India Policy Foundation Webinar on ‘Save Culture, Save Nation’
India Policy Foundation 08-Feb-2023
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India Policy Foundation Webinar on
‘Save Culture, Save Nation’
(A movement against systematic attack on Indian family values by OTT apps and social media platforms)
February 4, 2023
Shri Uday Mahurkar
(Central Information Commissioner)
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo
(Director, India Policy Foundation)
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo:
I welcome you all to today’s webinar. Today’s key speaker, Shri Uday Mahurkar has joined us. Presently, he is the Central Information Commissioner. He is also a well-known journalist who has worked with prominent publications. Previously, he was based in Gujarat and was associated with India Today for nearly three decades. Several of his articles and reports have become the topics of national debate. He has also authored many books including Marching with a Billion which provides analysis of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government’s first term in power. This book was widely appreciated and has since then been the part of many important discussions.
Uday Mahurkarji also has a keen interest in history. He often writes on history and has also delivered many lectures. When it comes to modern history, he has studied in detail the role played by Veer Savarkar in nation-building. He is an authority on Veer Savarkar and has travelled all over the country to make people aware about the contributions of Savarkar in keeping India united and has also helped spread Savarkar’s thought and ideas on national security.
During the past several months, while efficiently fulfilling his responsibilities as the Central Information Commissioner, Udayji has launched an important campaign called ‘Save Culture, Save Nation.’ He has been talking to people from various walks of society about the issues that the nation is faced with and has been trying to find solutions to the problems at hand. Today, we will hear from him why this campaign was launched and why it is important for all of us to join this cause.
Shri Uday Mahurkar:
The issue of ‘Save Culture, Save Nation’ has been on my mind for nearly 16 years. You may remember that till the 90s, we could see healthy content in the films. But as soon as the 90s got over, there was an influx of bad content.
Last December marked ten years since the horrific Nirbhaya rape and murder case. An event was organised in her memory which was addressed by Asha Deviji, Nirbhaya’s mother. In it, she said that when she saw people flocking the streets to demand justice for her daughter, she felt that the incidents of rape will come down in the country. But instead, these brutal acts have risen in number.
I have been raising this issue for the last 16 years in various fora that rape has a direct connection with the content that is being shown in the mass media. The content that is shown on OTT, social media and films in the name of entertainment is nothing but pornography. This is the primary reason why the incidents of rape are on a rise. Rape is only one form of its ill effects. It is also frequently reported that extramarital affairs are on a rise.
Nowadays, it is impossible to sit together as a family and watch the content that is there on OTT. There are so many sexual perversions and use of abusive language in it. There are films that are being made on illicit affairs between father-in-law and daughter-in-law, brother-in-law and daughter-in-law, teacher and student etc. To the people who raise the expression of freedom here, the question that I have to ask is, isn’t this a misuse of the expression of freedom? Aren’t they making money through porn? This is an important issue. The fact that needs to be noted here is that this is a big industry that has profit turnover in crores and everybody involved in this makes money. The money even goes to the media. That is why nobody is willing to raise their voice against this.
Take the issue of rape. Today, even three-month olds and three-year olds are falling victims of rapists but it looks like that we have lost our ability to sympathise. We talk about becoming Vishwa Guru but in a scenario like this, how can we become Vishwa Guru? There is a spiritual element within Vishwa Guru. But if our younger generation is addicted to debauchery, how can we achieve this goal? Can we take joy in constructing big buildings or by becoming a great power while our culture is getting degraded?
Please note that within Christianity, there is great emphasis on family values. There may be issues of debate within the religion like conversion, but the importance that they give to the institution of family cannot be overlooked. However, about 50-60 years ago, Christian nations adopted the culture that is prevalent at present and look at their condition now.
Swami Paramanandaji of Gujarat recounted an incident to me. He was on a visit to Spain and while checking into a hotel, he was told at the reception that the customers there could enjoy access to eight porn channels, much more than the four that is available at the nearby hotel. They didn’t realise that he was a saint. But this is what the situation has been reduced to in the West. My point is that society will have to join forces on this issue and start exerting pressure to address this.
The one question that is often asked is why is the government not doing anything? We need to realise that the government is doing its part. If you notice, the kind of advertisements that used to come on television about ten years ago are no longer shown. After this government came to power, such ads have almost stopped being aired. So, the government is going in the right direction and if they need any support or inputs, we will be happy to help in all possible ways.
