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Traditional Indian music from ‘gharanas’ with rich cultural traditions and values has wafted through the air from time immemorial carrying legacies of fables, legends and ballads. But today the music industry — we are specifically looking at the music emanating from Punjab — is being tested on several fronts, including crass commercialism, vulgar overtones and misogynistic lyrics.

What are the laws on music in India?

Section 294 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860, punishes singing, reciting or uttering any obscene song in or near any public place with imprisonment of three months or fine or both. Entry 60 of The Union list of the Constitution of India empowers the Central government to enact laws for sanctioning of cinematograph films for exhibition. The Censor Board, in turn Classifies films for restricted or unrestricted public exhibition. Further, the Government of India, under the Union list, can enact laws for wireless, broadcasting and other like forms of communication. Besides, there are content restrictions for cable television in the Cable Network Act, 1995 and restraints for internet in Section 67 of The Information Technology Act, 2000 which prohibits publication of obscene material in electronic form. Internet content is also controlled by guidelines for internet service providers who are under an obligation to prevent any obscene, objectionable and unauthorized material over their networks.

What about the States?

Besides these laws, States too have regulations in place to keep obscene content in check. For example, the Punjab Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1952, governs matters relating to licensing and regulation of cinemas in the territory of Punjab. The Punjab Dramatic Performances Act, 1964, provides for better control of dramatic performances in Punjab and empowers the District Magistrate to prohibit any objectionable dramatic performance in a public place. The Music in Muslim Shrines Act, 1942 was enacted to control performances by girls in Muslim shrines and barred any woman or girl to either sing or dance in a Muslim shrine. Other than this, music for society in general, is unregulated by any State enactment applicable in Punjab, primarily because it is within the domain of the Government of India to make a regulatory law applicable throughout the territory of India.

Why is there a yawning gap?

Irrespective of the matter being a central subject, Entry 33 of the State list of the Constitution of India, empowers the State government to enact laws for theatres and dramatic performances, sports, entertainment and amusement. Since sound recordings are not regulated by any central enactment like the Censor Board certification for films under the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the music industry goes unchecked as song content has no regulatory mechanism. A song which is a combination of lyrics, composition and voices of a performer recorded in a studio, the producer is its first owner under the Copyright Act, 1957. Regardless, pirated music sold at abnormally low costs rules the roost. However, offensive and vulgar lyrics do not find statutory road blocks other than Section 294 of the IPC for punishing obscene acts and songs.

What is the remedy?

Under Entry 33 of the State List of the Constitution of India, the Government of Punjab is well within its powers to consider music as apart of “entertainment” and enact a new regulatory law to curb ‘vulgar’ music. The Music in Muslim Shrines Act, 1942 and The Punjab Dramatic Performances Act, 1964 are examples of Punjab legislation which can be emulated to put this proposition into practice. The need of the hour is to enact stricter legislation to keep an eye on composers and lyricists, after defining the contours of an indecent song.

Anil Malhotra, an alumni of SOAS, London, is an IAML Fellow


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