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Censorship and Democracy

An Examination of two Documentary Films: India’s Daughter and Muzaffarnagar Baqi Hai

Ankit Pathak
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Ever since the colonial period the Indian state, by using its power, has been regulating, barring, cutting and editing the content of films. If the content of films seems to challenge the state, its power or unity and integrity as given in the Indian Constitution, then it bans them by using existing laws and/or enacting new laws. It does so keeping in mind its cultural agenda, which is why commercial films express views within the boundaries of freedom of expression as determined by the state. Tension between the cultural agenda of the state and these films is scarcely in evidence. On the other hand documentaries find a way of criticizing the state through their chosen methods. In some cases documentaries ferret out extreme aspects of political reality, which is why they are a useful means of expression for those who want to critique the state. The designated system of the state (the censor board) is hence more concerned with these films and tries to restrict their discursive boundaries.

This paper tries to identify some questions raised about the idea of India as held by the state and elected power, conflicts between state power and the public in India, and key issues pertaining to gender and the minorities frequently aired. For this purpose two documentary films have been chosen. The first is Leslee Udwin’s India’s Daughter, banned by the state on account of an interview with an unrepentant accused in gang rape. The second is Nakul Singh Sawhney’s Muzaffarnagar Baqi Hai which did not suffer at the hands of the censor board but faced non-governmental censorship during public screenings. Through the first film the nexus between the state and patriarchy and through the second the role of the state in spreading communalism is examined. This paper poses some questions - while banning or censoring a film, does the logic given by the state really in favour public interest? What kind of official/informal mind-set goes into the informal censoring of documentary films by nongovernmental agencies? What does such censorship say about the vision of India held by the censoring authority?

Theoretical Understanding of Censorship:
Censorship means the restriction or the complete ban on the spread of information thought by the state and society to be offensive, harmful, sensitive and troublesome (Dubey 2013:1907). On the one hand the state tries to uphold freedom of expression and on the other it tries to inhibit various forms of expression. It suspects cinema of being a way to misuse the ‘goodwill of the state’ and a way to subvert its ends. Censorship is as old as the state; the first use of the word ‘censor’ is found in the Latin language when the state was just coming into existence; its meaning was ‘to give opinion’ or advise or ‘to judge’. Rome was the city where the first censor office was established in 443 AD (Joshi 2012: 103). At this time the work of the censor was very restricted. But as the size of the state grew, it tried to control the life of the Plebeians. Censorship has been called the antithesis for an open society in the liberal school of thought. It was considered ‘renounceable intolerance’ by liberals (Dubey 2013: 1907) but with the development of modern state, censorship became part of its structure.

With the formation of the modern nation-state laws were enacted to regulate civil society. On one side, freedom of expression was declared a basic right but the state still wanted control over it. The reason was the fear the state felt from the artists, cultural activists and writers. Cinema, which in its earliest form was in the form of the documentary, was controlled and brought under the rule of law. In democratic societies, generally, the call for censorship is raised by neo-rightists though leftists too have supported it for their own ideological ends. Censorship is basically applied on moral, political, and religious ground. Traditional liberal thought argues that what a person wants to read, see or listen to is personal choice if it does not affect anyone else. As against this non-liberals argue that space should not be provided for the growth of anything immoral in the name of tolerance. According to them criticizing the immoral is not enough but one must stand actively and institutionally against it.

What the Cinematography Act says
Britain was the first country to pass censorship laws in the 20th century. The Cinematography Act was passed in Britain in year 1909, in 1913 in Norway, in 1914 in Denmark, in 1915 in United States of America and in 1916 in France. In India it was passed in year 1918 by the British government to oversee the film industry. Later on censor boards were established in Kolkata, Madras, Lahore and Rangoon. In year 1927 the first Cinematography Committee of India was formed which, for the first time, issued guidelines. According to the committee it would be unreasonable to end censorship since the government was bound to censor the production, import and public screenings of films that affected the religious sentiments of any community. The committee considered obscenity a problem without defining the term. At the same time filmmaker J. J. Madan expressed the view that if the censor tried to restrict the artistic or inspirational dynamics of film, it might destroy its continuity as industry (Joshi 2012: 105).

