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TOO MUCH BODY

Indians must see and show less female flesh. And the rules are going to be even more strictly laid down by the state. The Advertisement Code and the Indecent Representation of Women Act are going to be amended to bring the print and electronic media within their purview. The depiction of “the figure of a woman, her form or body or any part thereof” will be more closely protected from the gaze of “prurient”, “lascivious” and “perverted” viewers. Significantly, the representation of children will also come under these laws. Ministries in charge of health and family welfare, information and broadcasting, and human resources development, together with the national commission for women, are the principal motivators behind these legal, and moral, reforms. Manisha Koirala’s campaign against the film which allegedly denigrates her person has ostensibly provided them the immediate impetus.

These reforms will alarm and annoy all adults who like to think of themselves as part of a mature democracy. (This is quite on another plane, of course, from the affront of having one’s sexual, moral and aesthetic pleasures being policed by Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, Ms Sushma Swaraj and Koirala’s moral support, Mr Bal Thackeray.) Also, lumping together the viewing of pornography and the sexual abuse of children shows dangerously confused legal and moral thinking. What is at stake here is not just the freedom of expression in a democracy, but also the entire question of the state’s determination of what would constitute aesthetic, healthy and morally permissible entertainment. Every modern society inherits censorship laws. But the maturity of a democracy depends on the spirit in which these laws are implemented by the state. Cracking down on child pornography or the sexual exploitation of minors must fall in quite another category of necessary enforcements. The Centre’s rigour is also based on a reductive, and indeed wrong, notion of how pornography works on the viewer and shapes his or her morality and behaviour. Moreover, the denigration of and violence against women have far more to do with the projection of larger social attitudes regarding their freedom and conduct than with how much of their bodies are being exposed to the public gaze. Such questions are best left to the spirit of discussion and debate in civil society, rather than being settled by the puritanical interventions of the state. As a noted Indian film-maker spontaneously responds to such impositions, “Are Indians cretins or what'”

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