My reaction to censorship on ‘Inshallah Football’

Here is my response to the report in the Hindu in which chairperson of CBFC denies any censorship on either Inshallah, Football or Dazed in Doon.

I didn’t speak to Mrs. Tagore, I spoke to the CEO of CBFC last night.

From what I understood last night, the film was placed in front of a second and wider committee (after the first one declined certification) and the second committee too refused to give it certification. I was informed telephonically that the recourse now available within CBFC is to enter a process of appeals.I now understand, as of this morning, post the Hindu article and other media reports, that Mrs Tagore was unaware of the earlier decision to decline certification. I also learnt that as the chairperson of CBFC, Mrs Tagore has the power to constitute yet another revision committee (RC). Ms. Tagore requested that this committee be constituted only this morning and I was informed accordingly, this morning.

But lets zoom out for a second.

One of every five Indian citizens live under the threat of some kind of insurgency is a reality that we have to live with and confront in ‘modern’ India. The way to start doing that is to allow the average Indian citizen to hear the truth. There has been a systematic blackout of the truth about Kashmir of the past twenty years of violence, and simmilar black-wash continues as unofficial government policy in Naxal affected areas and in the N.E states today. I was ashamed as to how ignorant I was about this truth when I visited the Kashmir valley. That became the impetus to make Inshallah, Football.

The view put out in national discourse is that of the GOI, which serves the purpose of sustaining a fear-psychosis in the mind of the average citizen, wherein draconian and anti-constitutional, anti-freedom legislations (such as AFSPA & PSA) are perversely utilized and justified. The use of lethal armed force against civilian populations (the citizens of India) has resulted in heinous human rights violations, a dark dimension of the armed forces presence in Kashmir, that has has had poor coverage in the mainstream. The recent Red-Cross report (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12014734) is only the tip of the iceberg – just in the few hundred interviews and testimonies that I managed to record, a horrific picture of the extent of these human rights violations emerges. The only reason to control information and the media is if the GOI and its armed forces have something to hide.

The government absolves themselves from the real issues of neglect and misgovenence by crushing voices of dissent in the valley and other affected areas. They avoid legal prosecution (and responsibility) while providing the armed forces the unofficial nudge that has resulted in a reign of terror most of whose casualties are chosen from the civilian population. This is how our democracy has ‘worked’ so far in self-declared disturbed areas. The continuance of this appropriated impunity has created a culture within these forces and the government which works most efficiently in suppressing the truth. In fact that is their default setting.

Hence CBFC can deny a censor certificate to a film that has prior approval of its own CEO.

In this context, the GOI’s present intentions of appointing a panel of interlocutors, Home Minister’s statements about winning hearts and minds of ordinary Kashmiris sound decidedly hollow. Only this morning the panel of interlocutors ‘discovered’ that there is a huge trust deficit in Kashmir, and any attempt by the central government to mend the situation (including the appointment of the same panel) is met with suspicion and hostility by ordinary Kashmiris. The same government, at the same time, censors Inshallah, Football. If they were to watch Inshallah they’d see WHY people in Kashmir are dissatisfied and that may provide clues to any real effort to win those hearts and minds.

For too long has mass opinion of our country been formed by the stifling hegemony sustained by arguments for national sovereignty and the fears of defense of the realm. People must be allowed to hear the truth so as to be able to decide if the means justify the ends. It is my belief that pubic opinion for the armed presence in civilian areas of Kashmir would never have had the kind of support, had truth been told earlier.

Coming back to the CBFC, the I&B ministry gave a no-objection certificate for the screening in Delhi (02 nov 2010) then it was revoked by the CBFC who insisted on reviewing the film, post which they gave certification. This set of flip-flops is also objectionable.

Why must we film-makers be made to hang onto the coat-tails of a body who’s members are not film makers, artists or ordinary citizens but appointees of the GOI; and whose very existence is questionable in the context of an open and free democracy? For the CBFC to remain a valid entity in this era of transparency, it might contemplate restraining its role to certification only. The practice of asking for cuts or bans of films is downright medieval. No amount of ‘leniency’ that has crept into the system by the weight of an open liberal minded chairperson of the CBFC can wash away the sheer redundancy of the body itself. If Inshallah gets a certificate and is passed without cuts, it would be due to her intervention and not because that is the ‘default’ setting of the body.

Will she be asked to intervene in the case of each film that similarly treated? And what happens when this personality exits? What is with this cult of personality within our government institutions? Omar Abdullah CM of J&K has to intervene to get Basharat (the footballer ex militants son in my film) his passport. And Ms. Tagore has to intervene to get Inshallah, Football passed, that too after media pressure.

Which brings me to the certification of my other film Dazed in Doon, also mentioned in the same article in the Hindu. A contract is in place between Doon School and myself which clearly outlines means of redressal of dissatisfaction of either party. What role the board of censorship plays in a private dispute between two parties is a mystery to me. This sets a dangerous precedent by which anyone can use the CBFC to create obstacles. Besides, is it the role of CBFC to arbitrate disputes between producers?

(Ashvin Kumar is the Director of the film Inshallah Football.)