Are we, as a country, advancing in our thought processes as time passes us by? Or are we regressing into our shells, deflecting any prospects of the slightest change in our mindsets and how we have perceived culture for years?

In the last few days, our social media and news outlets have been flooded with the news of a ban on yet another film by the Censor Board. This time, it’s the film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’- a film about four women in search of freedom.

The reason for the ban is a bizarre statement of inexplicable logic; the story is “lady oriented”. How that is worthy of being posed with a ban will remain a mystery to all those who seem to possess even the slightest bit of common sense. Other cited reasons are the presence of “sexual content”, “abusive language” and “audio pornography”, all of which, according to the CBFC, seemingly don’t exist in the daily lives of people in our country. Sexual desires can never be a part of a morally right woman, but cheap innuendos are something she should be used to. Smoking is not something that suits a woman. It’s as bad as having aspirations. And as we know, having dreams and goals is simply not a woman’s place.

The seemingly sanskaari manning of the Censor Board is a moot point; norms and values are subjective, and vary from person to person. They can never be categorized under one umbrella of thought process, and certainly cannot be used as a law. This seems to be a fact that the Board repeatedly disregards.

Movies like Mastizaade make the cut quite easily, but a movie depicting the real issues that the youth, minorities, or oppressed grapple with is shoved under the rug. Denigrating women is not an issue in item numbers, but it is one if a female movie character engages in consensual sex on screen. Stereotyping is not a problem when it’s the disgusting portrayal of homosexuals. We pretend as though violence and strong language are not a gleaming reality of the state our country is currently in, but a myth that appeared out of nowhere. Drug problems, marital rape, the suppression of women, the loopholes in the legal systems and corruption, are just a tiny fraction of the problems our country faces, but their depiction for the benefit of the society is seemingly insensitive.

The suppression of artistic freedom is increasing at an alarming rate. With lathis and an unfair control over authorities, proclaimers of so called nationalism and righteousness will arrive anywhere to take away the right to express emotions and the truth of an entire generation. Caste systems, dowry, honour killings, rape, violence and discrimination take a back seat for issues like foul language in a movie, content put up on Snapchat, comedic posts and Facebook statuses. How have we managed to become indifferent towards the reality of what goes on in our country for these trivial problems that cause no real harm to the society? Why is the depiction of a sex scene in a movie a graver issue than a political leader’s audacity to tell women to enjoy rape if they cannot prevent it?

Filtering content is important, no doubt. Movies, books and television shows often leave impressions on our minds and influence our behaviour without us even realizing it. However, the freedom to express the perils of a society through art is a right, and that should never be snatched away from anyone. Movies like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge are a cult classic, but they have conditioned men to believe that a woman’s no always has an undertone of a ‘yes’ if you try hard enough. TV shows draw a clear, very obvious and absolutely unfair line between who is the righteous woman and which one is an evil tramp. The purest woman is the one who bows her head down before her husband, clad in a sari or suit, whereas the ‘vamp’ is the one in a cocktail dress and a constant grimace on her face. The bone of contention between two women is always a man, and must always be so; apparently marriage, children, and men are the ultimate destinations for a woman. A twenty-four hour Snapchat video is enough for leaders to send out death threats and schedule national debates, but rioting in a college area is not worth a second glance or even remote coverage by media outlets. A comedic roast will get you arrested faster than murdering a person will. Strong language used by youth in a movie is a crime worse than leaders blaming mass molestations on women on a public forum.

The ban on “Lipstick Under My Burkha” is just as unjust as the ban on Udta Punjab, the assault on Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and the several other occasions where movies, books and other art forms have been subject to unfair treatment. The Censor Board seems to forget that it is possible to certify a film under categories that explicitly let audience know of the content they are about to watch. After that, it is the viewer’s discretion, as it should rightfully be.

The suppression of artistic freedom is a bane that this country now wrestles with, wherein political presence in the media and entertainment industries paints a false picture of what reality is. What’s to mourn over is the fact that this ban was not the first, nor will it be the last.

Writer: Divya Sethu
Editor: Diya Mathew
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