Censorship has no space in a mature democracy. The jury is out, though, on the kind of democracy we are
Cinema as an art form has always drawn a disproportionate interest from the Indian state and the judiciary. Their approach is best encapsulated in this excerpt from the last major constitutional challenge to censorship law, nearly 50 years ago, in the landmark S. Rangarajan v P. Jagjivan Ram case: “Movie motivates thought and action and assures a high degree of attention and retention. It makes its impact simultaneously arousing the visual and aural senses... The focusing of an intense light on a screen with the dramatizing of facts and opinion makes the ideas more effective. The combination of act and speech, sight and sound in semi-darkness of the theatre with elimination of all distracting ideas will have an impact in the minds of spectators.” (Paragraph 10)
The Supreme Court went on to cite an academic study according to which “continual exposure to films of a similar character” would significantly affect the attitude of an individual or a group. On this basis, the Supreme Court deemed pre-censorship necessary.
The Rangarajan judgment gave a final stamp of judicial approval to the notion of a nanny state, treating its audiences as infantile subjects, to be shepherded carefully through the treacherous universe of cinema.
The Cinematograph Act of 1952 was derived from colonial censorship laws. But the world has changed dramatically: audiences no longer run out of movie halls like they did watching The Arrival of a Train, fearful of the locomotive advancing towards them. Even if ‘the masses’ were somehow extra ‘gullible’ in the India of the 1960s, the average ‘visual literacy level’ has gone up dramatically in this age of 24x7 TV, YouTube and video-selfies.
The state considers every citizen rational enough to make serious, life-affecting decisions like who to vote for (at 18), who to marry (at 21), what career to choose, investments to make etc but, cross the threshold and enter a cinema theatre and the citizen turns into a bumbling idiot, unable to discern what to watch or not, to be lent a helping hand by the Pahlaj Nihalani-fied Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
Yes, India is a diverse society. Yes, there will always be grievances from some section of civil society. And yes, we need an arbitration mechanism to address a wide range of concerns. We need a multi-layered solution to the absurd censorship regime in India. The industry must set up the Film Council of India to deal with civil society grievances. The CBFC’s scope must be limited to certification, with no powers to maim, mutilate or ban any film. For any film it finds ‘objectionable’, the CBFC should refer it to the Film Certification Tribunal. The tribunal comprising retired judges, lawyers, filmmakers, writers and artists must become the sole forum for a considered dialogue with the filmmaker concerning any ‘censorship’ of their work.
Stop being a nanny
The final recommendations of the Shyam Benegal Committee are disappointing as they chose not to examine any of the “reasonable restrictions”, directly borrowed from Article 19(2) into the Cinematograph Act. Much of the political censorship that our cinema, particularly documentary films, are subjected to stem from these holy cow exceptions, especially as they allow politically partisan members of the CBFC to intervene and subvert free speech.
Censorship has no space in a mature democracy. The jury is out, though, on the kind of democracy we are with the government actually playing a bigger nanny, regulating not just cinema but our daily lives, rationing currency, petrol, even food portions, banning liquor, meat and criminalising love. In these times of beef-lynchings, couple-thrashings, legally-sanctioned goon squads and fatwas, intolerance will beget worse censorship in the coming years.
Rakesh Sharma is a filmmaker whose work includes‘Final Solution’, a documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots
Total censorship and absolute freedom are problematic. India has varying needs; we must strike a balance
India is a very vast and complex country and the same freedom enshrined in the Constitution applies to cinema as well. Neither cinema nor the press are separately listed in the Constitution, though they are derived from Article 19 (1)A, which lists the freedom of speech and expression. The issue of censorship comes up when we debate whether there should be restrictions to freedom of expression. And the answer is that a total censorship and absolute freedom can both be problematic. Citizens of the country as complex as ours have varying needs, requirements and sensibilities and one has to strike a balance.
And this balance has been elaborated in the form of restrictions to freedom of expression under Article 19 (2) and these have to do with the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. In the sense, there will be reasonable restrictions to free speech which affects the country’s integrity and disturbs public order, decency and so on and so forth. I also strongly hold that the CBFC, which is a statutory body, should have the last word on a film, on whether to allow it for public exhibition without changes or release it with certain deletions and modifications.
