The lover was alleged to have criminal antecedents. The girl, a Class 12 student, when produced before the Hon’ble Judges had said that she eloped on her own accord after watching and influenced by Tamil movies. The girl was also pregnant.
The Hon’ble Bench has, disturbed by the negative trends of elopement of vulnerable children/youth and decadence of the society due to influence of films, has summoned the “heads of censor boards” to answer to the charge of exhibition of obscenity in cinemas.
Children and youth need to be given moral and sexual education from early days. They have to be taught about consent, abuse, peer pressure, safe sex etc. They should be encouraged to participate in interesting curricular and extra-curricular activities. There should be effective reciprocal communication between the youth and their mentors. They should be taught to sieve and segregate the bad from the good and be guided to make informed decisions. Censoring entertainment or knowledge does not help in any manner whatsoever.
Print and visual media are powerful tools that shape and mould people’s mindsets. It is undeniable that individual creators as well as institutions that are watchdogs of media, have a moral duty towards the people to represent the truth as well and not mislead them. They should be cognizant of the power they wield and act responsible. However, the media, be it news or entertainment, have the constitutional freedom to operate without fear. Censorship has to be minimal in order to protect our democratic framework. Censoring movies that are otherwise compliant with the law just because they portray instances of teenage romance and elopement is regressive and violates the constitution.
The invocation of Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) in this case is also puzzling. POCSO Act penalises use of children or their images for pornographic purposes. The Act casts obligation on media, studio and photographic facilities to report about any material or object which is sexually exploitative of children (including child pornographic, sexually-related or making obscene representation of a child) to the Special Juvenile Police Unit or to the local police as the case may be. POCSO Act cannot be invoked to summon the Censor Board for the so-called negative impact of some films on the youth.
Whilst the Court’s concern for welfare of the children is appreciated, the judiciary should not overreach its bounds and violate the constitutional right to free speech. A significant percentage of all habeas corpus cases are regarding elopement and romantic relationships of young persons without the consent of their parents. The overarching principle of law, whilst dealing with children, is to protect their best interests. The Courts often acts as moral police rather than an arbiter of legal and constitutional rights.
The Censor Board has come to criticism for pursuing a political agenda and being selectively moralistic. Delivering additional mandate to the Censor Board to filter movies that show teenage relationships would be counterproductive and chill free speech. The need of the day is media that is not shackled by censorship but one that is free and responsible. We must encourage and facilitate uninhibited debate and discussion rather than silencing opinions and messages. Only then can children be expected to make smart and informed choices about their lives and go on to lead productive lives as citizens.
— The writer is Senior Advocate, Madras High Court