I launched this campaign nearly a month ago in Bhopal. To show how deeply this issue has affected our society, I made a film in which a 12-year-old girl is shown engaging in a conversation with the content makers. She tells them that by making such content, they are showing their disrespect for her and for the other girls. She also emphasises that such content is the reason behind the rising incidents of rape. Lastly, she tells them that they are the enemies of this nation. I made this film through Moving Pixels, a Gujarat-based company. When I spoke to its creative director Vaishali Patel and made her aware of the reasons for the rising number of rape cases, she was frightened as she has a daughter. She realised that there is no female presence among her staff at home. This film is so important that in the span of a month and a half, more than one crore people have viewed this. It has become viral and now, there is a realisation in the society that something needs to be done on this.
We have to put pressure on the people who are making money by selling porn. Within Bollywood, there is a section of people who want clean films. We have to keep them apart from those who spoil the environment. There may also be people who want to change their ways and make good films. We have to start a campaign within Bollywood and see how many people are in favour of this.
We are also working on a legislation. A few lawyers are working on the first draft which will be circulated among people. It will also be submitted to the government. As far as OTT is concerned, the government has done a lot of work, some of which are yet to be made public. But we will have to tackle this issue by including all sections of society. As a start, I have tried involving some saints. I have raised this issue with Swami Ramdev. His response was good from the beginning and recently he reiterated that this is an important issue, and we need to start work on it at the national level and keep building the pressure. He also tweeted that time has come to punish those who sell pornography for money. Swami Avdheshanand, Dr Chinmaya Pandya, Shri Mohan Bhagwatji and many others have supported this. It also has the support of the Art of Living Foundation. There is an environment that is being created in support of this.
In addition to this, we will also have to work at the societal level to build pressure and also at the university level. We will have to make our younger generation understand the dangers of vulgar content. Alt Balaji is an example of a platform that is known for corrupting young minds. There was a film that was released in 2003 called Jism which in a way promoted porn. I raised this issue during that time. But I did not get any effective response. Then a friend of mine suggested that I should point out the deep connection this has with incidents of rape and then society started supporting my cause.
There is awareness in society now, I had gone to Belgaum a week ago to unveil the statute of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj. There I asked whether after applauding the contributions of Sambhaji Maharaj, are we going to go back to our slumber or should we do something for the nation? I spoke about this campaign and received good support. The next day, I went to Kuldevi’s temple and spoke about this issue. A lot of women became emotional and extended their support. I am getting a sense that this is an important topic, especially the middle-class is worried about what will happen to society in the future. So, a positive environment has been created and we need to take this forward.
My vision is that this movement should take the same shape that the anti-corruption movement of 2014 took. This issue is even more important than anti-corruption. If pornography spreads in India, it will be a big threat to society. India will not be able to achieve its dream of becoming a Vishwa Guru. My request to all of you is to join this movement and do whatever you can to address this issue. I am planning to launch a theme song based on the movie I made. We are working on a draft legislation. We are also preparing a guideline action plan which will help those who want to join the movement. They can file court cases, stage demonstrations and launch social media campaigns. A person named Abhay Shah has been running a campaign called Swachh Cyber Bharat for the last two years. He has been calling for a ban on porn that can be accessed, especially through mobiles. He has gathered 1,08,000 signatures in support of his campaign which also includes signatures of MPs and a few big politicians.
Our goal should be to create an environment in society against this danger. There should be an ethical code which lays down what should the films scenes be like and what kind of content is acceptable. And as I said earlier, these films cannot be justified in the name of freedom of expression. In fact, they are misusing the freedom that is given. We are talking about healthy film content. People who have their stakes in this may try taking this to another direction. But we need to make sure that we stay focussed on our path.
Our campaign is not on purda culture, it is for healthy content. Our campaign is to make sure that pornography in the name of entertainment stops, and we are getting good suggestions in this regard. One of the suggestions that we have received is that parents and teachers have an equally important role to play to spread awareness on this issue. The next suggestion is to activate the parental control in phones through an app. So, if any child below the age of 15 or 18 years is using the phone, he/she will not be able to access adult content. Another suggestion is to amend the IT Act and bring all such content under one section. If anybody wants to access such content, their name will be registered through fingerprint and Aadhar card. This is a big industry. So, if the third suggestion is implemented, it will reduce the number of users accessing porn which will in turn hit their revenue.
We need to consider this issue with all seriousness. I have shared my perspective and now would like to answer your questions. Thank you!
