Ask Vir Ask Vir

Making a show of outrage, once again

Is there anyone who is not concerned with the overt or covert sexual exploitation of children on TV shows?

I ask because, judging by the manufactured controversy over the streaming show Bombay Begums, you would think that caring for children is such a lost cause that the valiant head of the National Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights and his troll allies have been fighting a lonely battle on behalf of the children of India.


In 2012, when I was a member of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC), we were concerned not just with fictional plots but with the actual exploitation of children on TV. Small children would be heavily made-up for talent shows, put into fancy costumes and made to dance suggestively to film songs with lyrics full of double entendres. They would be asked to perform pelvic thrusts and conjure up facial expressions that could only be described as lewd.


   Oddly enough, not that many people made much of a fuss about it —and certainly not the trolls and self-publicists we hear so much from these days — but the BCCC decided that the sexualisation of these hapless children had to stop. We issued an advisory stopping channels from featuring children in “any situation that has adult or sexual overtones”. Our concern, we said, “is with protecting children and in ensuring that Indian TV portrays them in a manner that is devoid of sexual or vulgar overtones.” (As you may guess from the way I am quoting the exact words, I drafted the advisory!)


   We were particularly concerned because these shows went out at a time when other children would be watching mainstream general entertainment channels.  We were told then that our attempts at regulation were doomed and would fail when internet channels came along.


   In fact, the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Disney, which conform to global standards of content regulation, have actually been more responsible and less squalid than our own satellite channels. Moreover, they are subscription-only channels that you have to pay to watch and which parents can prevent their children from watching. (Of course, nothing is perfect. A determined child could probably watch a Netflix show anyway. But then he or she could probably watch porn on the internet as well.)


   I mention all this because as the uproar over Bombay Begums (and over Tandav before that) reminds us, televisual content is now a political battleground. People who have never watched shows say they are outraged by them. Politicians stir up public anger. Heads of governmental organisations issue threats they are incapable of delivering on (which law gives the CPCR the power to ban a streaming show?) and the police and the courts get involved usually in a manner that does the institutions of democracy no credit.


   There are cynical explanations for the uproar. It is suggested that to keep its base intact, the BJP needs to search for alleged insults to Hinduism which it can then “avenge”. Could it be incidental that so many of those involved in Tandav were Muslims? Or that Bombay Begums may have offended bigots by treating interfaith relationships as being completely normal?


"The system now proposed by this government talks about internet regulation but ultimately what it institutes is a committee of babus."

   Others suggest that the latest uproar is just one more assault in the battle to tame Bollywood. If the film/TV industry --- long regarded as entirely secular --- is cowed down and lives in fear of arrest warrants, bogus drug cases, 6 am knocks on its doors, tax raids, and bans on its productions, then it will be terrified into toeing the government line. Bollywood is India’s most powerful shaper of the public mood (especially when you include the content it produces for TV and the internet). Once it abandons its traditional pluralistic, pro-diversity message and amplifies a Sangh Parivar vision of India, the BJP and its ideological cohorts will gain.


   But even if these motives are not the reason for the current uproar, some things are clear. We desperately need some final and transparent regulation for streaming services. We cannot persist with a situation where any local thanedar anywhere in India can get any director or a producer arrested. Nor can we have the heads of government bodies turning into super-censors.


   And the judiciary is often no help.  Asked to hear anticipatory bail petitions, one judge went off on a tangent about anti-national utterances, gave his own take on the Munawar Faruqui case (which was not the matter at hand) and missed the point completely. Another declared in Court that there was pornography on streaming channels.


   The idea behind the BCCC (which still functions effectively for the TV industry though I am no longer a member) was that the government and the TV channels would cooperate to create a body that regulated content. The I&B ministry would refer complaints to the BCCC. And in several cases, when matters went to the courts, the judges sent them to the BCCC for some resolution.


   It ended the Wild West scenario that had endured till that time with sundry judges issuing stay orders, and assorted joint secretaries arbitrarily taking channels off the air because of some alleged misdemeanour. The government arms-lengthed the process to give it transparency. A respected retired High Court judge headed the body which included government representatives, people from the TV business and “civil society” representatives.


   The system now proposed by this government talks about internet regulation but ultimately what it institutes is a committee of babus. In fact, what we need is less government control and wider involvement in the process, including, like the BCCC, the content industry and civil society. This is not a novel idea. There are many models, including the British regulator, OFCOM.


   My sense is that this government would much prefer to keep the control in its own hands (perhaps for the reasons enumerated earlier) so the Supreme Court will have to step in, (once their lordships have convinced themselves that there is no porn on Netflix). The Supreme Court can recommend the constitution of such a body and tell lower courts to refer all matters to this new regulator.


   It won’t end the chaos. There will always be politicians and publicity hounds who will want to manufacture phoney outrage. But it will be much better than the dangerous anarchy that prevails today.


   Frankly, anything at all would be better than what is happening now.




  • Anjeet 18 Mar 2021

    Dear Vir,
    I do agree with the point mentioned but how a party with miscnstrude perception of religion( Veer Savarkar forgotten) and its base reality, can be expected to take certain principal decision.
    BJP which once said, "swabhiman kee roti" and "shikshakon ko uthaa kar uttam sthaan aur uttam tankhaah ka pravdhaan karyaa jayega"...all is burried.
    It all percolates down to standards of politician that we have. Till that changes we will all be running around problems, highlighting them.

  • Aneel verman 18 Mar 2021

    Vir,Be scared,Be very very scared of what is yet to come...

  • Akriti Malhotra 18 Mar 2021

    Rightly said. I hope common sense prevails.

Posted On: 18 Mar 2021 10:10 AM
Your email id will not be published.
Security code:
Captcha Enter the code shown above:
Your email id will not be published.
Friend's Name:
Friend's E-mail:
Your email id will not be published.
The Message text:
This email was created by [your name] who thought you would be interested in the following Article:

A Vir Sanghvi Article Information

The Vir Sanghvi also contains hundreds of articles.

Additional Text:
Security code:
Captcha Enter the code shown above:

CommentsOther Articles

See All

Ask VirRead all

Connect with Virtwitter

@virsanghvi on
Vir Sanghvi