The Central Film Censorship Board was established in year 1951 on the recommendations of the Patil Investigation Committee (1949). In 1952 the first cinematography act of independent India was passed and in 1958 cinematography censorship laws were enacted. In year 1983 Section 8 of Cinematography Act of 1952 was repealed and with this, government changed the name of the Central Film Censorship Board to the ‘Central Film Certification Board’. It is by the laws and guidelines of this board that Indian films get certified today. By certification of these films it was meant that these were in line with the government’s objectives.

Western democracy and censorship
The First Amendment of the Constitution of United States of America provides its citizen unlimited freedom of expression. In the same way, despite being unwritten, the constitution of Britain provides its citizens unbounded freedom of expression. Often, it seems that the labelling of any material offensive or harmful has been changing historically and culturally. The laws of censorship vary through time and space and the question of public interest and public morality keeps pace with it. To define these parameters ideology, authority and power play a major role (Dubey 2013: 963).

American social attitudes had great effect on the freedom of expression provided by the US Constitution. Because of the openness in western societies like the US and Europe sex, sexuality and nudity are not troubling issues. Sex scenes are generally shown in western films. Though in the US censorship rules were made in the second decade of the 20th century, they were relaxed in the early sixties due to active pressure of filmmakers, writers and cultural activists. At the present time in the US and some other western countries no films are censored legally. Hollywood has developed new ways of self-restraint to be exempted from Federal interference. Hays Office (Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, of 1930) was developed by mutual understanding as a way to promulgate an acceptable moral code. Later, a new rating system was launched by the motion pictures association of America (MPAA) which is still active (Dubey 2013: 963). Relaxations were also made in the censorship laws of Britain, Spain and France in the 1970s. It is commonly seen in western democracies that they have little interest in strong censorship. But in 1988 a catholic lobby of France stopped the screening of Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ in many cities of France. France is known for its strong secular mind-set termed ‘Laicism’ but it could not stop non-constitutional censorship by influential catholic groups (Dubey 2013: 964). Thus we see that informal censorship occurs from time to time even in firmly established democracies.

Experience of India with censorship
The experiences of Indian cinema have been quite the same before and after Independence. Though changes were observed in the reasons for the ban and censorship, the institutional structure of censorship actually deepened. During British rule films like Bhakt Vidur, Videshi Vastron Ki Holi and Vandematram were banned for their opposition of colonialism. In fact, before Independence only those films were banned which questioned British authority but there was no censorship of the films made against the social evils and discrimination in Indian society, even if a large section of society stood against such movies. After the cinematography bill was enacted, the process to control and regulate the circulation and promotion of such films began. The censor board blocked the release of M.S. Sathyu’s Garam Hawa for eight months. During emergency Indira Gandhi banned Andhi of Gulzar, later lifted by the Janata Party. Kissa Kursi Ka was banned for mocking the goings-on during the Emergency. There are a series of films after this which were banned, censored, blocked or denied certification by the censor board, or were not rated. Pati Parmeshwar (1987), Bandit Queen (1994), Kamasutra: A tale of Love (1996), Fire (1996), Paanch (2001), Hawayein (2003), The Pink Mirror (2004), Black Friday (2005) and Water (2005) can be named as such films.

The Indian experience had been different for feature film and documentaries. If we are to understand the system constructed by the state, we should analyse its stand against documentaries, where it reveals itself bluntly. After Independence, India was faced with the challenge of fulfilling its ‘promises to destiny’. Feature films were doing this in the decade of the fifties through Golden Hindi Cinema period. In parallel the ‘Films Division’ established by Indian government promoted the making of documentaries. At present it is still the institution that makes largest number of documentaries. Documentaries made with its help were shown for decades in theatres as news before or during the interval. Most of these were about the plans and actions of the government, which propagated nation building to educated people and made it easier for them to access information. This was the governmental side of documentaries and censorship of these was generally unnecessary.

But since documentaries were not the chosen medium of professional filmmakers involved in fiction films, with the aim of discourse promoting ideology and movements, the genre was adopted by various non-governmental organizations and groups and these soon came on the radar of state. Those documentaries which challenged the institutions of the state or criticized them were stopped from being broadcast on Doordarshan (Kazmi 1999: 235). Of these Suhasini Muley and Tapan Bose’s An Indian Story i, Prakash Jha’s Faces After the Stormii, Utpalendu Chakravarty’s Mukti Chai iii, Anand Patwardhan’s A Time To Rise iv, Suhasini Muley and Tapan Bose’s Bhopal: Beyond Genocide v, From the Burning Embers vi made by Mediastorm as well as Vasundhara Joshi and Ranjan Palit’s film Voices From Baliapal vii are noteworthy here. The documentary films of Anand Patwardhan which interrogated the system were either not allowed to be screened or were screened publicly only after litigation - like Hamara Shahar, Ram Ke Naam, In Memory of Friends and Father, Son and the Holy War etc. (Kazmi 1999: 234).

