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A daily soap which depicted an “obscene” romance between a nine-year-old boy and an 18-year-old woman has been taken off the air in India after being criticised for promoting child marriage.
Sony Entertainment Television announced it had pulled ‘Pehredaar Piya Ki’ in a statement on Tuesday. The show has caused controversy since it first aired in July for its bizarre love story.
In the programme, a child prince falls in love with a woman named Diya, who humours him by accepting his proposition of marriage. They save each other’s lives and Diya promises to marry the prince on his father’s death bed.
India has the highest number of child brides in the world, according to the international lobbying organisation Girls Not Brides.
The Jai Ho Foundation, a Mumbai-based non-governmental organisation, petitioned for an “immediate ban” on the show, describing it as “indecent”.
“A child is seen caressing, stalking and having a relationship of a sexual nature with a lady who is more than double his age… This is an indecent and obscene representation of a child for the purpose of representing sexual relationship,” the Jai Ho group said in a complaint letter to India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani.
Others on social media pointed out the uncomfortable allusions to child marriage, with one writing “there is nothing entertaining about peadophilia”:
One person questioned why people would want to watch shows that “glorify” child marriage:
Another claimed the show promoted “child sexuality”:
Megha Mathur, a journalist at the Quint who watched 15 episodes of the show, told the BBC: “When the first few episodes were shown, opinion was divided. Critics said the child was creepy and stalking her, others praised the show saying it showed the 18-year-old as someone who was empowered and decisive.
“I didn’t really think he was being creepy though,” she added.
A petition on Change.org, signed more than 138,000 times, called for the Broadcasting Minister to take “prompt action” against the show.
The Broadcasting Complaints Council in India ordered the show to be moved from the prime time slot of 8.30pm to 10.30pm.
The makers of the show put out a disclaimer saying “we do not support child marriage”, but Jai Ho Foundation president, Afroz Malik, told the BBC: “no one really looks at disclaimers.”
“The young couple talk about going on a honeymoon. There’s talk of suhaag raat [consummation of marriage]. That’s not the right depiction of a child,” he said.
The makers of the serial said they were planning an “age leap” whereby the boy prince would turn 21. But the programme was cancelled anyway.
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