The idea behind vetting is to ensure that people do not get exposed to potentially psychologically dangerous material. The combination of speech and sight and action in the semi-dark environment of a theatre can impact viewers in ways we cannot even imagine. The power of the visual medium can never be overstated. It carries with it the potential to instil violent modes of behaviour and cannot be equated with other modes of communication. Censorship and reasonable restrictions are required because of the impact that cinema can have on the minds of the viewing public. Films as a medium of entertainment require a different treatment from books or newspapers. Watching a film is not like reading a newspaper. That is why films have to be certified in order for them to be exhibited in a public place according to age as Unrestricted, Adult or Under Parental Guidance or Special category.
Cinema must be regulated
And just as advertising and marketing are regulated by self-regulatory bodies, cinema too is regulated by the CBFC, with an individual from the world of cinema heading it.
The regional boards too have people from all walks of life and from different regions in India. The chairperson of the board and its members are appointed by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry but these are people who represent different sections of society. The members are tasked with viewing films keeping in mind the reasonable restrictions enshrined in the Constitution. It is the restrictions which serve as a moral compass for the committee members of the Board. Certification is a dynamic process and one which is likely to change as society changes and evolves. For now, the government is in the process of examining the recommendations of the Shyam Benegal Committee, a demand of the Indian film industry, and which, to my mind, is the right step forward.
Bimal Julka is a former Information and Broadcasting Secretary and is currently an Information Commissioner in the Central Information Commission. Views are personal
If we don’t engage, how will we critique anything? The CBFC should certify, not censor
The name of the Central Board of Film Censors was changed to the Central Board of Film Certification in 1983 and that pretty much explains the responsibility of the CBFC, which is to certify films according to age. The certification should make it clear that UA means watching films under parental guidance. It is the responsibility of the parent to ensure that he or she accompanies the child. Movies certified Adult should not be censored at all. The ratings are meant to indicate the category under which the films are certified as U, UA, S, and A. And as long as you certify films, you need a certification board. Like the West, we should have a child-centric certification, one which seeks to protect our children against adult content. The certification board should certify and not censor.
However, I do understand the problems when you encounter hate speech in a film as a member of the examining committee under the CBFC. Also, when a film creates hostility between communities/gender, demonising the other, its narrative will make its politics clear to those from the examining committee tasked with certifying that film.
Problems of omission
The problem that we encountered as board members is that the examining committee tends to see and judge a film on the basis of a song or a dialogue in a film and not the whole. They tend to look at a dialogue and not the context in which it is placed. Filmmakers committed to a humanistic vision are sensitive to this and the dialogues are often contextualised in their films. Take Bandit Queen: if we don’t contextualise the violence the protagonist faced, we will not be able to understand the violence she unleashed. As a society we are extremely volatile and nervous about saying anything at all as a result, we don’t debate anything and this often gets reflected in the acts of the examining committee which prefers to omit a troublesome part.
In the class where I teach cinema, I often discuss Hey Ram with my students. For me, the film is an examination of the kind of pernicious ideologies which instigate hatred of the other. It is a difficult film which politically examines Hinduism versus Gandhism and is a commentary on what we have lost as a society. The film faced a lot of problems with the examining committee of the CBFC. If you cut out a dialogue or a scene from such a film, viewing it becomes meaningless.
As a board member, I faced such a problem when Chakravyuh, a film by Prakash Jha, ran into problems with the examining committee which objected to a song after the film was given an Adult certificate. The song communicated the political vision of the film which was on Naxalites, and examined why they are so disenchanted with the political system. It criticised corporates for impoverishing the people. When this film came to the revising committee, we tried to convince members that the song was the soul of the film. In the end, the filmmaker agreed to a disclaimer in the song which said the names of capitalists referred to in it were symbolic and were not meant to insult a particular corporate house. A member dissented and it was noted in the minutes.
If we don’t engage, how will we critique anything? This nervousness with examining issues has created a strange situation where we censor rather than examine the context.
