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Bizarre censorship norms in India

In a bizarre turn of events, the Censor Board has bleeped out the proper noun ‘Bombay’ from the music video of Mihir Joshi’s song, ‘Sorry’, after it went on air a few days ago. Apparently, the Censor Board now thinks that the word ‘Bombay’ is unsuitable to young and impressionable Indian minds. The song revolves around the apology of a father to his daughter for all the violence she is forced to witness around her. According to the artist, the only reason why Bombay was used in the song is because it rhymed with a preceding line that used the word ‘today’. 

It is imperative to understand the possible historical context behind such an omission. The name of the city was officially changed to Mumbai in 1995 at the insistence of the Marathi nationalist Shiv Sena party that had just won the Maharashtra state elections. According to leaders from the Sena, the name ‘Bombay’ was a corrupted English version of ‘Mumbai’ and an unwanted legacy of British colonial rule. The obvious reactionary undertone propagated by the Sena often belies the cosmopolitan nature of the city. By falling prey to such reactionary agendas, the Censor Board has yet again impinged on the principle of Freedom of Speech. 

It is, however, not the first time that the current board has been embroiled in a controversy over its ever-changing standards for censorship. It would be safe to assume that the sentiments of the conservative Maratha reigns over that of the Jat Sikh, after ‘Messenger of God’, a movie directed by spiritual  leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, was passed by the Censor Board. The new chairperson of the Censor Board, erstwhile Bollywood producer Pahlaj Nihalani, has in fact also rung alarm bells with his declared intention to purge movies, television and the internet, of profanity and obscenity. The word ‘Bombay’, however, neither falls within the realm of profanity nor obscenity.
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