It is as if our courts and govt, having rid the society of all other evils, have taken up the onerous task of cleansing it.
Much before the Netflix censorship debate, for those of us growing up small town Jammu in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, entertainment meant good-old Doordarshan or Pakistan Television series. Issues like censorship and adult content was strictly off limits for us teenagers. Going to the cinemas was like a rare family picnic with a lot of planning and budgeting — unlike the current generation that just logs in, streams all kinds of risqué content online.
Last month, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court decided to ask the central government to take urgent steps to deal with the “disturbing trend” of “pornographic” content being made available easily to ‘pollute’ our gullible minds on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, etc.
Back in the day, Bollywood was the only entertainment source that sanskari sensibilities had to police. One of the most controversial, sexplicit movies of our times was Insaaf Ka Tarazu, which featured the rape of Zeenat Aman by Raj Babbar. No part of Aman’s anatomy was shown, but there was a suggestive scene about a bra strap that censors and Indian families frowned upon. And the movie was a strict no-no for the young. Ditto for movies such as Utsav and Aastha. We could simply not be allowed to be corrupted. Of course, all hell broke loose when the dakh-dhak girl Madhuri Dikshit kissed Vinod Khanna in Dayavan. Or when she sang the ‘Choli ke peeche’ song.
Now, there are primetime television anchors, ministries and courts that are the arbiters of our sanskari Bharat. This is 2018. Would they like us to return to an era when two flowers came together to indicate sexual intimacy?
At a meeting called by the information and broadcasting ministry last month, Netflix and Hotstar apparently agreed to “self-regulate” their content to ensure that sexually-explicit content couldn’t find its way into our laptops, computers, tablets or smart TV screens.
While Netflix claims it didn’t give any undertaking, the fact is that it has assured the government that it will self-regulate. It knows if it doesn’t, the government will do everything in its power to ensure it is not so easily accessed.
If only the mandarins in the I&B ministry and the information technology ministry knew how to ensure that porn isn’t so easily accessible via WhatsApp or some other dark social media platform. This way all our children might grow up into well-mannered sanskari Bharatiyas and not clones of the children in the so-called degenerate cultures of the wayward West.
Surely, the brightest of our kids, who cross all hurdles and exams to gain entry into the prestigious IITs and IIMs watch porn in their dorm rooms? Or are they told that watching porn could stunt their intellectual faculties?
It is as if our courts and the government, having rid all other evils, have assigned to themselves the onerous task of cleansing our society. Shouldn’t the courts and the government also use their time and energies to ensure that the conviction rate in cases of crimes against women goes up from the dismal 18.9 per cent?
Or do they think that the answer lies in ensuring that we don’t have access to The Lust Stories or Sacred Games?
Incidentally, in 2015, the Centre asked internet service providers to restrict access to 857 websites that had pornographic content. This was done with the motivation to “protect social decency”. While the order was later modified to include only those sites that had child porn, most of the other websites continue to be unavailable to ordinary citizens.
So, what if you can access all sites via proxy servers or virtual private networks?
The government has done its duty by pushing the platforms. Now, it is for us, the gullible people, to change our mindset.
This is when we refer to the famous ‘Stewart obscenity test’. In 1964, US Supreme Court judge Potter Stewart famously said that it is difficult to describe pornography and added: “I know it when I see it”.
That is where the problem is. Individual thresholds are indeed different. But the threshold is also different for each generation of technology and people.