Ira Bhaskar is a professor of cinema studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She was also a member of the CBFC
(As told to Anuradha Raman)
More In OpinionComment
In general, censorship in India, which involves the suppression of speech or other public communication, raises issues of freedom of speech, which is protected by the Indian constitution.
The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of expression but places certain restrictions on content, with a view towards maintaining communal and religious harmony, given the history of communal tension in the nation. According to the Information Technology Rules 2011, objectionable content includes anything that “threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order".
In 2018, the Freedom in the World report by Freedom House gave India a freedom rating of 2.5, a civil liberties rating of 3, and a political rights rating of 2, earning it the designation of free. The rating scale runs from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free). Analysts from Reporters Without Borders rank India 136th in the world in their 2017 Press Freedom Index, In 2016, the report Freedom of the Press by Freedom House gave India a press freedom rating of "Partly Free", with a Press Freedom Score of 41 (0-100 scale, lower is better).
Watching or possessing pornographic materials is apparently legal, however distribution of such materials is strictly banned. The Central Board of Film Certification allows release of certain films with sexual content (labelled A-rated), which are to be shown only in restricted spaces and to be viewed only by people of age 18 and above. India's public television broadcaster, Doordarshan, has aired these films at late-night timeslots.Films, television shows and music videos are prone to scene cuts or even bans, however if any literature is banned, it is not usually for pornographic reasons. Pornographic magazines are technically illegal, but many softcore Indian publications are available through many news vendors, who often stock them at the bottom of a stack of non-pornographic magazines, and make them available on request. Most non-Indian publications (including Playboy) are usually harder to find, whether softcore or hardcore. Mailing pornographic magazines to India from a country where they are legal is also illegal in India. In practice, the magazines are almost always confiscated by Customs and entered as evidence of law-breaking, which then undergoes detailed scrutiny.
The Official Secrets Act 1923 is used for the protection of official information, mainly related to national security.
Censorship by medium
The Indian Press currently enjoys extensive freedom. The Freedom Of Speech, mandated by the constitution guarantees and safeguards the freedom of press. However, the freedom of press was not always as robust as today. In 1975, the Indira Gandhi government imposed censorship of press during The Emergency. It was removed at the end of emergency rule in March 1977. On 26 June 1975, the day after the emergency was imposed, the Bombay edition of The Times of India in its obituary column carried an entry that read, "D.E.M O'Cracy beloved husband of T.Ruth, father of L.I.Bertie, brother of Faith, Hope and Justica expired on 26 June". In 1988 ‘defamation bill’ introduced by Rajiv Gandhi but it was later withdrawn due to strong opposition to it .
On 2 October 2016 (see: 2016 Kashmir unrest) the Srinagar-based Kashmiri newspaper, Kashmir Reader was asked to stop production by the Jammu and Kashmir government. The ban order, issued by the Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar Farooq Ahmad Lone cited that the reason for this was that the newspaper contains “material and content which tends to incite acts of violence and disturb public peace and tranquility” The ban came after weeks of unrest in the Kashmir valley, following the killing of the commander of a terrorist group Hizbul Mujahideen (designated terrorist group by India,the European Union and the United States) Burhan Wani. Journalists have decried this as a clampdown on freedom of expression and democracy in Kashmir, as a part of the massive media censorship of the unrest undertaken by the central government. Working journalists protested the ban by marching to the Directorate of Information and Public Relations while the Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG) held an emergency meeting in Srinagar, thereafter asking the government to revoke the ban immediately, and asking for the intervention of the Press Council of India. The move has been criticised by a variety of individuals, academic and civil groups in Kashmir and international rights groups, such as Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA), the Kashmir Center for Social and Developmental Studies (KCSDS) and Amnesty International, among others. Most of the major Kashmiri dailies have also rallied behind the KR, while claiming that the move represented a political vendetta against the newspaper for reporting events in the unrest as they happened on the ground. Hurriyat leaders, known to champion the cause of Kashmiri independence, also recorded their protests against the banning of the newspaper. Amnesty International released a statement saying that "the government has a duty to respect the freedom of the press, and the right of people to receive information," while criticising the government for shutting down a newspaper for opposing it. The journalists associated with the paper allege that, contrary to the claims of the J&K government, they had not been issued a notice or warning, and had been asked to stop production suddenly, which was only one manifestation of the wider media gag on Kashmir. Previously, the state government had banned newspapers for a few days in July, calling the move a “temporary measure to address an extraordinary situation”, only to deflect the blame onto the police upon facing tremendous backlash, and thereafter asking the presses to resume publication. As of October 5, 2016, the ban has not been revoked and local journalists continue to protest against what they see as a breach of the freedom of the press and freedom of speech in Kashmir, with no official meeting forthcoming with government functionaries.
