A hyperactive censor board is the surest sign of a sick nation. And when this board gets on like a house on fire with the information and broadcasting ministry, then the sickness begins to look like terminal puritanism. The Central information and broadcasting minister’s summary ban on all “adult”-certified content on private television channels would have been an entirely ridiculous thing, had its political implications not been so seriously insulting to every adult citizen of this democracy. The ban will make it impossible for channels like Star, HBO and AXN to show any films other than “U”-certified ones. It will also affect the broadcasting of music videos by Channel V or MTV, and of fashion shows (meddling with which had already begun in Ms Sushma Swaraj’s regime). In fact, music videos will now have to be cleared by the Central Board of Film Censors. In this, the chairman of the board, Mr Anupam Kher, sees eye to eye with Mr Prasad, in spite of being a creative artist himself. Mr Kher believes that there ought to be “a distinction between free artistic expression and constant, mindless exposure of the body”. This distinction, it is implied, will be made henceforth by the state.
Implementing Mr Prasad’s decree will be a hugely unwieldy affair for his ministry and the censor board — certifying a constant flow of films and music videos, as well as policing every cable operator. If the Indian state is to be streamlined, this is hardly the way to do it. But it is the spirit behind these strictures that should be most disturbing for anybody who has thought about democracy, adulthood and the role of the government with regard to both. One of the basic features of a television set is that it can be switched off at will. Since it is difficult to believe that Mr Prasad does not know this, it must be concluded that his view of the adult human will is rather grim. He must think that Indian adulthood is neither able to decide for itself what it does not like to see, nor can it take responsibility for regulating the viewing of those who are too young to decide for themselves. The unfortunate thing about puritanical censorship is that its expressions of disgust end up sounding more unsavoury than the “obscenities” it tries to remove from sight. The prurient arbitrariness of Mr Prasad’s decision that “the butt-squeezing videos” made in India “will have to stop” is something that an adult might find rather distasteful to take on. Now that Ms Swaraj has moved on to control the adult Indian’s exposure to condoms, somebody else will have to guard what he watches on television.