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Free Speech Brigade Silent on Indu Sarkar

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By A Surya Prakash

The Congress has been vociferously protesting against Madhur Bhandarkar’s film that has the Emergency period as its backdrop. But the party cannot obliterate history

The current campaign by the Congress against Madhur Bhandarkar’s film, Indu Sarkar, and the initial cuts suggested by the Central Board of Film Certification (popularly called the censor board) are indeed most unfortunate.  Bhandarkar’s film is a human drama in the backdrop of the Emergency. It is not a film on the Emergency. Therefore, the protests being engineered against the release of the film and the needless intervention by the CBFC are indicative of how fragile the constitutional right to freedom of expression is in our country.

Indira Gandhi turned a vibrant democracy into a dictatorship between 1975 and  1977, jailed all her political opponents and perpetrated some of the worst acts of tyranny that India has seen after independence. Forty years have gone by since we regained our freedom and our Constitution, yet not a single film has been produced on the darkest days that our democracy witnessed during the Emergency. Finally, when a popular and talented director like Madhur Bhandarkar decides to do a movie on a story which has the Emergency as the backdrop, all kinds of objections are being raised. The Congress, which has been screaming from rooftops about freedom of expression ever since the regime change in 2014, does not want freedom of expression to extend to the dissemination of truth about the most dreadful phase in India’s democratic life, when a fascist regime ruled the country.

One can well understand the discomfort of a political party, but how can the censor board have a problem with this? All institutions in the country have the mandate to further the cause of democracy in our country. The censor board has that responsibility too. Therefore, how can it object to the facts being told about the Emergency? Some of the objections raised initially by the board are indeed absurd. According to Madhur Bhandarkar, the CBFC had objected to the following  words and expressions, and had asked the film’s director to delete the same: “Bharat ki ek beti ne desh ko bandhi banaya hua hai” ( a daughter of Bharat has chained the country); “Aur tum log zindagi bhar maa-bete ki gulaami karte rahoge” (And all of you will be slaves to the mother-and-son all your life). Fortunately, these cuts were restored after a review.

The Emergency has been extensively written about. There are many books and thousands of newspaper columns describing the atrocities committed on the people at that time. Why cannot a film director have the same freedom of expression as a newspaper columnist or an author? Further, we are told that the censor board initially has asked for the deletion of this dialogue: “Main toh 70 saal ka bhooda hoon, meri nasbandi kyun kawra rahe ho?” ( I am 70 years old, why are you sterilising me?)  This dialogue too eventually escaped the censor board’s scissors, but why was the board objecting to this in the first place? Forcible sterilisation was one of the worst crimes perpetrated during the Emergency. The facts are as follows: During the Emergency, lakhs of people in the country, including Government servants and teachers, were forcibly sterilised. Sanjay Gandhi decided that the only way to curb population growth was to deploy force. People with two or more children were dragged to sterilisation camps. Second, in order to speed up the programme, it was decided to fix targets for every state. The Shah Commission, which investigated many of the Emergency crimes, reported that school teachers who refused to undergo vasectomy operations were jailed under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (Misa). They were released after they showed doctor’s certificates that they had been sterilised!

Where do we go from here? We must ask the Government to implement the recommendations of the committee headed by noted film-maker Shyam Benegal in regard to film censorship. This panel has made it clear that the role of the CBFC is only that of a film certification authority. It is not a censor board. It should not suggest cuts, but only limit itself to certification of the film. It can reject certification if a film violates Section 5B (1) of the Cinematagraph Act.

The censor board’s diktats in regard to a documentary on Amartya Sen are equally absurd. Suman Ghosh, the documentary-maker, has told the media that the board wanted words and expressions like ‘Gujarat’, ‘Cow’ and ‘Hindutva view of India’ beeped out! We are all aware of the raging debate in the country of cow vigilantes and the acts of lawlessness perpetrated by hooligans in the name of the holy cow in recent months. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has himself come out strongly against such hooliganism and asked State Governments to firmly deal with those who indulge in such violence. Why should the censor board then be behaving in this holier than thou fashion?

Therefore, the sooner the Benegal panel recommendations are adopted, the better it will befor the film industry. The Congress’s serial protests against Madhur Bhandarkar in Pune, Nagpur etc only suggest that there isn’t much change in the party since the days of the Emergency. During the Emergency, the party banned popular singer Kishore Kumar from All India Radio and Doordarshan and even asked gramophone companies not to market Kishore Kumar’s records. The Indira Gandhi Government also banned films such as Kissa Kursi Ka and Aandhi. Now, it wants Bhandarkar’s film banned.

As regards Indu Sarkar, the film has opened in theatres across the country, but the Congress’s protests continue, despite an apex court order clearing the film. However, more than the Congress cacophony, it is the deafening silence of the flag-bearers of freedom of expression (of course, of recent origin) and of the Lutyens’s citizenry that is baffling. Most of them have gone into the woodwork. Shall we take their silence as acquiescence vis-à-vis the demand for ban on the film?  Over the last four decades, they had ensured that the horrifying details of the Emergency were kept away from the Indian public. Why do they want the story of India’s tryst with fascism to remain buried forever? Whatever their intentions, it is best to tell them the truth — something akin to a statutory warning — that those who want a ban on a film about the Emergency, will permanently lose their right to speak up for freedom of expression.

(The writer is Chairman, Prasar Bharati. Views expressed here are personal)

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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