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo:
Thank you, Uday ji for introducing the issue to us and the dangers of it. You spoke about your campaign, why it was started and how we can all support the movement. I have a question. For many years, we are seeing that in the entertainment industry as well as in the advertisement industry, there are continuous efforts to break the institution of family. They may have their business interests, or they may be interested in destroying the Indian culture. If you see, Sanatan Dharma has survived so many years because it places emphasis on the institution of family and from there, we derive our values and culture. For the last 30-40 years, efforts have been going on to break this institution of family and as you mentioned, the social relationships which used to have love and respect have been perverted so much that it has become impossible for human beings to trust each other, even their family members. A friend recently mentioned that earlier it was normal for a man to shower love on the children in the larger family and neighbourhood but now people view it with suspicion. We tell the kids to be careful of their relatives and teachers. When they grow up, their colleagues are viewed through suspicion. We are unable to trust anyone. The institution of family is facing a great threat. If this is destroyed, then there will be nothing left for the nation or society. I request you to throw light on this issue from the legal and social aspects.
Shri Uday Mahurkar:
First, we need to bring a legislation and second, we need to spread awareness. The main cause for this is vulgar content. So, if such content stops getting aired, we will also see such untoward incidents reducing. These things did not happen in one day. If you see, in Facebook, they will show various types of videos, some with vulgar incestuous content. If you are not aware of the content of a video, and watch it even for few seconds before closing it, such videos will keep coming back on your timeline. We need to stop this, otherwise it will have dire consequences. We should keep up the societal pressure. Most importantly, there should be an ethical code. From what I have observed, we have been getting good response from women and we need to make them part of the movement. We also need to go to universities and make the youth aware of the actual meaning of entertainment. I don’t believe that any student who understands Indian culture will support such films. But we have to make that effort to spread awareness. I feel that if a 17- or 18-year-old boy comes under the influence of such films and if we take an effort to make him understand that it is wrong, he will get the message. Public action and legislative action are two of its aspects.
Prof Hemant Sharma: Thank you Mahurkarji for covering so many aspects in 30 minutes and for boldly taking on a topic that is seldom discussed on public forums. You have covered numerous aspects. I would like to elaborate some of the points that you mentioned. If we see extramarital affairs, if it takes place with consent, then nothing can be done legally. But if a person under 18 years is involved in it, then we have laws to address this issue. However, I feel people are no longer scared of punishments. And when it comes to films and social media, other nations and cultures are also facing the penetration of such content, so we need to handle this in religious, cultural and political ways. It also has a legal aspect. You spoke about how extramarital affairs are portrayed in social media and in serials. Since there is consent, it will not come under rape, so this is even more dangerous. I request you to throw light on how the showcasing of incestuous relationships is doing lasting harm to society. There is a need to spread awareness and educators have a major role to play in this.
Shri Mahurkar: The root cause of this is bad content and we can only concentrate on how to stop this. There cannot be any redemption for those who have taken the wrong path. But what we can do now is to ensure that the coming generations do not come under the influence of negative content. We can create an awareness program to say that extramarital affairs are wrong. But that is a separate issue. My focus is only on content. My belief is that even if it takes time, if we are able to control content, then all these issues will resolve itself. Our complete focus should be on ethical content, and it is possible. Dubai, Singapore and China have to a large extent become successful in blocking bad content. If there is a will, we can also do the same. We need to create awareness to this end. Now if we see, there are rapes happening every day, but society is no longer bothered about it. It is no longer a topic of discussion. When the Nirbhaya incident happened, the whole country came to protest. But now society has been desensitised. So, the main problem is content. You also need to understand that it is a big industry and money from this is reaching everywhere. We will also have to build pressure on the media as it is an important beneficiary of the money generated through such content, especially through advertisements.
Vinod Johri: We should make it as part of our fundamental duty to raise voice against pornography and put an end to it.
Durga Nand Jha: My suggestion is that the government should draft a culture policy which defines Indian culture and its values. We can then use that to address this issue.
Shri Mahurkar:I agree with you, and I will incorporate your suggestion in the action plan that I am working on. We will have to fix a direction and then we will have to take steps accordingly.
Harsha Kumari: What I would like to point out is that there are production houses like Rajshri Productions that is known for their clean films. People have showered these films with a lot of love, and they have been hugely successful films. So, there is a section that still likes good content.
Shri Mahurkar: We have already included this issue in our pitch. Tare Zameen Par is a good film. There are also filmmakers whose works are getting questioned now but they have made films like Chak De India in the past. So, there is good content available. Recently the film, Ponniyin Selvan: I was released. The entire film does not have even one bad scene. The same is the case with RRR.
Harsha Kumari: Why can’t we make a clean film that calls out bad content?
Shri Mahurkar: We are making this effort within Bollywood. There is still a section of filmmakers interested in making only clean films and we are trying to make them join this movement. There are people who have started joining this cause and we need to make an effort to further this.
Harsha Kumari: Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra talks about the importance of portraying negativity or negative emotions without showing the actual visuals. But today, films not only show such visuals but stretch them to a good 5 to 10 minutes. They don’t think about the consequences.