The Supreme Court while delivering judgement in Sportsworld case in 2014 held that "A picture of a nude/semi-nude woman ... cannot per se be called obscene".
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the regulatory film body of India, regularly orders directors to remove anything it deems offensive, including sex, nudity, violence or subjects considered politically subversive.
According to the Supreme Court of India:
|“||Film censorship becomes necessary because a film motivates thought and action and assures a high degree of attention and retention as compared to the printed word. The combination of act and speech, sight and sound in semi darkness of the theatre with elimination of all distracting ideas will have a strong impact on the minds of the viewers and can affect emotions. Therefore, it has as much potential for evil as it has for good and has an equal potential to instill or cultivate violent or bad behaviour. It cannot be equated with other modes of communication. Censorship by prior restraint is, therefore, not only desirable but also necessary||”|
In 2002, the film War and Peace, depicting scenes of nuclear testing and the September 11, 2001 attacks, created by Anand Patwardhan, was asked to make 21 cuts before it was allowed to have the certificate for release. Patwardhan objected, saying "The cuts that they asked for are so ridiculous that they won't hold up in court" and "But if these cuts do make it, it will be the end of freedom of expression in the Indian media." The court decreed the cuts unconstitutional and the film was shown uncut.
In 2002, the Indian filmmaker and former chief of the country's film censor board, Vijay Anand, kicked up a controversy with a proposal to legalise the exhibition of X-rated films in selected cinemas across the country, saying "Porn is shown everywhere in India clandestinely ... and the best way to fight this onslaught of blue movies is to show them openly in theatres with legally authorised licences". He resigned within a year after taking charge of the censor board after facing widespread criticism of his moves.
In 2003, the Indian Censor Board banned the film Gulabi Aaina (The Pink Mirror), a film on Indian transsexuals produced and directed by Sridhar Rangayan. The censor board cited that the film was "vulgar and offensive". The filmmaker appealed twice again unsuccessfully. The film still remains banned in India, but has screened at numerous festivals all over the world and won awards. The critics have applauded it for its "sensitive and touching portrayal of marginalised community".
In 2004, the documentaryFinal Solution, which looks at religious rioting between Hindus and Muslims, was banned. The film follows 2002 clashes in the western state of Gujarat, which left more than 1,000 people dead. The censor board justified the ban, saying it was "highly provocative and may trigger off unrest and communal violence". The ban was lifted in October 2004 after a sustained campaign.
In 2006, seven states (Nagaland, Punjab, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh) have banned the release or exhibition of the Hollywood movie The Da Vinci Code (and also the book), although the CBFC cleared the film for adult viewing throughout India. However, the respective high courts lifted the ban and the movie was shown in the two states.
The CBFC demanded five cuts from the 2011 American film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because of some scenes containing rape and nudity. The producers and the director David Fincher finally decided not to release the film in India.
In 2013, Kamal Haasan's Vishwaroopam was banned from the screening for a period of two weeks in Tamil Nadu.
In 2015, the CBFC demanded four cuts (three visual and one audio) from the art-house Malayalam feature film Chaayam Poosiya Veedu (The Painted House) directed by brothers Santosh Babusenan and Satish Babusenan because the film contained scenes where the female lead was shown in the nude. The directors refused to make any changes whatsoever to the film and hence the film was denied a certificate.