The pioneer of documentary films in India Sukhdev said in an interview that the censor board had a problem with his line ‘ameer aur ameer hote ja rhe hain, gareeb aur gareeb hote ja rhe’ (‘Rich are becoming richer, the poor, poorer’). He was called and bluntly asked “What are you thinking? Do you want to change the government? Do you know what happens to those in Russia who make such films?” Sukhdev said, “Forgive me, I had not read the papers carefully.” Then he sat for a month in his office and the censor board cut his film to half (Kazmi 1999: 234). This was the year 1965 and makes clear how hard it was in the early decades of freedom when freedom of expression was actually limited. The new Indian nationstate did not want to appear weak in any sense either within or outside. After that Sheeshon Ka Masiha a documentary made by Muzaffar Ali on the Bhopal gas tragedy could not be shown on Doordarshan. The film board sent a notice to M S Sathyu for his documentary March to Socialism. In another example of censorship and banning, Satyajit Ray’s Sikkim made in 1971 was banned by Indira Gandhi government in 1975, lifted in September 2010 when Sikkim was understood as an integral part of Indian federation. Final Solution by Rakesh Sharma based on the Gujarat riots was banned in year 2003 but this was lifted after a few months.

Two recent examples of governmental and non-governmental censorship are India’s Daughter and Muzaffarnagar Baki Hai which will be discussed in detail later. Before that it is necessary to understand that the nature of censorship in India is often dependent on the whims of state but it is equally necessary it is to understand the films banned or censored by the state. These are the films which bring to light the state’s subjugation and oppression of its people. In the preamble of Indian constitution all citizens have been given equal rights, justice, freedom (liberty), equality and fraternity but still films which nourish inequality are being regularly made. Bangla actor and director Utpal Dutt said, “If they wish to save people from dangerous and subconscious indoctrination, they must ban films like Jai Santoshi Maa which reawakens superstition. They must ban misogynistic films. Films made in this country usually show women as only for male entertainment or show them as slaves of their husbands. Such slavery is glorified in films as an Indian ideal. According to me, the time has come when Indian women should speak out against these films.”(Itihasbodh 1995: 11) Similarly filmmaker Goutam Ghosh asserted that the existence of the censor board after more than sixty years of independence is not only disgraceful but undemocratic. In today’s age when everything is available on the internet, censorship is not rational. Today when everything is being freed in the economy why ban cinema? This destroys a person’s freedom of expression (Hans: 2013). Lalit Joshi asks, “Whose freedom does the state affect through censorship – the sender or receiver’s? Undoubtedly by editing the story the state ignores the basic rights of the receiver related to communication and its exchange. These rights can only be secured when a complete end of censor’s use of scissors on films is put into effect” (Joshi 2012: 110-111).

The aim of this research paper is to analyse two important issues through films dealing with them, firstly patriarchy and violence against women in Indian society and, secondly, the question of communal riots how does the state and society react to these issues within a given time period. Both these issues have been raised with British filmmaker Leslee Udwin’s documentary India’s Daughter and Indian filmmaker Nakul Sahney’s documentary Muzzafarnagar Baki Hai. This research paper aims to analyse the stand of the Indian state as a democratic entity against these films, the reasons based on which it bans India’s Daughter and on the other hand how groups affiliated to the party in power targeted Muzzafarnagar Baki Hai.

Questions of violence against women in Indian society through India’s Daughter
India’s Daughter made by British Filmmaker Leslee Udwin is based on the rape of a 23 year old Phalanx Spacer
student in Delhi on 16 December, 2012. In the hour-long film there are some interviews of the victim’s parents, police, lawyers, women activists, professors of Oxford University etc. Dramatization of scenes has been used to maintain the continuity of events. Udwin made this film with BBC’s help. The film was to be broadcasted on 04.march.2015 on BBC and 08.march.2015 on NDTV news channel. On 1ST March 2015 The Guardian published a story on Udwin’s documentary. In this story the interview of the accused of rape and murder was published blaming the girl for this act. After this news was published the Home Minister declared in parliament that permission was given to filmmaker to make the film for social purpose which she misused. On 3rd March 2015 a case was filed in a hurry and the movie was officially banned in India (The Hindu 10th March, 2015).