Question: We can regulate content from India, but how can we regulate content from other countries when everyone has access to mobile phones?
Shri Mahurkar: We have to amend the IT Act and bring all this under one umbrella. Anyone who wants to access such content will have to give their fingerprint and Aadhar card number. When they access the site, they should immediately get a message on their phone saying that they have accessed the content. This may see a reduction in such content being accessed.
Dr Ratnoo: Anonymity is a big reason. Even though the network providers and sites have access to all your information, the viewer feels that he is anonymous. The biggest problem is that kids are viewing such content. An even bigger concern is that boys who are in the age group of 10-12 years are gang-raping girls who are just 7-8 years old. Other than content, there is no reason that children would learn such violent acts. They are trying to imitate what the adults are shown doing, and this is done in the name of entertainment. Unless and until access to such content is restricted, there will be no solution to this problem.
We have to take legal measures as well as put in place technical arrangements to make this happen. It is important for the people to be aware about this. Second, I believe that if you open a liquor shop in every street, then more people are bound to drink alcohol. Same would be true with gambling too. But when more people start drinking or gambling, it becomes difficult to shut it down as it gets normalised after a while. If you make things accessible, people will start using it too. But if you put a ban, the usage will reduce like in the case of drugs. You have imposed a ban because of which the consumption of drugs is less in the country. You lift this ban, then half the nation will start using it. The argument that there cannot be any curbs imposed because a lot of people are viewing such content does not hold any ground. They do so because they have easy access. A lot of people have even made this their success formula. They keep releasing their indecent photos and videos on social media and get fame out of it. It is bewildering how people who don’t have brains or skills, but become celebrities by showing their bodies. If this situation continues, then what will be the importance of merit in our society and nation?
Question: Technology has reached metaverse now. So, how will we regulate it?
Dr Ratnoo: China has already regulated technology. So, India can also regulate its search engines. Metaverse will not be a hindrance to it. In the end, access will be through your net providers. So, if you can regulate your net providers, then you will be able to regulate anything. Without data and a net provider, you won’t be able to access any content. I am sure we will get a lot of suggestions in this regard.
Prof Girishwar Mishra: This is a very serious concern. It is important for societal health that some immediate measures are taken to curb this type of vulgar content. Kids, youth and the elderly are all getting influenced by this. It is spreading like venom all over. People are forced to view this as soon as they open social media. The regulatory authorities should take immediate measures. The government should view this issue in all seriousness. There is no other solution for this. Ironically, this year the budget talks about enhancing the digital connectivity of schools. Imagine the situation if all school students have increased access to such content? We don’t know how much this digital connectivity will be misused. So, we need to stop this access.
Dr Ratnoo: It is true that thousands of people will join the campaign. What they need is guidance. There is legal aspect of this issue. But more than that there is the social side. I believe that what drives such content is the commercial interest. So, if society hits at the commercial interest, then everything will stop on its own. Because the only aim for those who engage in this is to make money. They also get fame along with the money. Now, brands do business only with those who have a good social media following. People make crores from such partnership. Social media hits and number of app downloads all contribute to this. So, it is important to hit the commercial interests and spread awareness in society.
When there is awareness in society, it also leads to anger which will force the politicians to act on this issue immediately. More than the bureaucrats and politicians, a section that we need to immediately address is the so called progressive thinkers who bring up the issues of freedom of expression and individual choice. But we need to ponder over what happened to societies which saw increase in incidents of physical and sexual violence due to unrestricted access to content. Rape is an epidemic in those societies. Teenage pregnancies are quite common. And there have been increasing incidents of violence, firing incidents in the schools. There is frustration everywhere. All these are ultimately reflecting on the mental health of the population. The situation is dangerous and can destabilise one’s life. They are unable to respect relationships and see human beings as a mass of flesh. If this continues, we will mentally pervert the whole humanity. Then where will society find people of mental strength and character? This is an important issue and society will have to work towards addressing this.
Ram Babu: It is my observation that most of the adult content is available on Twitter itself. There are people demanding money for such content. There is an app called Ullu which publishes only vulgar content. I have also noticed that there are many apps which are based in foreign countries. There are 50-60 apps which are providing purely Indian pornographic content but have servers outside the country. Problem is, in India only films are censored while OTT content isn’t.
Shri Mahurkar: We are working in that direction only. The idea I got from you is to make a list of such content providers.
Antara Jha: When children are traumatised right from a very young age for issues like scoring low marks in their exams, they are likely to find an escape in social media. The point I want to make is society also plays a crucial role in getting children and youth addicted to social media and it must not be done.
