Navjot Sidhu’s move to bring in law to censor songs hits a wall

Asi gun gaddi wich rakh layi, jadon di akh tere naal lari!

Vancouver de clubbaan wich, Toronto de pubbaan wich; ho nachde nachde dekhange, goriyan goriyan memaan rich!”

Mere nain ne sharab diya do botlan, ena botalan cho sip sip pee ve”.

Never mind the translation.

Raunchy lyrics and cringeworthy videos of young Punjabis toting guns, with sexist references to women and glorification of liquor and drugs, are ruling popularity charts. As gangsters, daring jailbreaks and drug overdose deaths make headlines, Punjab culture minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s move to bring in a law to censor songs has hit a wall.

As has been the fate of Sidhu’s earlier proposals, his department’s move to draft a law was sent to the legal remembrancer (LR) and then to state advocate general Atul Nanda.

The latter has said since the department’s query itself admits that a central law (The Cinematograph Act, 1952) governs censorship, Punjab cannot enact its own law to ban vulgarity and violence in songs. The Punjab Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1952, deals with the medium (cinema premises and licences) and not the content.

But Nanda has said there is no legal impediment if the state wants to frame a policy under section 13 of the central law which allows district magistrates to ban films that affect public order. Since lyrics of songs are not covered under the Act, an expert panel headed by former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana high court, Justice Mukul Mudgal (retired), has recommended to the Union government to amend it for that.

Explaining the rationale, it said that while film viewing is restricted to age-specific audience in theatres, songs are promoted and broadcast in public domain to persons of all ages on radio, at public functions and restaurants.

Surjit Patar, Punjab Arts Council chairman, said there is still no clarity on many issues, including under what law audio can be regulated. “It is easier said than done, and we are still working it out,” he said.

Sidhu had proposed to set up a Punjab Sabhyachaar (culture) Commission to check “obscenity, vulgarity and glorification of drugs and violence” in Punjabi songs. He had said the commission would also have the power to monitor content served through social media. The chief minister was to be its chairman and Sidhu, as cultural affairs minister, its vice-chairman.

When contacted, Sidhu said the idea was to create pressure to end bad influence on state’s youth. “I have still to receive the legal opinion on whether we can bring our own censorship law. Earlier, we had planned a screening panel of 20-25 people. Now, we are planning to have a smaller panel to screen content,” he said.

While the AG has given the state the window to frame a policy by defining what’s not good for “public order”, Sidhu agrees censorship alone is not a panacea for saving impressionable minds. He says his department is also planning to set up a “cultural parliament” to promote state’s culture to negate the bad influence.

“Since it is not possible to monitor everything that’s being released on social media, we are planning to create public opinion against vulgar lyrics. The ‘cultural parliament’ will draw artistes from every village of the state to create a network of people, clubs and societies promoting Punjab’s art, culture, literature and folk music. They will create public awareness against lyrics patronising guns, drugs and liquor,” he said.

Noted Punjabi singer Pammi Bai, who will head the ‘cultural parliament’, says you cannot wean away youth from such influences unless you promote your own culture.

“It is not just the bad that goes viral on social media. The medium can also be used to create content that highlights Punjab’s rich folk songs and literature. Only the influential few make it to the Punjab Arts Council but there are artistes and singers in every Punjab village. We will hunt for talent and connect them all to the culture department, and create a mass movement against songs that are damaging our rich cultural legacy and ethos,” he said.

It must here be noted that Pammi, who too glamourised liquor and guns in one of his songs, says he sung it in the year 2000 “when Punjab was not under deadly grip of ills that plague it now”. “My song had explained the psyche of a Jatt, saying ‘all he wants is a gun licence and liquor’. I did not promote them. But it was 18 years back. Later I have penned songs on farmer suicides and communal harmony. There is no Punjabi singer, including the iconic Gurdas Mann, who does not have a song on liquor.”

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