India

'Censorship' on women's safety song sparks Twitter backlash

India's film and music industry is based in Mumbai Image copyright EPA
Image caption India's film and music industry is based in Mumbai

A song about women's safety has sparked a Twitter debate over the name of India's financial capital, Mumbai. BBC Monitoring's Vikas Pandey speaks to singer Mihir Joshi about what made his song controversial.

India's film censor board recently ordered Joshi and his label to remove the word Bombay from one of his songs.

The financial capital was renamed as Mumbai in 1995 after a forceful campaign by right-wing groups.

These groups saw Bombay as a symbol of colonial times and felt the city should be called Mumbai to represent the local culture and language.

Joshi released his album Mumbai Blues last year and recently an entertainment firm approached the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to get approval for a video of one of his songs.

The watchdog gave its approval but ordered that all references of Bombay should be "beeped out".

The news prompted several people to question the decision. Most people have been using the hashtag #Bombay to express their displeasure over the watchdog's ruling.


Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter

Joshi told the BBC that his song is not offensive "by any stretch of imagination".

He adds that the song is about a conversation between a father saying sorry to his daughter for not being able to give her a safe environment in any city - from Delhi to Bombay.

Image copyright Twitter

The issue of women's safety has been in the spotlight since the brutal gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student on a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012. The rape had triggered intense protests across the country.

"Like everybody, I too have been disturbed with the status of women's safety in our country. And I just decided to give expressions to my thoughts through a song. But I did not know that using Bombay in the lyrics would take the focus away from the core message of my song," he said.

So why did the watchdog "censor" the song?

Image copyright Mihir Joshi
Image caption Joshi is "hurt" over the controversy about his song

Joshi says he cannot understand the logic. He says the song has been in circulation through his YouTube channel since May last year.

"Many people have seen and heard the song already. The censor board raised its issues only when a label approached them to seek permission to air the song on TV channels," he added.

'Appeasing' right-wing groups

Some say the watchdog may have asked to remove the use of Bombay in the song to avoid a backlash from right-wing groups.

India's censor board is not new to controversies. It was in the news recently over the appointment of its new chief.

Filmmaker Pahlaj Nihalani was appointed the head of the the board on 20 January, just days after dancer Leela Samson quit the post after a row over clearance given to a controversial film which was rejected by her panel.

Ms Samson and nine other members of the censor board later resigned, accusing the government of "interference, coercion and corruption" - charges denied by India's information and broadcasting ministry.

Mr Nihalani is a self-confessed supporter of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and an ardent follower of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He, however, has defended the censor board's ruling. He told the NDTV news channel that the decision was taken by his predecessor but he agrees that the song should not have used Bombay in the lyrics.

Joshi says he understands if people do not like his song, but artistic freedom should never be compromised.

In this case creative freedom has been attacked, he says.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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