Banned for telling the truth about riots?

BY NUPUR BASU| IN Media Freedom | 10/10/2014
Shubhradeep Chakravorty's widow is planning to take the fight to screen his film on the Muzaffarnagar riots to the courts.
The ban suppresses freedom of expression, says NUPUR BASU. PIX: Shubhradeep Chakravorty.
Six weeks after documentary filmmaker Shubhradeep Chakravorty died of a brain haemorrhage in Delhi on August 25 aged 42, his wife, Meera Chaudhary, who is also the co-director of his latest film, En Dino Muzaffarnagar, is contemplating legal action against the ban imposed on their film by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
 
Shubhradeep died before he could screen his film to the public. His last Facebook post read:
 
“En Dino Muzaffarnagar by Shubhradeep Chakravorty and Meera Chaudhary is going to be recorded in history as the first documentary film banned under Prime Minister Modi. Gagging order came on 30th June. Today we applied in Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) for redressal of our grievances. We will not go down without a fight.”
 
In his inimitable investigative documentary film style, En Dino Muzaffarnagar documents the communal carnage that ripped through the Uttar Pradesh city, once known as Mohhabatnagar or the City of Love, last year.
 
The two-and-a-half hour film, shot over eight months before, during and after the riots, exposes truths that are bound to be unpalatable to those who have been exposed. It shows how Hindutva leaders pitted Hindus and Muslims against each other for vote bank politics. The casualty was a tradition of peaceful co-existence between Hindu Jats and Muslims.
 
The film talks of unspeakable violence, touches on the contentious issue of ‘Love Jihad’ and has heart-rending scenes of Muslim women walking on the graves of their loved ones after the riots. But it also shows how Hindus and Muslims bravely protected each other from rioters.  For example, a 90 per cent Muslim-dominated village protected the 10 per cent of Hindus and the Hindus in a Hindu-dominated village protected the Muslims.
 
“We are fighting a case against the Censor Board decision with eminent lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, who has taken up the case. After the Censor Board’s decision, we had appealed before FCAT. They too retained its order citing lame excuses. This week we will file the case again,” said Meera Chaudhary.
 
According to the Censor Board, she said, the film violates two of its guidelines; the first requires that visuals or words contemptuous of racial, religious or other groups should not be presented and second, that a film should not be anti-national and prone to spread communalism.
 
“Our appeal to FCAT was turned down with the same logic. The order states: “The film has grave potential of creating communal disharmony. It is highly and openly critical of one political party (BJP) and its top leadership by name and tends to give an impression of the said party’s involvement in communal disturbances. This is in gross violation of film certification guidelines. We see no infirmity in the order of CBFC”.
 
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan told The Hoot: "We are filing a writ petition challenging the decision of the Censor Board and Appellate Tribunal in the Delhi High Court... They are saying basically that it names political parties...but this is not a reason for banning a film…documentary films will names parties and individuals when they are investigating a subject.... so long as the film is not inciting communal violence....and there is nothing in the film that incites communal violence...it merely shows what has happened.”
 
Award-winning documentary filmmaker, Anand Patwardhan, who has spent the better part of his life battling the censors over his documentaries, described Shubhradeep in a Times of India article as “one of the bravest” of India’s documentary filmmakers. He wrote, “Shubhradeep passed away from a brain haemorrhage after enduring the numbing CBFC bureaucracy and the pain of cynical rejection.”
 
Patwardhan added that, some years ago, the CBFC had promised that, in line with the practice in other parts of the world, censorship would give way to merely certifying films into categories from U to A to X. “What has happened to Shubhradeep sends the signal that under the present regime, the era of intolerance is back with a bang, especially for those who believe in secular values.”
 
Patwardhan’s views are echoed by another documentary filmmaker, Rahul Roy, who worked closely with Shubhradeep: “The state decision to curb his democratic right to dissent, in this case through his films, had definitely taken a toll. The unfortunate outcome is that they managed to get more than what they thought...as it stands, En Dino Muzaffarnagar cannot be screened in public spaces.”
 
In fact, the documentary and journalistic community (Shubhradeep was a former print journalist) has been shocked by the death of a colleague who fought for justice and the human rights of those without a voice.
 
Shubhradeep turned to documentary filmmaking after the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. His very first documentary, Godhra Tak: The Terror Trail, made him stand tall amidst veterans in documentary filmmaking.
 
I met Shubradeep at the Film South Asia in Kathmandu, a melting pot of South Asian filmmakers. Although the best film award eluded him at the festival, Godhra Tak: The Terror Trail was critically acclaimed. The investigative style he had adopted to find out how exactly Coach S6 of the Sabarmati Express caught fire on February 27, 2002, killing 59 kar sevaks, was powerful and impressive.
 
His work had the stamp of a journalist’s inquiring mind and, as a journalist myself, I recall feeling a sense of pride in our craft of telling stories convincingly even in a different medium.
 
After his first film, there was no looking back. He chose the medium to document the rise of right wing forces in India and the terrible consequences. At a screening of Godhra Tak: The Terror Trail in Ahmedabad in 2003, he was attacked by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Similar attacks continued through the years at venues in Jaipur, Bhopal and elsewhere. Every attack merely propelled him faster towards his next investigation.
 
In Encountered on Saffron Agenda? made in 2008, Shubradeep clinically examined the alleged encounter killings that took place in Gujarat after the Godhra riots in the name of eliminating the “lurking assassins” of Narendra Modi. The killings of Ishrat Jahan and Sohrabuddin Sheikh in Gujarat came under his critical lens. The devastated parents of persons killed in suspected encounters say helplessly on camera: “What will my son do killing Modi?”
 
In 2012, Shubhradeep directed Out of Court Settlement. The film documented the intimidation, attacks and unexplained deaths of defence lawyers who were appearing in terror-related cases, a phenomenon which the filmmaker felt greatly undermined the justice system in the country.
 
The same year, he also directed After the Storm which zeroed in on seven people who had been accused of terror finally being acquitted by the courts and their fight to survive in a highly prejudiced society.
 
For over a decade Shubhradeep focussed passionately on those people journalist John Pilger once described as “Unpeople”. According to Pilger, “Unpeople were those whose eloquent defiance and courage are as important as the secret histories of their neglect”. In his book Hidden Agendas Pilger talks about power, propaganda and censorship. The core of Shubhradeep’s films were Pilgerian in nature.
 
Now that voice has fallen silent, but the legal battle to allow the screening of En Dino Muzazafarnagar will continue. And the question uppermost in the minds of documentary filmmakers and journalists who believe in the freedom to dissent is: Will the Indian courts allow truth-telling?
 
Nupur Basu is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and media educator.
 
 
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