Afghanistan Unplugs Bollywood’s Siren Song

These serials are against Afghan culture. They are anti-Islamic and bad for the Afghan people," says Abdul Qadir, a 20 year-old student, on the government decision to ban the wildly popular Indian soap operas that have come to dominate Afghan TV during prime time. "People aren’t working, they aren’t studying, because of these serials." Yes, but Qadir freely admits he that for the past year, he has watched every nightly episode of Tulsi, the tale of an Indian housewife and mother more properly known as The Mother-in-Law Was Once a Daughter-in-Law Too. And now he supports the government closing down his show because he thinks he could be using his time better. Couldn’t he just turn off the television? Qadir shrugs. "If there is TV, we will watch it. We do have self control, but…" He can’t finish the thought. Nasrullah Mohammadi, a 23-year-old police officer, is more succinct. "It’s like an addiction," he says. "It’s the government’s duty to stop this."
An informal poll of some three dozen men conducted on a Friday afternoon in Kabul’s Shar-e-Naw Park found that all watched Tulsi, and all supported the government ban. That discrepancy, says Shoib Yaqoobi, a 20-year-old student who also works at a restaurant patronized by foreigners, is a sign of the immaturity of Afghan democracy. "No one knows what democracy is. They think it is wearing sexy clothes, watching TV, having fun and wasting time. But democracy is not just doing whatever you like. It is educating yourself to make choices. So now, the government needs to stop the serials in order to help the people."   

The Afghan parliament this week passed a law banning Tulsi and competitor Bollywood serials such as Tests of Life and Waiting, calling them immoral, anti-Islamic and a threat to Afghan culture. Apparently nobody told the religious leaders who, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan last fall, petitioned broadcasters to delay Tulsi, in order to accommodate evening prayers. It wasn’t just that the Mullahs were losing their flock to an Indian temptress; some made clear that they didn’t want to miss an episode themselves.
Private TV networks have flourished since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban which had banned television and their staples have been imported dramas, news programs and homemade reality TV shows. Broadcasters were smashing taboos as quickly as they could find the staff: Women read the news, male and female DJs joked together on the radio, and would-be rock stars vied for attention in a nation that once banned music. Social conservatives grumbled, but appeared powerless in the face of insatiable demand that saw Tulsi garner an estimated viewership of some 10 million one third of the population according to broadcaster Tolo TV.

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