“More Indian content please but not all of it.” While seeking more programming content from India, Afghanistan’s Information and Culture ministry has sought to impose a ban on some immensely popular Indian serials because they are deemed culturally inappropriate.
The extra-marital affairs and out-of-wedlock children that are being shown in some popular Indian soap operas are being viewed as anathema in Afghanistan’s culturally conservative society, prompting demands for the ban.
Asserting that the ban on the serials was “not because they are Indian”, the Minister of Information and Culture Abdul Karim Khurram told this reporter that the reason for the ban was because of the increasing volume of public concern about the impact of these serials.
The changing storylines of the soaps have now brought content that is not acceptable to our public, Khurram said, adding that the demand for the ban had come not just from religious leaders but MPs and parents. The serials under the axe are Kyunki Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi, Kumkum, Intezar, Kasauti Zindagi kay, and Baghdad ka dost. <b1>
With limited capacities of programming content, private TV channels in Afghanistan have relied heavily on Bollywood content for their programming. While some TV channels have already complied with the ban, Afghanistan’s most popular channel Tolo TV, which telecasts Tulsi as Kyunki saas bhu kabhi bahu thi is known in Kabul and Kasauti Zindagi Kay, has defied the ban.
Tulsi by itself is a gross revenue earner for the TV channel, its popularity unsurpassed in television programming in this country. Anecdotes about the obsession of Afghans with this particular serial abound: small village communities are said to pool money to buy diesel to run the generator for the one hour, or even breaks during wedding ceremonies to allow people to watch the serial before resuming the festivities.
The decision to take the serials off the air was arrived at in a join meeting of members of the Media Commission the powerful and conservative Ulema Council, members of parliament and media houses. Minister Khurram said the ban was a legal order since the Media Commission, the decisive authority on media content, was of the opinion that the serials should be taken off air.
President Hamid Karzai has also spoken on the issue. While saying he would like TV content to be such that he could watch it with children, he emphasised that the ban would not impact on Indo-Afghan relations.
Khurram did not spell out what the next step would be regarding TV channels defying the ban, but vigilante groups have attacked the office of the popular TV channel Tolo, leaving the fate of Tulsi in some uncertainty.
The writer is a Kabul-based freelance journalist