The Salem witch trials might belong only in the history textbooks, but witchcraft is not a thing of the past in many parts of India. The National Crimes Record Bureau reports around 2300 occult, black magic and witchcraft related deaths since 2000. And many States like Rajasthan, Jharkhand and most recently Assam have passed legislations with provisions for tough punishments to curb the practice and bring an end to superstitious beliefs that have been nothing more than a legacy of violence towards women, at least now that we’re past 15 years of the 21st century.
More interestingly, the BCCC (Broadcasting Content Complaints Council) has donned a Mama bear suit once again to protect her kids from seeing and knowing about social evils that are a reality to so many of us. A recent advisory passed by the Council is on the subject of negative depiction of women in television programs, occult, superstition and witchcraft. The recent increase in complaints received by the BCCC about the same has culminated with the advisory, issued on the 10th of December. The council, headed by Mukul Mugdal, has directed channels to use images to portray women negatively, beliefs in superstition, occult etc. only when they are “absolutely necessary” to the story. Further, any work that is centered around such themes can no longer be aired during prime time viewing hours (effectively until 11 P.M.). The advisory, which makes a reference to Article 51A (h) of the Constitution of India, is binding on all entertainment channels, and failure to comply can result in a fine up to Rs.30 lakh.
Over time, it has become clear that legislation alone does not present a holistic solution to these problems. The real solution lies in educating the people, especially in rural areas, where the practice is highly prevalent. As noted by the Council, television programs enjoy a wide reach and also have a large impact on viewers. The BCCC has received 4,545 specific complaints between July 3, 2014 and August 22, 2015, of which 11 percent pertained to horror and occult content.
This will be the 15th Advisory passed by the body. Previous advisories issued touch on wide range of issues ranging from depiction of persons with disabilities, content relating to minorities, sexualisation of children etc. Interestingly, the Council has steered clear of the question of astrology programs recently raised by the Karnataka CM Siddramiah, though it has been reported that the topic did come up for discussion.
Whether the decision will result in any positive change or end up as a redundant, unnecessary restriction to the freedom of creativity and expression, will be interesting to see indeed.
Authored by Chirag Ravishankar
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