The filmmaker, in this regard, said that she and her team had received permission to interview the accused from the Home Ministry and prison officials. In the debate on this issue in parliament many female members opposed the documentary and asked for it to be banned. Supporting the film, independent member of the Rajya Sabha Anu Aga said India had failed to oppose violence against women and we would not find a solution by banning this film, that we must face it that men in India do not respect women and that whenever someone is raped, the victim is blamed (The Hindu, 5th March, 2015). Film lyricist and Rajya Sabha member Javed Aktar said that it was good that this documentary was made and the truth would come out; by banning this documentary government was stopping people from knowing the truth. For the other side BJP’s MP Meenakshi Lekhi called the documentary a blow to India’s respect and asked for complete ban on such documentaries.

In the film information about victim Jyoti Singh is found in an interview with her parents and school teacher. She had finished her medical education from a paramedical institute in Delhi. According to her father she wanted to be a doctor since a child viii. Talking about Jyoti, her teacher says, ‘According to Jyoti India’s biggest problem is the mentality which differentiates between boys and girls, she often used to say that girls could do anything’ ix. In her village, where medical facilities are not available, she wanted to build a hospital. The interviews with her assailants are in stark contrast and one of the six accused is seen in the film. He says ‘A decent girl is home around at 9 p.m. Girls are for more responsible for rape than boys’. He further says ‘Girls and boys are not equal. Domestic work has been made for girls, they should take care of the house, not that go to disco at night, go to bars, do immoral acts and wear wrong clothes.’x Along with the accused, interviews of the defendants’ lawyers M.L. Sharma and A.P. Singh are shown in the film. M.L. Sharma compares women to flowers and men to thorns. According to him, ‘Girls have no permission to roam around with unknown men after 06:30 pm’ xi. The other lawyer A.P. Singh says, ‘If it is very necessary girls should go outside only with their family members.’ He further says , “If my daughter or sister gives priority to physical relations before marriage, or dishonour herself before marriage, I have the courage to put petrol on her in front of my family in my farmhouse and burn her alive” xii. On the other hand Jyoti’s mother says, “When a tragedy occurs, girls are directly blamed; she shouldn’t go outside, she shouldn’t wear such clothes.” xiii Jyoti’s father says, “Jyoti lighted such a torch that gave light not only to the nation but whole world but she also left a question about what is the meaning of being a women? How is a women seen in society today?” xiv

The film also shows massive protests in Delhi and throughout the country after 16th December 2012 against violence happening to women. Thousands of youth expressed their anger chanting slogans. According to senior jurist and ex-solicitor general Gopal Subramanyam, ‘The government instituted a committee under Justice J.S. Verma to examine the law on sexual violence.” xv The film does not stand with the accused in any way but rather tries to show the mentality which arises because of patriarchy and considers women as a bus driver or a lawyer standing in fact court of Delhi for justice. Film tries to show this clearly that the acts of rape and violence on women are product of which mentality.

What logic could be behind banning such a film? First, the reasoning of the government is that by the title of the film a wrong message about India will go into the world. How sound this reasoning is could be inferred by the fact that the daughter of India which the movie refers to is a progressive, self-reliant, educated, vigilant daughter who believes in change. What society or country would not be proud if such a ‘daughter’ became famous across the world? Though the government may be afraid that it cannot provide protection to its daughters who have possibilities of bright futures, and world would needlessly come to know that such daughters are not safe in India. Actually this issue is a part of internal structure of India. We nurture a society of inequality for centuries and now we have become accustomed to hide our weakness and truths. To take women emancipation seriously is not seen as essential in mainstream politics.

Some people have expressed the view that the film gives a platform to a rapist. Stating her views on this, social activist Kavita Krishnan says this film gives a wrong image of Indian men and rape has been put forward – while rape is a major problem for the whole world. She also criticized calling the victim ‘India’s Daughter’. According to her it is important to see women as human beings and individuals. “By naming them as daughters and daughters-inlaw their freedom is restricted them in the name of their security. She says India’s Daughter reflects the asymmetries of power and access, and of where discourses are generated and directed. Who represents whom, and how they do so, reflects many of these asymmetries and exposes complicities. As to the question of why India’s Daughter was not made by anyone in India, this is a question best answered by those who were most vociferous in their denunciation of the ban.”

