It’s not a Rushdie book or an MF Husain painting. Not a skewed passage about Ambedkar in a school history textbook. It’s not even a cartoon making fun of Mamata that someone shared on Facebook. In other words, it’s not something that can rankle the liberal Indian’s soul – for whom freedom of expression is a non-negotiable deal to be fought against grim, vicious busybodies hankering for 15 minutes of infamy and a pliable, pusillanimous government. It’s just a sex joke that some people didn’t get.
Well, actually there were two jokes. The first one was aired on Comedy Central in July last year showing a stand-up comedian involved in “obscene and suggestive gesturing and gyration”. Oh, why hold back? Let me share the full horror-show as the complainant(s) and the agreeing Ministry of Information and Broadcasting saw it:
“…the man was shown uttering dialogues denigrating women, indecently and crudely referred to sex organs of men and women and the sing-song rendition by the man sought to pornographically describe the male lust, depicting women as a commodity of sex. The portrayal appeared to deprave, corrupt and injure the public morality or morals.”
If gyrations and references to sex organs of men and women weren’t bad enough, the “sing-song rendition” to describe testosterone shoot-ups were the clincher. As for what my sources in Psychology Today tell me, there may be a case of public morality or morals (a fine distinction there) being corrupted and injured by the stand-up simulating sex in a manner that Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally may approve.
But how the hell does one manage to “deprave” — make immoral or wicked — morality or morals? You can deprave people, the way I have been depraved by watching my mother’s old favourite 70’s British comedy programme, The Benny Hill Show, with tits‘n’ass gags and comedy being the underlying aesthetics. My sources argue that watching Benny Hill’s coarse gags has indeed made me challenge the supremacy of government- and mainstream society-approved penetrative sex. But to make the very morals and morality immoral by viewing a comedy routine involving human body parts would be giving too much credit to the comedian.
The second — and final — straw for the government’s decision to shut down Comedy Central for 10 days was when in August last year — the summer of 2012 must have been a particularly horny one — a “candid camera” format programme on the channel in which one of the crew members was seen mimicking the act of intercourse with a set of dummy legs, in different locations.
Again, one senses the frustration of the government in its perennial tightrope walking to keep the wonderful joys of freedom of expression intact while acting on the genuine outrage aired by some chachas and chachis who don’t see why intercourse — even a mimicked one — should be wasted on a set of dummy legs, that too “in different locations”. So, it was left to the aptly named I&B ministry director Neeti Sarkar to sign an order banning “the transmission or retransmission” of sexually transmitted disease — no, that’s a health ministry directive about something else, sorry — an order banning “the transmission or retransmission” of Comedy Central on any platform across the country. Speaking of ministries, though, my sources in the Ministry of Culture tell me that minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch was keen to challenge the I&B ministry order. But apparently, a last-minute sense of decorum made Katoch refrain from making any move that may suggest that this is a divided government.
Well, I don’t know about a gag on “any platform” considering I’ve been watching some really funny and risqué Comedy Central shows on YouTube which I’ve shared with people 18 years and above since Saturday when the channel was unplugged. But I’m not terribly surprised that the channel’s defence that it catered to a “nihce audience” and these two bawdy bits depicting, among other things, the trials and tribulations and joys and cheap thrills of what even Indian college-goers learn in their Shakespeare texts as “country matters” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2), fell by the wayside.
Indian governments don’t cater to or come to the defence of niche audiences unless a prophet or a deity or a desperately-seeking-publicity community is involved. The problem of any liberal lot rushing to the defence of Comedy Channel, an American channel to boot, showcasing a “western” sense of humour that apparently only White and Black people are supposed to get — is slim because the cause is, well, comedy and jokes and not Muslim rights or secular well-being or artistic credo or the freedom to shock through Art.
I&B Ministry secretary Uday Kumar Verma — who is very unlikely to approve of cunnilingus jokes, let alone serious cunnilingus — told The Hindu on Sunday: “We act only after giving several warnings and advisories. First, impingement doesn’t invite this kind of thing, but if you are in a continuous violation of the programming code, the ministry is constrained to take action. This is not causing curtailment of freedom of expression in any way”. Funny guy.
So, funny tweets about the ban (and glib opinion pieces on a media website) will have to pretend to be the best kind of protest against the programming code of honour of the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995 that bureaucrats will be defending like the padlock on a chastity belt. In the meantime, I am spending about a total of 20 minutes every day tuning in on channel 902 (my version of Jantar Mantar) to read the message against a Tata Sky blue background: “As instructed by the ministry of information & broadcasting by its order dated 1st May 2013, this channel will not be available from 00:01 hrs on 25th May, 2013 till 00:01 hrs on 4th June, 2013”.
A large portion of the rest of my TV-viewing time, I’m spending guffawing watching a particular show on a particular channel between 9 pm and 10 pm that I won’t disclose lest some chacha or chachi finds it “denigrating women and horses” and “offending good taste or decency”. All I’ll say is that it involves young kids mimicking adults on a stage before a delighted audience of mothers and fathers and the aforementioned chachas and chachis. No dummy legs are involved, although gyrations are.