Filmmaker Mira Nair’s recent web series A Suitable Boy recently landed in trouble when an FIR was registered in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, on Monday against two executives of streaming giant Netflix, based on a complaint filed by the youth wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The show was accused of hurting religious sentiments for showing a scene in which a Hindu girl kisses a Muslim boy in a Hindu temple.
The FIR was filed based on a complaint lodged by Gaurav Tiwari, the national president of the Yuva Morcha, Madhya Pradesh. Soon after, BJP leader and Madhya Pradesh’s Home, Law and Legislative Minister Narottam Mishra sought action against Netflix.
In a video statement, Mishra said that a case had been booked against Monika Shergill, vice-president, content, Netflix India, and Ambika Khurana, director, public policy, Netflix under Section 295 (A) (malicious acts to outrage and insulting the religious feelings and beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code.
Why did the scene spark a row?
Set in 1951 India, A Suitable Boy, a six-part Netflix series directed by Nair and adapted from Vikram Seth’s novel of the same name, was released by Netflix in October. Set against the backdrop of the political and social turmoil that followed the Partition, A Suitable Boy explores the journey of a young girl, Lata, who wants to choose her own path even as her mom is on a mission to find her a suitable boy to marry. The show was filmed majorly in Lucknow, Kanpur, and Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh.
A call to boycott the streaming service emerged on social media soon after BJP leaders alleged that the show has “hurt religious sentiments”.
In the scene in question, Lata (played by Tanya Maniktala) and one of her suitors Kabir (played by Danesh Razvi) kiss in a temple they regularly meet at. While Lata’s character is Hindu, Kabir is a Muslim. Tiwari wrote on social media on Saturday that the Netflix show featured “kissing scenes in the temple courtyard three times in the same episode”.
Asking Netflix to apologise, he wrote, “Do not consider the tolerance of Hindus as their weakness, it is an insult not only to Madhya Pradesh but also to Lord Shiva and crores of Shiva devotees.”
“It has extremely objectionable scenes that have hurt the feelings of a particular religion,” said Mishra about the series. Following the FIR, Mishra instructed his administration officials to keep a check on shooting in religious places to prevent the filming of “objectionable scenes”.
Tiwari said the series “encourages Love Jihad”, a term coined by right-wing activists to describe an alleged conspiracy wherein Muslim men convert Hindu women to Islam by marrying them. Mishra is among the BJP leaders who recently announced that a law against Love Jihad will be introduced in the next assembly session.
What is the anti- Love Jihad/anti-conversion law?
In October, while responding to a remark from the Allahabad High Court, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said: “The Allahabad High Court said religious conversion isn’t necessary for marriage. The government will also work to curb ‘love-jihad’, we’ll make a law.” The chief minister said those who don’t “mend” their ways can expect their own “funeral journey” to begin.
Governments in five BJP-ruled states- Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, and Assam- have said that an anti-Love Jihad law will soon be introduced.
On Wednesday, the Uttar Pradesh cabinet passed the Vidhi Virudh Dharmantaran 2020 Bill. According toThe Statesman, the Bill is considered to be an anti-conversion law and will stop individuals from converting people to other faiths by enticing or threatening them. The Bill, which makes “forced religious conversion” a non-bailable offence, states that a person convicted in such a case could serve a five to 10-year jail term with a fine of up to Rs 15,000, reported The Hindu.
However, several individuals, institutions, and courts are rejecting the claim of Love Jihad. On Tuesday, the Allahabad High Court observed, “Interference in a personal relationship would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals.”
“We fail to understand that if the law permits two persons even of the same sex to live together peacefully then neither any individual nor a family nor even the state can have an objection to the relationship of two major individuals who out of their own free will are living together,” the judges said.
The verdict came after a Muslim man was accused of forcibly converting his Hindu partner.
In a reverse case of Love Jihad, Bengali actor and Trinamool Congress MP Nusrat Jahan had to face the ire of Muslim clerics after she got married to businessman Nikhil Jain in 2019. She was issued a fatwa for wearing sindoor and her marriage was termed invalid under Islam. Voicing her opinion against Love Jihad, she said at a press conference: “Love is very personal. Love and jihad don’t go hand-in-hand. Just before polls, people come up with topics like this. It is a personal choice who you want to be with. Be in love and start falling in love with each other. Don’t make religion a political tool.”
Last month, Tanishq, a jewellery brand from the Tata Group, faced backlash for showing a Muslim family celebrating their Hindu daughter-in-law’s baby shower. Following threats to one of its stores, Tanishq issued an apology and withdrew its advertisement over allegations of glorifying Love Jihad.
Earlier this month, the Centre brought digital news platforms and content providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video under the ambit of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. The move was slammed by the film fraternity and they took to Twitter to criticise the government’s decision.
What is in store for A Suitable Boy now?
Although an FIR has been lodged against the two Netflix executives, Superintendent of Police of the Rewa district, Rakesh Singh, told The Print, “The matter is being examined. It will depend on the DPO’s opinion whether a case is made out and under what sections,” said Singh.
Mira Nair and Netflix India are yet to issue a comment regarding the FIR.