In 2016, the film Udta Punjab, produced by Anurag Kashyap and Ekta Kapoor among others, ran into trouble with the CBFC, resulting in a very public re-examination of the ethics of film censorship in India. The film, which depicted a structural drug problem in the state of Punjab, used a lot of expletives and showed scenes of drug use. The CBFC, on 9 June 2016, released a list of 94 cuts and 13 pointers, including the deletion of names of cities in Punjab. On 13 June, the film was cleared by the Bombay High Court with one cut and disclaimers. The court ruled that, contrary to the claims of the CBFC, the film was not out to "malign" the state of Punjab, and that it "wants to save people". Thereafter, the film was faced with further controversy when a print of it was leaked online on a torrent site. The quality of the copy, along with the fact that there was supposedly a watermark that said "censor" on top of the screen, raised suspicions that the CBFC itself had leaked the copy to spite the filmmakers. It also contained the only scene that had been cut according to the High Court order. While the CBFC claimed innocence, the lingering suspicions resulted in a tense release, with the filmmakers and countless freedom of expression advocates taking to social media to appeal to the public to watch the film in theatres, as a conscious challenge against excessive censorship on art in India. Kashyap himself asked viewers to wait till the film released before they downloaded it for free, stating that he didn't have a problem with illegal downloads, an unusual thing for a film producer to say. The film eventually released and grossed over $13 million finishing as a commercial success.
In 2017, the film Lipstick Under My Burkha directed by Alankrita Shrivastava and produced by Prakash Jha, also ran into trouble with the Central Board of Film Certification refused to certify the film, stating that "The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contagious [sic] sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society." Internationally, the film has been screened in over 35 film festivals across the world and notably earned eleven international awards prior to its official release in India, becoming eligible entry for the Golden Globe Award Ceremony. The filmmakers appealed this decision to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), which overruled the censor board's ruling, thereby granting the film a theatrical release rights. FCAT asked the filmmakers to make some cuts, mostly related to the sex scenes, at their discretion. The film will be released with an "A" or adults certificate, equivalent to an NC-17 rating in the United States, with some voluntary edits. Shrivastava told Agence-France Presse: "Of course I would have loved no cuts, but the FCAT has been very fair and clear. I feel that we will be able to release the film without hampering the narrative or diluting its essence."
Heavy metal band Slayer's 2006 album Christ Illusion was banned in India after Catholic churches in the country took offence to the artwork of the album and a few song titles and launched a protest against it. The album was taken off shelves and the remaining catalog was burnt by EMI Music India.
In 1999, Maharashtra government banned the Marathi play Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy or I, Nathuram Godse, Am Speaking The Notification was challenged before the Bombay High Court, and the High Court Bench consisting of B. P. Singh (Chief Justice), S. Radhakrishnan, and Dr. D. Y. Chandrachud allowed the writ petition and declared the notification to be ultra vires and illegal, thus rescinding the ban.
In 2004, Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues was banned in Chennai. The play however, has played successfully in many other parts of the country since 2003. A Hindi version of the play has been performing since 2007.
In 1961, it was criminalised in India to question the territorial integrity of frontiers of India in a manner which is, or is likely to be, prejudicial to the interests of the safety or security of India.
See also: List of books banned in India
- Several books of the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin have been banned in West Bengal.
- 1989, The import of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was banned in India for its purported attacks on Islam. India was the second country in the world (after Singapore) to ban the book.
- 1990, Understanding Islam through Hadis by Ram Swarup was banned. In 1990 the Hindi translation of the book was banned, and in March 1991 the English original became banned as well.
- The book Shivaji by Queen's University professor Jayant Lele about the 17th century Indian warrior king Shivaji Bhosale was banned because the book raised a question about Shivaji's father.
- Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India by American scholar James Laine was banned in 2004.
- Laine's translation of the 300-year-old poem Sivabharata, entitled The Epic of Shivaji, was banned in January 2006. The ban followed an attack by Sambhaji Brigade activists on the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune. The subsequent governments have not revoked the ban.
