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Bombay Begums “Polluting” Young Minds, Says Child Rights Body, Asks Netflix to Take It Down

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Mar 12, 2021

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Image Credit: Netflix

A government-appointed child rights panel has asked Netflix to stop airing its new series, Bombay Begums, within 24 hours for what it says is a wrongful depiction of children, adding that the contested scenes could result in exploitation and abuse of children.

“We have sought stopping the streaming of Bombay Begums over the inappropriate portrayal of children in the series,’’ the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chairperson Priyank Kanoongo told the Indian Express.

A “… series with this type of content will not only pollute the young minds of the children, [but] may also result into abuse and exploitation of children at the hands of perpetrator(s)/offender(s),” the panel said in a notice to the streaming platform, which was issued on Thursday based on complaints from two Twitter handles.

Bombay Begums is a six-part series that landed on the streaming platform on March 8 and looks at the lives of five women navigating relationships and work in Mumbai. The complaint took cognizance of two scenes in particular: one in which minors take cocaine at a party “which is all about drugs and alcohol,” according to the complaint, and the other that depicts a schoolgirl wanting to send pictures of a “developed” body part (breasts) to a male Muslim friend.

“From normalisation of minors indulging in casual sex we now hate webseries showing minors having cocaine,” the body quoted one of the tweets objecting to the show. “Screengrab from Bombay Begums where a 13-year-old is snorting coke as the party she goes to is all about alcohol, drugs,” another tweet said.


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The panel is headed by Priyank Kanoongo — who, interestingly, a 2020 article from The Hindu found to be “unaware of police brutalities against children.” Bolstering child rights and objecting to any form of exploitation is paramount, but seen in the contemporary context, it casts the panel’s intent behind objecting to the show in a precarious light. It also adds Bombay Begums into the league of shows like Taandav on Amazon Prime, which had been asked to edit parts for allegedly “ridiculing Hindu Gods and Goddesses.”

Critics have also pointed out that the panel does not have the power to stop the telecast of a show. The NCPCR comes under the aegis of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, which notes the panel’s role as inquiring into child rights’ violations and recommending if proceedings should be initiated, taking cognizance of non-implementation of laws, promoting research, along with a slew of other tasks. But none of the functions of the committee explicitly allow it to stop the telecast/publication of any media.

In its two-page letter, however, the commission has urged Netflix “to immediately stop streaming of this series and furnish a detailed action report within 24 hours,” and take “extra precaution” in streaming any content in respect to children or for children. It should be noted that the show isn’t intended for children and carries an 18+ rating.

Directed by Alankrita Shrivastava (of Lipstick Under My Burkha fame), the show frames issues around women’s desire, sexuality, and ambition. Bombay Begums‘s treatment of feminism has so far invited a divided response, but it is the scrutiny that NCPCR’s objection has inspired that is more interesting to look at.

People supporting the demand to take the show down have come with their own set of objections. The scene depicting the fantasies of children has been construed as a Hindu girl engaging in impure behavior to impress a Muslim man — the communal flair too evident to ignore. Another cause for concern, groups say, is a married bureaucrat citing the Bhagwad Gita, a holy text, to justify his lust for one of the female characters, who is a prostitute. “Woman has to follow her Dharma,” he is quoted as saying.

While the commission’s notice takes cognizance of “representing, portraying and glorifying children in India in such a manner” on any media platform (internet and/or OTTs), the detraction of the show has evidently folded in issues of a different slant. It might be premature, but worthy regardless, to introspect on what, exactly, is being opposed.

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Written By Saumya Kalia

Saumya Kalia is Culture Editor at The Swaddle. Her journalism and writing explore issues of social justice, digital sub-cultures, media ecosystem, literature and memory as they cut across socio-cultural periods. You can reach her at @Saumya_Kalia.

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