Days after a flood of complaints against a show that features a child actor as the husband of an adult woman, the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) has allegedly asked Sony, the channel that airs the show during primetime, to move 'Pehredaar Piya Ki' to the 10 pm slot and run it with a scroll saying it does not promote child marriage, Daily News and Analysis (DNA) reported.
The show's main actors are a nine-year-old boy, Afaan Khan, who is married to an 18 -year-old woman played by actress Tejasswi Prakash. The Wednesday meeting chaired by BCCC chief, Justice (retd) Vikramajit Sen, caps days of angry messages by citizens petitioning Smriti Irani, the Information and Broadcasting minister with additional charge, to take action against the channel for endorsing child marriage and exposing the actor to content that possibly violates laws safeguarding children in India.
The woman, Diya, is shown waiting on her minor husband, leading petitioners to also charge the show of being patriarchal in addition to regressive.
"The show currently airs in the 9 pm time slot. The TV ombudsman was flooded with complaints from viewers demanding action against the show for promoting child marriage," an unnamed official told the paper. The BCCC is an advisory body that issues guidelines for "non-news channels, including general entertainment channels, kids channels and special interest channels".
Irani, taking note of the thousands of signatures on a Change.org petition, is understood to have forwarded the complaint to the BCCC. The petition started by one Mansi Jain calls for a ban on the show. An open letter also draws attention to legal sections that the show could be violating.
The child actor is portrayed initially as a stalker of an adult woman, and later as having a "suhaag raat," suggestive of sex.
A counter petition started by one Divya S accused critics of wrongly targetting the show and defended the general theme as a "crush" of a young boy on a much older woman.
"Is it impossible to have a crush on elder ladies! Most guys admits that their first crush was their school teachers when they were 8-10 year olds. And Ratan being influenced by fairy tales wants it to like the happy ending stories and follows it. Can it be called stalking? It's so unfair to judge it like that. A wrongly captured shot and it's caps have been circulated by media and other activists saying that the show is pedophilic while the show is about a pure platonic bonding between Diya and Ratan," Divya wrote.
It needs to be pointed out that having a crush and acting on it are entirely different things. The former is natural, a minor getting married to his/her crush is not. While the makers have vehemently denied that the show endorsed child marriage, in several parts of India child marriage is a grim reality and any popular entertainment format that glorifies it in an opulent set up, and is not harshly critical of it, needs to be called out.
About 29 lakh children in the age group of 10–14 years were reported married between 2001 and 2011, according to a report by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
"Another issue was Ratan asking Diya to marry him. Most young kids have fantasy of marrying elder people they adores, they doesn't know the meaning of Marriage but knows that after marriage they can be together and Ratan too wants his fairy to be with him. Like any normal girl Diya laughed it off and played along with it (sic)," Divya wrote.
"It's very normal in real life that we decorate bedroom for our loved ones when they marry, and there are kids around who see that."
This article by Spotboye quoted producer Shashi Mittal as saying that the implied 'suhaag raat' scene is no big deal because children are exposed to the theme during marriages at home.
"It's very normal in real life that we decorate bedroom for our loved ones when they marry, and there are kids around who see that," she said.
Shashi and her husband Sumeet Mittal, the makers of PPK and shows such as Diya Aur Baati Hum, said people were making a mountain of a molehill.
"We have a nine year old daughter and she is as innocent as Ratan. I think it all depends on the environment a child is brought up that determines their personality. The kids today are used to terms like 'honeymoon' and 'suhaag raat', they might know its meaning but these words come up in any family. To make it an issue was wrong on people's side. The behavior is as normal as any child. For everything abnormal, there is an absolute clarity being given by our side. The girl stands up against the suhaag raat celebration and rebukes her family to have insulted her relationship," they said.
The 10 PM slot would restrict the audiences that watches the show. However, what is baffling is, if Sony were to comply, the show would run for a mainly adult audience, and yet it still would have a child actor in the lead and several children in the supporting cast, directly in conflict with the intent of the advisory body.
The Indian Broadcasting Foundation requires BCCC to inform the ministry if channels don't adhere to its decisions. "The ministry will then decide on the future course of action," an official told PTI. The BCCC, he added, was hoping that Sony would abide by its directive within a week.