Here are Indira Jaisingh and Ritu Menon expressing reservations in the Economic and Political Weekly:
“What Indian courts did with regard to Leslee Udwin and BBC Storyville’s film ‘India’s Daughter’ scheduled for telecast by NDTV on 8th March, 2015….. issued a restraining order on screening the film till the case has been disposed of. They did this in the interest of upholding due legal process.

“In a curious, but quite unsurprising, development, this preventive, restraining action is immediately transformed by the media to a ‘ban’ and the legal issue is hijacked to become one of ‘freedom of expression’; this is then further confused and confounded by the government of India and sundry parliamentarians who declare that far from being about ‘freedom of expression’, it is really about foreigners conspiring to defame the country, by insulting the ‘honour’ of Indian womanhood.

“In an obviously Orientalist framing, the young woman who was raped and is the raison d’etre of the film, has been simultaneously invisibilised and reified as ‘India’s Daughter’. This remarkable young woman, one who was determined to forge her own destiny in a difficult environment, is once again represented not in her own right but in relation to: this time as the country’s daughter. That same country had earlier rendered her more or less anonymous as ‘Nirbhaya’. Inevitably, and unavoidably, she is represented in absentia, through others in the film: her parents, one of the convicts, her tutor. Oddly enough, not by her ‘boyfriend’, but more on that later; Mukesh Singh ostensibly represents himself, and also represents the three others convicted with him, so do his defence lawyers and Nirbhaya’s parents. A question naturally arises about why the others, the juvenile and fourth accused, were not included in the film. Was permission to interview them not given? Did they refuse to be interviewed? Were they interviewed but not part of the final film for other reasons? These elisions are important, because in the film as is, we are presented with just one version of what happened on the night of December 16, 2012 – Mukesh Singh’s. Even more significant, and much more problematic, is the absence of the boyfriend, the one person who could have countered Mukesh Singh, whose statements would have had the authority of a first-hand account; whose representation of Nirbhaya and what she experienced would have unequivocally repudiate Mukesh Singh’ vile account; and who would have spoken on her behalf. The same questions then arise: was he not sought out? Did he decline? If yes, why? If not, why not?” (EPW 21 March, 2015).

According to film’s director she tried to present the views of all involved parties in a balanced way. According to her it is clear from the interviews taken in the film the root cause of rape and other such crimes is the inequality between girls and boys. She says, “The problem is the mentality of discrimination between boys and girls. It is a sickness whose symptoms we see in the form of rape, feticide, honour killing or trafficking of girls.” This way, after analysing different aspects of the film’s subject matter, it may be said that the way the state defines freedom of expression and patriarchy makes it possible for it to ban such films and other work of art. On the opposite side in today’s era of information technology, all kinds of intellectual and physical products banned by state are easily available. It is because of globalization in the decade of the nineties that due to new economic policies the media has reached every nook and corner. For example before the ban on India’s Daughter it was uploaded on Youtube where more than one hundred thousand people had seen it within 12 hours. In this way state’s system proves to be useless and fails in its aim to ban the film or even suppress it.

State and communal riots in Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai
In the sixth Patna film festival organized by ‘Cinema of Resistance’ between 5th and 7th December, 2014 independent filmmaker Nakul Singh Sawhney’s documentary Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai was Phalanx Spacer
premiered (Dainik Bhaskar, 4 December, 2014). This film is focused on the communal riots which happened in August-September 2013 in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of Uttar Pradesh. There are some filmmakers of documentaries in India who do not get certification from state’s censor board since where they show them requires no certification. Generally to participate in national and international film festivals it is necessary to get certification from government. Those filmmakers who do not wish to be a part of governmental film festival do not try to get it. Nakul Singh Sawhney is one such filmmaker. He did not go to the censor board with his film but still had to face informal censorship. It was different in the case of India’s Daughter; there the state had interfered directly and the film had been banned.

Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai was targeted at its premiere by certain groups. The film was interrupted at its public screening on 1 August, 2015 in Kirori Mal College, North Campus, Delhi University by members of Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). According to ABVP, film affected the youth with a certain ideology and hurt the sentiments of Hindus and Jats (Firstpost, 27 August, 2015). Screening was also hindered when students of Ambedkar Association of Hyderabad University tried to screen it. ‘Cinema of Resistance’ called nationally to show this film on 25 August, 2015 against such illegal censorship. The film was shown in sixty cities on ninety screens.

