In the gigantic crèche that is India, adult content in television channels has always created a flutter among those wracked with Freudian neuroses. This week, the Bombay High Court has ordered broadcasters, including TV channels and direct-to-home providers, to stop beaming ‘adult content’ into Mumbai’s living rooms. The court has stated in all its stentorian splendour that the December 21, 2005, order banning movies with an ‘A’ certificate on television applies to the programme providers as well as cable operators. The August 16 order also lambasted Mumbai’s police force for not taking action against errant cable operators. And just to send out the message that one doesn’t have to be the Taliban or the RSS to gasp at Eminem and Beyonce — not to mention homegrown jhatkas — on telly, the High Court also commanded broadcasters to screen music videos.
All this Mormon-type hyperactivity is the result of a PIL that had been filed by college lecturer Pratibha Naithani in December. Ms Naithani, a member of the Forum Against Obscenity, has used that old chestnut about protecting our children from viewing vulgarity. Now, when someone mentions children and their impressionable minds, even the liberal who enjoys his Ram Teri Ganga Maili re-run is forced to forget that there are adult Indians (both men and women) out there for whom adult fare is not a horrifying spectacle at all. Ms Naithani and her ilk, however, are really tortured by the existence of what they see as smut — something that they would have been spared of had the courts reminded her of the existence of the on-off button on their TV’s remote control. After previous run-ins with the self-appointed moral police, broadcasters have maintained time schedules in which to air A-rated movies. The court itself has scratched its head regarding what is ‘smut’ and what isn’t by keeping serials out of the ban’s purview. Which means while impressionable boys can still expect Pamela Anderson to run along Chowpatty Beach after watching an episode of Baywatch, their parents will be denied a late-night viewing of Shyam Benegal’s Mandi.
It is not our case to make anything and everything available to TV-viewing minors. But surely, the responsibility of what children get to see and are not to see lies at home with their guardians, and not at the ‘supply’ end. For the State or self-righteous pressure groups to use children as a shield to deny adults programmes that clearly have a demand is an invitation to treat all television viewers as neurotic morons. It would be less patronising if the authorities pass a law that prohibits adults from being titillated. If they acknowledge that it’s not abnormal or abhorrent for adults to get titillated in the first place, that is.