Shri Uday Mahurkar:
I am holding a constitutional authority, but I could not hold myself back. I thought I have a greater duty towards the nation, towards society and therefore, I have taken up this campaign. I would appeal to you to take it very seriously and contribute in whatever way you can. For example, Ram Babu has given a very good idea to name the content providers when we make documentation. We should name the OTT platforms and social media apps and pin them down. Similarly, this battle has to be fought on several fronts. One is the legal front; another is the public front. But our focus is to put pressure on those who are earning money by providing sexually perverted and culturally offensive content. We should not lose focus. The focus is very clear, how to stop these people from producing and showing such content. Constitutionally also, we can create a situation where we can instil fear in them. We have seen films being boycotted at the social level. We have seen the power of people. There are films which have not done well just because people started boycotting those films. So, people have great power.
Secondly, I will repeat that we are fighting this battle on many fronts. One is the legal front, another is the public front, third is the front of ideas and fourth is the technical front. On the technical front, the Swacch Cyber Bharat campaign of Abhay Shah is very important. It is the material available on phone that is the main reason for the spread of perversion in society. So, I would appeal to all of you to contribute in whatever way you can. Right now, there is no organisation or Trust but in the near future, it may become a reality as there has to be some kind of structure for people to be able to contribute.
On the positive side, we have got the support of very powerful people in society. There is not a single person who has said that this is not an important campaign. They said this is the need of the hour. That is the response I get from each and every person whom I approach.
You can run your campaigns in your area. You can file court cases. If you file a case, the producer will be forced to hire a lawyer as he does not have to appear in a district court or a tehsil court. There are many ways of building pressure.
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo:
Thank you Uday Bhai for sparing your time to discuss this important topic. It is important to counter the section of people who is in support of such content. An argument that is often raised by them is that many countries have unrestricted access to pornographic content, but there has been no study which can prove that such access can have negative consequences. My counter to them is that one can not study such behaviour in a fixed academic manner. Only a long term study of reasons behind sexual crimes would reveal the truth.
Shri Uday Mahurkar:
People say this to divert attention from the topic. I have read about many studies which prove that rape is a consequence of such voyeuristic content. And we need to note that rape is only one type of manifestation, there are several other disorders which are a result of viewing this content.
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo:
Yes, like I was saying, mental disorder is an important aspect. It disturbs the adjustment that one has in the society. It completely disturbs one’s focus on education, career, family etc. It makes one view other human beings in a different perspective which is very dangerous. We need to study the effects of vulgar content on mental health.
Shri Uday Mahurkar:
In a way, the left liberals have given us an anaesthesia to become unresponsive to such content and my movement is based on bringing people out of this coma. The lobby that is earning money through the sale of pornography is doing so because society hasn’t reacted so far. Once society strikes back, they will be forced to shut down their activities. If there is awareness in society, things will happen on its own. We take the pledge in school that all Indians are our brothers and sisters. In that spirit, we need to be aware that our bothers and sisters are on the wrong path. We have to make people aware of this feeling.
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo:
This is a very serious issue. Some kind of perversion has existed in every society at all times but it has always been miniscule. But now perversion is spreading on a mass scale, and this will pose a threat to the entire humanity. The challenges in front of the nation, society and people will only increase as more girls are getting enrolled in schools and more women are getting out of their homes for work. How will a society remain safe? We will be unable to place our trust in anyone, be it our family members, relatives, friends or colleagues. This is a serious concern for our nation, society and culture.
Shri Uday Mahurkar:
In the new world order, Sanatan culture will have a prominent role to play, just like the way the world has accepted yoga. Today, India is standing at a place where it is capable of giving a new direction to the world. But if the country’s environment gets perverted, how will we able to achieve this goal?
The target that prime minister Narendra Modi has set for 2047 is really good. But this particular issue may prove to be a hindrance in achieving that vision. So, we need to remove this roadblock. I believe that if we have the sattvic element within us, then no goal is unreachable.
Dr Kuldeep Ratnoo:
We are all with you in this. People from various sections of society are joining this campaign. We hope that we become successful in cleaning the content. More importantly, we need to ensure that we secure the future of our children. This is very important for the children’s mental health. This is not a question of choice. The repercussions are going to be dangerous. What will this society become after 10-20 years if this issue remains unaddressed? No good person will be able to live in such a society. So, if we want to protect our society, we have to join this campaign and spread awareness. I once again express my gratitude to Uday Mahurkar ji for giving his time despite his busy schedule. I would also like to thank the participants for their contributions. We will take this issue forward in the coming days. On this note, let us end today’s webinar. Thank you!