Shubhradeep Chakravarty and Gopal Menon too have made documentaries on communal riots but Sawhney’s film is more important as it identifies the communal environment building up in western Uttar Pradesh a year before 16th Lok Sabha elections. Film exposes both the groups, one involved in the riots and the other that claims to be secular. When we see the first scene of Muzaffanagar…., Uday Prakash’s poem ‘Do hathiyon ki ladaai’( Battle of two elephants) comes to one’s mind. He says, ‘Do hathiyon ki ladaai mein, sabse jyada kuchli jaati hai ghaas, jiska ki un hathiyon ke samuche kunbe se, kuchh bhi lena dena nahin hota’ (‘In the battle between two elephants, the grass is crushed the most, which has nothing to do with the whole race of the elephants’). The camera is held on the sketching/drawing activity of a school dropout girl in a refugee camp in which she tries to tell the tragedy of the riots. Riots affect and destroy children most, their creativity and dreams. Investigating the atmosphere building up before riots in Muzaffarnagar the film shows how leading newspapers of the time connected the crimes with a particular community. In these allegations mostly crimes against women were included. The main reason of breaking out of riots in Muzaffarnagar was an incident of eve-teasing. The film shows how some people relate the act of eve teasing to a certain community and call for violence nominally to save their own kind. In protest at the teasing, some Jats murdered a Muslim youth, Shahnawaaj. To revenge this, Muslim miscreants killed Sachin and Gaurav Malik of the Jat Community. After these killings tension escalated in Muzaffanagar. Amidst all this chaos a video of the dead Jats downloaded from Youtube was circulated through compact disc and Whatsapp by Sangeet Singh Som, the BJP legislator from Sardhana. After these events in the last week of August 2013, a ‘Bahu-beti Izzat Bachao Mahapanchayat’ (‘Save the honour of our daughters/daughters-in-law’) was organized in Nangla Mandaud of Muzaffarnagar on 7 September, 2013. The mob present indulged in violent horrific acts in the surrounding villages. According to independent reports more than a hundred people were killed in violence on 7 and 8 September in Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and Baghpat and more than eighty thousand people were displaced; it is estimated that more than ninety per cent of the victims were Muslims.

The film points at ‘Love Jehad’ being the main cause behind these riots. Lalit Maheshvari’s interview is recorded in the film, the secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Mujaffarnagar. He says, ‘It is love jehad only, men of other religions, by changing their names to Hindu ones and having relations with our girls after misleading them, giving them financial allurements.’ xvi The film shows interviews of girls and women at a sewing centre in Shamli. This part of the film is very important where girls say, ‘There is no such thing that boys of Hindu family won’t harass, that only those of the Muslim faith would; let alone Hindus, here those of one’s own family, those who are relatives, cousins and brothers are involved and they harass women. If a woman is wearing a burqa or has covered her face, they harass her, pass comments on her. These people are harassing girls themselves at every opportunity and naming Muslims as the only culprits. They say their girls are not safe, but the girls are not safe even in their own homes with these men, their own relatives. Men of their own households harass them.’ xvii

The film indicates the changes in the politics of Uttar Pradesh, its views on how in this secular land seeds of communal hatred were sown and harvested. India has had a long history of peasant movements. The contribution of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) has been noteworthy` in it. Under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Tikait Hindu-Muslim unity flourished for a long time in this area and both communities fought for the sugarcane farmers. This area had honoured the legacy of Chaudhari Charan Singh. When Tikait died, BKU fell apart. This area had been the centre of politics of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) for a long time but it lost its prestige and could not get representation in the 16th Lok Sabha. The legacy of the BKU moved into the hands of communal forces. Angered by this development a longtime supporter of Tikait in BKU, Gulam Mohammad Jaula started another party. His interview is recorded in the film as well. He is worried that in this atmosphere the main question of farmers is being left behind. xviii The film also raises the issue of communal riots affecting the villages. In academic discourses Ashutosh Varshneya considers riots as a city phenomenon (Varshneya: 2003). But Muzaffanagar breaks the myth that riots affect urban areas only, which Paul Brass too says in his study of western Uttar Pradesh (Brass:2005). Other than this factor the film also shows the only camp of Hindu victims in which most are conspicuously Dalits. In the interview taken in the film, the Dalit populace considers itself as being trampled upon. Other than showing the communal feelings and situations during and after riots, the film exposes the slackening attitude of police and the condition of the Samaajvadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh. On 6 March, 2016 Justice Vishnu Sahay committee’s report on Muzaffarnagar riots was presented in Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha, a report which considers the failure of administrative system and holds some officials responsible. Social media too has been considered responsible in inciting riots and spreading rumours.