- In Punjab the Bhavsagar Granth (Bhavsagar Samunder Amrit Vani Granth), a 2,704 page religious treatise was banned by the state government in 2001, following clashes between mainstream Sikhs and the apostate Sikh sect that produced it. It was said[who?] that the granth had copied a number of portions from the Guru Granth Sahib. In one of the photographs it showed Baba Bhaniara, wearing a shining coat and headdress in a style similar to that made familiar through the popular posters of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru of the Sikhs. In another Baba Bhaniara is shown riding a horse in the manner of Guru Gobind Singh. The ban was lifted in November 2008.
- The Polyester Prince, a biography of the Indian businessman Dhirubhai Ambani was banned.
- Importing the book The True Furqan (al-Furqan al-Haqq) by Al Saffee and Al Mahdee into India has been prohibited since September 2005.
- R.V. Bhasin's Islam - A Concept of Political World Invasion by Muslims was banned in Maharashtra in 2007 during the tenure of Vilasrao Deshmukh (ex Chief Minister, Maharashtra) on grounds that it promotes communal disharmony between Hindus and Muslims.
Main article: Internet censorship in India
Freedom House'sFreedom on the Net 2015 report gives India a Freedom on the Net Status of "Partly Free" with a rating of 40 (scale from 0 to 100, lower is better). Its Obstacles to Access was rated 12 (0-25 scale), Limits on Content was rated 10 (0-35 scale) and Violations of User Rights was rated 18 (0-40 scale). India was ranked 29th out of the 65 countries included in the 2015 report.
The Freedom on the Net 2012 report says:
- India's overall Internet Freedom Status is "Partly Free", unchanged from 2009.
- India has a score of 39 on a scale from 0 (most free) to 100 (least free), which places India 20 out of the 47 countries worldwide that were included in the 2012 report. India ranked 14 out of 37 countries in the 2011 report.
- India ranks third out of the eleven countries in Asia included in the 2012 report.
- Prior to 2008, censorship of Internet content by the Indian government was relatively rare and sporadic.
- Following the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which killed 171 people, the Indian Parliament passed amendments to the Information Technology Act (ITA) that expanded the government's censorship and monitoring capabilities.
- While there is no sustained government policy or strategy to block access to Internet content on a large scale, measures for removing certain content from the web, sometimes for fear they could incite violence, have become more common.
- Pressure on private companies to remove information that is perceived to endanger public order or national security has increased since late 2009, with the implementation of the amended ITA. Companies are required to have designated employees to receive government blocking requests, and assigns up to seven years' imprisonment private service providers—including ISPs, search engines, and cybercafes—that do not comply with the government's blocking requests.
- Internet users have sporadically faced prosecution for online postings, and private companies hosting the content are obliged by law to hand over user information to the authorities.
- In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that bloggers and moderators can face libel suits and even criminal prosecution for comments posted on their websites.
- Prior judicial approval for communications interception is not required and both central and state governments have the power to issue directives on interception, monitoring, and decryption. All licensed ISPs are obliged by law to sign an agreement that allows Indian government authorities to access user data.
India is classified as engaged in "selective" Internet filtering in the conflict/security and Internet tools areas and as showing "no evidence" of filtering in the political and social areas by the OpenNet Initiative in May 2007. ONI states that:
As a stable democracy with strong protections for press freedom, India’s experiments with Internet filtering have been brought into the fold of public discourse. The selective censorship of Web sites and blogs since 2003, made even more disjointed by the non-uniform responses of Internet service providers (ISPs), has inspired a clamour of opposition. Clearly government regulation and implementation of filtering are still evolving. … Amidst widespread speculation in the media and blogosphere about the state of filtering in India, the sites actually blocked indicate that while the filtering system in place yields inconsistent results, it nevertheless continues to be aligned with and driven by government efforts. Government attempts at filtering have not been entirely effective, as blocked content has quickly migrated to other Web sites and users have found ways to circumvent filtering. The government has also been criticised for a poor understanding of the technical feasibility of censorship and for haphazardly choosing which Web sites to block. The amended IT Act, absolving intermediaries from being responsible for third-party created content, could signal stronger government monitoring in the future.
A "Transparency Report" from Google indicates that the Government of India initiated 67 content removal requests between July and December 2010.
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