Policing all the way to the bank!

People who financially benefit from these disputes do their best to keep these issues alive by creating undue hype and sensation.

india Updated: Aug 10, 2006 22:13 IST

Most controversies have an in built sales value. No wonder generating and sustaining moral debates is proving to be big business at home and abroad.
The bloodshed and global frenzy accompanying the printing and reprinting of the 12 Danish caricatures of Prophet Mohammad shows how moral policing and its repercussions can spiral out of control.

While the Danish Union of Journalists sold each cartoon for 250 Euro or Rs 15,000, politicians, fanatics and newspapers went all out to take advantage. The France Soir newspaper reprinted the cartoons and sold 40 per cent more copies than its usual daily circulation. Another French weekly Charlie Hebdo, which printed all 12 cartoons and a new front-page caricature, sold 100,000 copies in its first print and added another 160,000 copies.

At home, Khushboo dragged the Maxim magazine to court over a morphed demeaning photo, even as the magazine sold up to 80,000 copies. And the Hindutva uproar over Maire Claire’s article on women who pay to lose their virginity and its ‘Let me be me’ campaign has made the magazine consider a print run of 70,000 copies.

Stiff opposition of BJP’s Youth Wing and Catholics to Fanaa and The Da Vinci Code respectively, triggered enough curiosity to make the former the biggest opening weekend grosser in the history of Indian cinema, collecting Rs 22.79 crore, and make the latter score 3 crore in its first day.

South Indian actress Khushboo’s remarks on pre-marital sex got politicised when the Dalit Panthers, filed over 30 criminal cases against her, alleging that she was propagating "alien" culture. And in the East of India, separatist groups such as the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) have banned Hindi films, fearing moral corruption.

People who financially benefit from these disputes do their best to keep these issues alive by creating undue hype and sensation. For example, banning Fanaa turned out to be a boon for the piracy industry in Gujarat. Today a pirated version of Fanaa is costing more than triple the normal cost of Rs 20-30, making it the costliest pirated CD around.

Another lucrative business opportunity is making raunchy MMS clips- morphed or real, on cell phone cameras. The trend started with the infamous DPS clip, which was sold on VCDs for as little as Rs 100 and was later put for sale on Bazee.com for Rs 125. The latest in this crude entertainment was a 12-minute clip of a Sania Mirza look alike which is currently available for download for 'premium' members only at Rs 9501,400. In all these cases, hype generated by moral policing boosted business for the racketeers.

In Srinagar, police used a 30second pornographic CD to crack a sex scandal involving 43 girls and some well placed officials. Radical women groups such as the Dukhtaran-e-Millat exploited the same incident to ban cable TV, beauty parlours etc that they held responsible for all evils in society.

Moral or cultural policing can only be effective in the short run. As the next story shows, the real challenge lies in replacing this sort of arbitrary policing by well-defined and balanced regulations rooted in tolerance that serve a long term purpose.

First Published: Jun 17, 2006 23:00 IST