By showing gruesome facets of the riots, this film is disheartening but it also shows the youth activists of Naujawaan Bharat Sabha spreading wakefulness with the message of fraternity, love and communal harmony and they appear the only ray of hope. This group moves from darkness to light singing Avtar Singh Pash’s song ‘Ham Ladenge Saathi’ (We shall fight comrade). In this way, the film makes its subject matter the changing circumstances of western Uttar Pradesh and all its minute details from 2013 till the results of 16th Lok Sabha were announced. Despite its evident objectivity and clear presentation of facts, this film was targeted who accused it of being biased.

The state bans artistic forms in the name of the ‘general good of the public’ while on the other hand groups associated with the elected government try to hinder artistic exercises that do not match their ideology. Informal censorship is as much a problem to democracy such as India’s as state censorship. The issues in a democracy cannot be resolved without art forms reaching the populace with issues that concern them and this is facilitated (alongside others) by documentary films. Legal censorship is in the nature of state and censorship has been there in some form since the inception of state. But democracy in India has its biggest challenge in form of informal censorship - as most extremist forces pave their way to power through it. In the current scenario this question becomes more important when informal censorship is at its highest.


i Documentary on the blinding of undertrial prisoners in Bhagalpur, Bihar (1981).

ii PrakashJha’s film on the riots in Bihar, which won the national award for best documentary (1983).

iii Set in the Emergency, film by Bangla filmmaker UtpalenduChakravarty(1977).

iv Film about Chinese and East-Indian immigrant farm workers in British Columbia (1981).

v Documentary filmabout the Bhopal Gas tragedy (1986).

vi About the sati of RoopKanwar of Deorala, Rajastan, filmed by female students of JamiaIslamia University’s mass communication course (1988).

vii This national award winning film (1988) about the non-violent resistance of 70,000 fishermen and farmers to efforts to displace them to make way for a missile testing range was not telecast on Doordarshan.

viii Interview- India’s Daughter.

ix Ibid.

x Ibid.

xi Ibid.

xii Ibid.

xiii Ibid.

xiv Ibid.

xv Ibid.

xvi Interview - Muzzafarnagar Baki Hai.

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Ankit Pathak is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science, University of Allahabad


At first glance the idea of a ‘free society’ in the West is an appealing one but is Western society really as free as that? What seems to be the case is that democratic society in the West has evolved to a state where censorship is not required. Ever since Noam Chomsky’s ‘Manufacturing Consent’ we know that way freedom operates but that book was written in the 1980s and the situation is much worse today. Moreover a question one should put here is whether ‘political correctness’ is not an extreme form of self-inflicted censorship and is it still not being endorsed unequivocally by the whole of the free world?

Coming to the documentaries themselves, it is necessary to look at only one of them to understand how ‘freedom of expression’ can be used to further a dubious agenda. India’s Daughter explores the story of the 2012 rape and murder of ‘Nirbhaya’, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi. It uses the interview method to reveal the mindsets of various people involved directly or indirectly in the incident – like the victim’s family, the perpetrators and their families, defense lawyers – as well as experts and opinion makers like the psychiatrist from Tihar jail, judicial luminaries, politicians and activists.  There is little doubt that the banning of the film has helped it because it now passes for honest revelation curtailed by a patriarchal establishment. One cannot deny that the establishment is conservative and that some of the views expressed in the film although obnoxious are actually held by people. But there was also an attempt by the film to push a viewpoint about the ‘Indian mindset’ and, more preposterously, about ‘India’s war against women’, as though such a war were possible in any society.

India’s Daughter begins with a description of the event and the protests that followed and concludes that ‘the silence has been broken.’ One is puzzled at this insinuation that there was a ‘silence’ around the issue of rape and atrocities against women in India. In fact there is so much public willingness to talk that a BBC journalist can get an interview lasting several hours with a rapist on death row by paying his family off modestly. Udwin since denied that people were paid but knowing Indian officialdom as one does, one doubts that the documentary would have been allowed without hefty sums of money changing hands.

