is a disaster of sexual promiscuity on every front. We have a whole society geared to take whatever they want with no heart to give. Take your sexual fulfillment, if you don’t like the consequences, kill it (abortion). Take and if you get AIDS, elevate your punishment to a symbol of courage, become a hero. Take your sexual activity and when you’re tired of the one you’re taking from, discard that one and go take from another one. Our society is absolute obsessed with sex, and with it is the death of any normal reasonable understanding of love.

  4. B

    If there is anything we need to teach people, it is the harms of sex outside or before marriage. If you play with fire, you will get burnt. Premarital sex and extramarital affairs are responsible for teen abortions, AIDS, teen pregnancies, infections, paternity fraud, divorces, broken families, STDs, etc. There are repercussions sooner or later.

  5. Piyush Chaturvedi

    See, Its the beauty of CBFC that it is still trying to censor those dirts in the Indian cinema. Every culture, every country has its own importance in the world so don’t try to expect the same taste from different flavours otherwise you’ll end up with some disappointments and you’ll find everything too homogeneous. Just let it be. And its not a great move to post here you views directly and provoke the audience. Its a debate material go and debate with the debaters if you have problem with the censorship in India with you so called point that “the entire practice is done in the name of protecting the kids”. So enjoy the taste of this flavour else change the fruit but don’t expect the same flavour from different fruits because you might not be loving this taste but many other are.

  6. Piyush Chaturvedi

    deleted my comment?, no problem. you are the admin

  7. annanas1

    Ever heard of choice? You don’t like the program, you think it’s not right for your kids? You change the channel. Not keep staring and feeling “offended”.

  8. Saumya Datta

    I can give you an even better example.
    After the beef controversy the word beef us beeped out on MasterChef Australia ????

  9. Amit

    Hii.i just want to say that what is the actual duty of censor board if it allow “dulex thin condon”add on tv whn i saw first tme on sony i got a fathr im too protctve abt my chidrn this may cause bad effct on our chldn of 3or4year old…so try to avoid such kind of advertisements adds on tv

  10. Naresh Mallarapu

    Thanks for sharing useful information .Please see

    interview questions

  11. Jaya Bal

    yeah im also like this film
    tnpsc exams

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