Clerics demand ban on Indian soap operas on Afghan TV channels

Afghanistan TV channelsKabul, Mar. 6: Afghanistan’s self appointed spiritual and cultural guardians feel threatened by the most popular soap operas, Dari dubbed versions of Ekta Kapoor’s never ending Hindi family dramas, being telecast on local Afghan channels.

The Islamic Council of Scholars, referred to as ‘Ulema’ sought a ban on these serials singling out scenes that depict romance and Hindu gods in the homes of soap opera characters as "spreading immorality and un-Islamic culture."

Council clerics accuse the dramas of encouraging idol worship, even though Hindu images are pixelated and scenes of Hindu worship are cut. The hardliners have also targeted Tolo TV's flagship pop programs - "Hop," a local MTV-style show, and "Afghan Star," the nation's version of "American Idol" in which demure female participants sing while wrapped in traditional head scarves.

New TV stations have proliferated in the last three years, offering a mix of hard-hitting news that is often critical of the government and light entertainment that draws the wrath of religious hard-liners. Indian soaps are said to be popular even in the conservative province of Helmand and in remote areas where residents are willing to exhaust precious fuel to crank up their generators to watch evening soaps.

"The unrestrained programs on TV have angered and prompted the Ulemas to react. 'Hop' ... is spreading immoralities and hurts the sacred religion of Islam," said a council statement after its meeting with President, Hamid Karzaii. " 'Afghan Star' ... encourages immorality among the people and is against Shariah (Islamic) law."

Tolo TV, Afghanistan's first commercial channel, shows three Indian dramas: "Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani (The Story of Every Home)," "Kasauti Zindghi Ki (The Trials of Life)" and " Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (Because a Mother-in-Law Was Too Once a Daughter-in-Law) ." Some other channels air as many as six Indian soap operas daily.

Saas-Bahoo is the most popular of all these and Tulsi is the best known bahoo in Afghanistan. All activities come to a grinding halt at 8.30 p. m. and the roads are empty for half an hour all over Afghanistan. People do not take telephone calls and most of the mobiles are off, even the marriage ceremonies are programmed in a way that the guests are able to watch the soap. Two separate TV sets, one each for the male and female guests are installed at the marriage venues and all activity is stopped for half an hour.

Sharing the same family and cultural traditions and values, the Afghans relate themselves greatly with the Indian family serials. The most patronizing the housewives and children who don have much outside activities and entertainment available to them.

In Mazar-e-Sharif, during the broadcast period one day, the thieves removed all the four tyres of a Toyota Land Crusier parked outside a house and put a signboard saying “Thanks Tulsi”.

What has miffed the mullahs the most is that the number of people attending the evening namaz has come down drastically. Echoing the Taliban-era conservativism, when strict Islamic laws were enforced and people not going for namaz used to be flogged, the acceptance of Ulema’s demand would be a big retrograde step from the freedom to which the Afghan people have got used to during the last seven years after the rout of Taliban.

The Ulema obtained the backing from the Minister for Information and Culture, Abdul Khurram, who threatened the TV channel operators with prosecution if they continued with the porgrammes deemed to be offensive to public morality.

Several clerics met President Hamid Karzai, a moderate himself, and demanded a ban on such programmes. The Islamic Council is a group of prominent clerics and scholars (known as the Ulema) who advise the Kabul government on religious matters and reflect a deep conservatism that prevails in Afghan society.

In recent months, the council has been increasingly vocal against perceived corruption of society by foreign television and movie channels. They have urged Karzai's Government to remove Afghan rappers and pop stars from the airwaves and have chastised Afghans who watch television when they should be going to the mosque.

Humayun Hamidzada, a spokesman for Karzai, says the Government is concerned about some television shows, especially Indian soap operas and music programs. "The president has instructed the Minister of Information and Culture to look into these concerns and to discuss the matter with the TV channels," said Hamidzada. (ANI)

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