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Censoring What We Watch Online: How Much Is Too Much?

The purpose of censorship and certification of audio-visual entertainment in India is not to restrict freedom of speech but to ensure that children do not get exposed to material that may be psychologically damaging.

The Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry’s move to govern the Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus Hotstar, etc. has been met with criticism from the champions of freedom of expression. While speculations indicate that the proposed censorship might be a restriction on the creative freedom of filmmakers, Rightantra highlights the importance of the regulation of OTT Platforms and suggests solutions to strike a balance between creative freedom and the well-being of children.

Uncertainty lingers around the infamous circular of the I&B Ministry since it does not lay down the details surrounding the regulation of OTT Platforms. Many experts believe that it would be similar to the Central Board of Film Certification’s (CBFC) model of censoring and certifying films. Let’s keep aside the shop talk and think of this situation from the perspective of the consumers.

Representational Image
Screen addiction and over-use of the internet has been linked to several psychological conditions.
Based on age, consumers can be divided into two basic groups: Children (below 18 years of age) and Adults (18+). Whether in theatres or at the comfort of home, adults are allowed to access all publicly released material in India. Children, on the other hand, are not allowed to watch films certified ‘A’ and are not allowed to watch, without parental guidance, films certified ‘U/A’ in theatres. It is important to note that children above the age of 12 years are full of curiosity about the world of adults and thus, are the main focus of this article. An OTT Platform is a Pandora’s Box for them. But is opening this box a curse for them?

Too Much For The Brain

While a majority of households still use DTH cable services, OTT platforms are rapidly becoming the go-to source of entertainment for many. The year 2020 saw a record 30% increase in the number of OTT platform subscribers following the outbreak of COVID-19. However, unlike TV which is regulated by the Cable TV Act, OTT platforms function as a liberal library of content and anything can be accessed by any user at any given time. As a result, kids can now readily access mature or age-inappropriate content which poses psychological harm.

Many parents express concern about screen addiction but often neglect the reasons behind it. Free access to content which is generally a taboo in many households and societies can now be enjoyed by the child in privacy. Unfortunately, children do not understand the consequences of watching extremely violent or hypersexualized content.

According to studies, overuse of the internet by the youth has been linked with several psychological conditions including anxiety, depression, and insomnia amongst others. Further, children who watch adult-targeted content are more likely to become sexually active at a young age (in their adolescence). It is important to understand that in most countries, including India, persons below the age of 18 years are not capable of giving sexual consent.

Lack Of Responsibility On Creators

Seeing that teenagers make a devoted audience of inaccurate sex lives of the characters of many teen dramas, creators have been shooting their shots at increasing storylines with teen protagonists who live carefree and ‘happening’ lives.

This has led to overexposure to content that could potentially hamper a minor’s psychological growth and even go as far as mentally scar them. Studies show that the digital diet of children could actually desensitize them to violence and crime. Dr. Justin Coulson is of the opinion that children fail to see consequences while imitating the actions they viewed on such shows and films. He goes on to say, “empathy is reduced. Objectification is increased. Morality erodes.

Grounding OTT

On the bright side, OTT platforms have started to understand the gravity of the situation and have rolled out features that allow parents to monitor and regulate the content watched by their children. Netflix has released a better version of parental control in Malaysia which allows parents to set a second password to their profile on the account where they have the power to regulate the content watched by their child.
While such a model is still to release in India, parents can take adopt the following measures to ensure that the child is not watching inappropriate content:

It is understandable why the I&B Ministry has made the move to regulate OTT platforms but such a move would only prevent filmmakers from creating edge-breaking (and even Emmy receiving) content. To prevent the exposure of age-inappropriate content, OTT platforms must get a self-regulation system in place and introduce advanced parental controls.

Moreover, the subscription fee for the services must only be paid from an adult’s account and not a minor’s. Let’s not forget that parents are in the best place to decide what their children can watch at home. The authors were not allowed to watch ‘Shinchan’, a kids’ show, when they were younger

The following article has been authored by Team Rightantra. You can find us at https://rightantra.weebly.com/. Make sure to follow us on our social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and Youtube (@Rightantra).

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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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.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

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
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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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