A transfer of regulatory power . . .
While digital media has long escaped regulatory restrictions under India’s Ministry of Technology, a recent restructuring of regulatory powers, introduced earlier this month, will empower India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to oversee digital news and entertainment platforms. Digital rights activists fear the move will allow the Indian government to exercise greater control and censor news platforms, such as The Scroll and The Wire, that have openly criticized the current government. Online media streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon will also come under the MIB’s jurisdiction.
From Sacred Games to A Suitable Boy . . .
Netflix and Amazon have millions of Indian subscribers. Shows like Paatal Lok and Sacred Games did not have to conform to the restrictive standards of the MIB. Indeed, these programs openly addressed nationally sensitive issues, such as sex, violence, caste inequalities, and Hindu nationalism. But under this new regulatory shift, media policing will become stronger. For example, a passionate kiss between a Hindu female character and a Muslim male character on the BBC-produced TV series streaming on Netflix, A Suitable Boy, has already resulted in Netflix India officials being questioned by police for streaming “objectionable scenes.”
Restrictions on the rise . . .
On Tuesday, the state of Uttar Pradesh, ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, passed a law under which marriages between interfaith couples will require two months’ notice to the district magistrate. The couple will be allowed to marry only if those officials don’t object. This law is purportedly to protect Hindu women from unlawful and forceful religious conversions by way of marriage, a crime now punishable by up to ten years in prison. In reality, it enables the Hindu majority government to police personal relationships and further its political agenda against minority communities like the Muslims. Uttar Pradesh joins two other BJP-ruled Indian states, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, in approving such legislation. Despite Indians’ rights to a secular marriage enshrined in the 1954 Special Marriage Act, and their constitutional right to freedom of choice, religion, and conscience, this state law may impede such freedoms unless overturned by federal courts.
- Associated Press: Indian state outlaws religious conversion by marriage
- The Guardian: BBC's A Suitable Boy rankles 'love jihad' conspiracy theorists in India
- The Guardian: Indian move to regulate digital media raises censorship fears