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GOD FORBID

To have Ms Sushma Swaraj standing guard over their wholesomeness might not be a particularly delectable idea for most Indians who value their adulthood. They may have, of course, got used to Ms Swaraj’s zeal for purification by now, as robust people usually do. But her commitment to stopping Indians from seeing and hearing evil is proving to be more robust than theirs. The information and broadcasting minister is about to push through the creation of a broadcasting regulatory authority, which might gain the sanction of the new communications convergence bill. Ms Swaraj seems to have mustered a consensus among her colleagues over this issue. This is not surprising since the monitoring of content which this body would be authorized to perform will protect a wide range of famously pure souls. Its concern would not only be moral purity, but also “national security, integrity and sovereignty of the country”. Shady defence deals and pogroms, bribery and gang-rape will henceforth become taboo items for national entertainment, presumably because of the sex and violence their broadcasting would involve. The Centre would not have to waste time over Peeping Toms like Tehelka.

What comes through in the official rhetoric surrounding such a move is a semi-literate and neanderthal mix-up of values, born out of political insecurity and moral confusion. One of Ms Swaraj’s supporters has listed, in the same breath, “drinking, smoking, sex, violence and degraded values” as the deadly sins whose “glorification” must not be allowed by this body. Women and children are going to be the chief beneficiaries of such vigilance. The Indian culture-police have always been better at protecting them from sex and violence than the real ones on the street. Words like “wholesomeness” and “obligations” are also being invoked in this connection. Script-writers, artists, producers, broadcasters, advertisers and viewers must be made to remember their “obligations”. “Obligations to whom'” one might ask, and why should the state presume to be the body divinely sanctioned to perform this act of reminding' Ms Swaraj’s broadcasting regulatory body will cast a long and grim shadow on everything that a mature democracy should stand for in the modern age. If this were purely old-fashioned moralism, however annoying and insulting in its obstructions to adult freedoms, the matter would have been easier to ignore. But the wide scope of the powers to be given to this body makes it look too dangerously like the respectable, swadeshi face of an entirely unwholesome totalitarianism.

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