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Societies and social norms change, as do ? or should ? laws. Unfortunately, the Government of India doesn't seem to think so.

india Updated: Jun 12, 2006 00:09 IST

Societies and social norms change, as do — or should — laws. Unfortunately, the Government of India doesn’t seem to think so. Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, in his ‘Mother knows best’ wisdom, has ‘urged’ filmstars and sportspersons to desist from endorsing ‘unhealthy’ products such as soft drinks. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has ordered music channels to stop telecasting what it considers to be obscene music videos. Just to make Eminem and Beyonce fans shake in their trainers, the I&B Ministry wants the channels to run an apology scroll for already airing ‘obscene videos’. And terrible consequences — forced viewing of DD Bharti? — if ‘smut’ is shown in the future. Welcome to Talibani finger-wagging dressed up as health and moral concerns.

There is a difference between a caring State and a Big-Mai-baap-is-watching-you one. Governments, both past and present, sometimes confuse the former for the latter, ‘urging’ us to believe that moral policing is a subset of touching concern. The I&B Ministry has, with almost clockwork regularity, threatened to censor/punish/regulate TV channels that stray from a strict enforcement of content guidelines. The problem is while channels push for self-regulation — catering to a bandwidth of viewership that also includes adults with minds and tastes of their own — the ministry wants to play school monitor. Instead of making overtures to the TV channels and society at large to give up viewing Shakira on the screen, the government decided to play hardball.

Coming back to the good doctor Ramadoss, a few months ago, the minister declared a fatwa against smoking and drinking scenes in movies. But his crusade turned a bit smoky, especially since he stopped well short of prohibiting the sale of the perfidious ‘cancer sticks’. Like those gratuitous ads that his ministry issues every World No Tobacco Day, the ‘no smoking scenes’ plan was also an exercise in tokenism. Now comes the crusade against aerated drinks.

The government, in all its splendid wisdom, should know when to step off. In a country that proclaims ‘social justice’ as its credo, there are enough departments where the State needs to show concern — whether it be the state of our healthcare system or vulgar displays of intolerance. In the end, it is about individual choice.

First Published: Jun 12, 2006 00:09 IST