To begin with, the film is an attack on patriarchy and one can hardly deny that rape as a general phenomenon owes to patriarchy. At the same time patriarchy in India – as elsewhere – is several millennia old while the rise in incidences of rape in India goes back only a decade or so. If one’s aim is to reduce the incidences of rape would it not be more pertinent to speculate about the local increase in cases – unless the filmmaker’s intention is to secure a place on a global platform on women’s issues? When the filmmaker gets an assertion that ‘in our society there is no place from women’ from a conservative interviewee, she would have needed to provide evidence that this is endorsed across the social spectrum; in any case the assertion cannot be passed off as ‘representative’.Since one suspects that it has been taken out of context to portray the ‘Indian attitudes’ couldn’t the strategy be used anywhere to make this point?

Coming to the structure of the documentary an aspect that merits immediate comment is Udwin’s decision to edit herself out of the proceedings and make every remark appear as though made as if voluntarily and without provocation. When Udwin has spent tens of hours extracting admissions from the people in the film – including Mukesh Singh, one of the principal accused – would their ‘inhumanity’ be the only thing she learned? Neither Mukesh Singh nor his attorneys acquit themselves honourably through their utterances and it is apparent that the rapists were provided with attorneys who would assist them to the gallows. Their case was weak, the advocates had little to loseand much to gain in terms of publicity; they turning against the victim of such a heinous crime was hence only bluster, but their words were deliberately made illustrative of the ‘Indian mindset’ in the film because it suited Udwin.

Another questionable aspect of Udwin’s film is the strategic use she makes of the English language. Instead of correcting failures of language, she exploits them especially when it is in English. It cannot be a coincidence that all the ‘right-thinking’ kinds are those who speak English with the right intonation even when they have nothing much to say, only express platitudes or ‘deep feelings’. Udwin, of course, neither voices approval or disapproval but picks her protagonists and villains carefully based on the way they face the camera and articulate. The worthiest elements are those who speak the most correct English while sorriest are those who cannot speak it correctly but still try, and reduce themselves to abjection finding the right English words. How a person speaks English plays an important role in the film in whether he/she is good or bad, liberal or conservative, and the young protestors shown are fluent English-speakers. The ‘young’ are shown to be at the forefront of a demand for change in India and, going by some of their pronouncements, the ‘young’ will not tolerate what was done to Nirbhaya. But isn’t it being forgotten that Mukesh Singh is ‘young’ as well?

It is not as though Udwin has not collected enough information to come up with a more helpful local narrative around the Nirbhaya rape – than to trace it to the ‘patriarchal Indian mindset.’ Nirbhaya had a future – in a way that Mukesh Singh and his friends did not. A pertinent point made in the film is that India’s growth story changed the face of the country especially in the metropolises and that this arouses desires which cannot be checked. The victim and most of the perpetrators apparently belonged to the same (upper) caste groups, they were all recent migrants to the capital but the difference was that while the victim was on her way up because of the larger opportunities she was given, the perpetrators had nothing. Nirbhaya’s tutor says at one point that while her family was traditional it also had a modern outlook and the interviews suggest that Nirbhaya’s conduct could be judged as improper because she belonged to a class that the rapists could identify with. This is like the khappanchayats who brutally punish their own kinds for ‘straying’ but have no views about those who don’t belong with them. Rape was not punishment for Nirbhaya’s ‘modern conduct’ but her conduct became justification for the heinous crimes.

India’s growth story, it is apparent, has hopelessly divided society because while it provides opportunities for some, it leaves others behind to stew in the mess that traditional spaces have become. When conventional people see others of their kind leaving them behind on the road to success by jettisoning tradition they feel resentment – a feeling perhaps less in evidence in hierarchical society in which everyone was taught to respect his or her own given position. This is a local explanation which might be useful to us - if the story of Nirbhaya had not been globally appropriated to be about ‘India’s war against women’.  If anything, India’s Daughter provides evidence of how the documentary film as a medium can appear objective - because it provides pictures of everything - while being very selective about the truths it tells, and giving events a meaning appropriate to the platform where it is aired. It has contributed, among other things, to India being named 'the most dangerous place in the world for women', although the statistics to back such hyperbole are wanting.

Given the fact that India is a society that is still to come to terms with ‘freedom’ one cannot perhaps but have an overseeing authority looking at the way media texts are put together but it is also true that all forms of informal censorship should be treated as a serious law and order problem, those enforcing it treated as miscreants and criminals.


Courtesy: India’s Daughter
Courtesy: abhi-baki-hai

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