Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Rakesh Sharma vs NYPD : News update

As you may already know, on May 13, 2005, I was harassed by NYPD while shooting in Manhattan. Some of you have already signed the protest petition as well (http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/980334649?ltl=1118836819).

I filed a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), who have been conducting a formal enquiry. They have been able to locate most, if not all the police officers involved in the incident and have recorded their sworn statements. My affidavit has also been filed. We now await the results of their enquiry.

Simultaneously, NYCLU decided to take up the issue legally and we filed a notice for claim in Aug/Sept 2005. A preliminary hearing was held on Nov 10, 2005 in New York, where my sworn statement was recorded. We have now formalised our lawsuit and the various counts on which we are suing the city. We expect to file thelawsuit formally in the second week of January 2006. In addition to a claim for damages etc in the lawsuit, we are also exploring other related issues like infringement of free speech and vilolation of basic rights etc.

Thank you to all those who have lent their support to the campaign. Please sign the petition if you have not done it so far.

Gujarat 2002 : A turning point in modern Indian history?

(This was written for India Today's special issue : 30 Years : Turning points in recent Indian history. An edited, sanitised version appeared in the December 26, 2005 issue)

Imagine Gujarat in March 2002. What if the bloodthirsty mobs in Baroda had found Irfan Pathan or Zaheer Khan? What if Mohammed Kaif lived in Naroda Patiya, Ahmedabad? Would there be a resurgent Team India now? Or what if Sania Mirza’s home was Gulberg society, where ex-MP Ehsan Jafri was not just brutally killed, but according to eyewitnesses, “even his body could not be found, just some bones and other parts”? What if Ustad Bismillah Khan was a resident of posh Paldi, home to the prestigious National Institute of Design and the ransacked Delite Apartments? Would his shehnai have been silenced forever and his home reduced to ashes? What if Ustad Zakir Hussain had a home in Gandhinagar? What if...

“We do not want the Muslims to shift to Pakistan. They can live here, as a part of our family, like our brothers, but like younger brothers. They must learn to respect us as there are 800 million of us and they are only 150 million” - Retired Professor Ghanshyam Joshi of the Pavagad VHP, swaying gently on his swing explains his final solution very nicely, during one of the many conversations I had with him in 2002 while shooting my film. Somehow his words are more chilling than the rabble-rousing speeches I first heard from Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Ritambara in 1990-91 and a decade later from the surgeon-turned demagogue Praveen Togadia. The next day, one of his party workers explains even more gently – “we just want these Muslims to first shift out of Gujarat and then we will see what to do with them”.

At the Don Bosco school in Ahemdabad, between 350-400 Muslim children are asked to leave. Their teacher, Pramod Kumar Kul, is very matter of fact – “they weren’t good students, just interested in somehow finishing school and then learning spray painting etc”, summarily dismissing all those young kids who had giggled and smiled the day before while talking to me about becoming a doctor or an engineer or a teacher. At the ‘National School’ inside a ghettoised part of the city, seven-year old Shahrukh Khan, though has different ideas – “ I will study and join the police as then I’d be able to help people during riots”. Little does he realise that in Modi’s Gujarat, you are most likely to get a punishment posting if you happen to discharge your constitutional obligations to try and curb the slaughter of innocent women and children. Ask R B Sreekumar or the SPs and DCPs shunted out of Kutch, Bhavnagar, Banskantha and Ahmedabad city’s zone 4. Innuendos and insinuations triumph – but isn’t anyone interested in giving us the truth behind the gory deaths at Godhra?

Much of the Gujarat violence is justified in the name of the 59 people who died inside coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express. But the late Jyotiben’s family - husband Bharat Panchal and daughter Shefali do not want any revenge to be taken in their name. Dr. Girishchandra Rawal, retired government servant, who lost his wife, tells me Godhra should not have been used during the elections - “Religion should never be mixed with politics, that’s the cause of our recent troubles”. He then asks me a question – “Railway is a government body. Wasn’t it their duty to protect passengers?” Certainly, Dr. Rawal, more so because media had reported trouble along the Sabarmati Express route a couple of days before the Godhra incident. The Faizabad-based daily Jan Morcha, specifically published a report about violence at the Rudauli station in UP. Intelligence agencies had echoed these concerns. Yet, Nitish Kumar, Advani and Modi failed to bolster security for the train and its passengers along the entire route. Reinforced RPF presence inside the train and on platforms would have helped save the 59 karsevaks who died and prevent the manhandling of Siddiq Bakar, the tea vendor and the 16-year old Sophiya Sheikh at the Godhra platform, the two incidents that triggered stone pelting at Signal Falia. Yet, does any of them emulate the former Railway Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, own moral responsibility and resign?

The Ministers and MLAs deny any involvement in the genocidal violence; yet their cellphones mysteriously make their way into Naroda Patiya and sites of other massacres. Senior Ministers are found directing police operations inside the Police Control Room to ensure their ‘mobs’ have immunity and in some cases, active help from the cops. The MP from the Gandhinagar constituency does precious little to contain violence in his own constituency. He also happens to be the Deputy Prime Minister and the country’s Home Minister at the time. On election results day in 2002, Advani looks into TV cameras and comments on the BJP election campaign – “I think it is unique that the party decided not to raise the Godhra issue...because we did not want to create that kind of climate...it is remarkable”. Just a few days earlier, I shoot a speech by Bhupendra Singh Solanki, the BJP MP from Panchmahals. Says he – “This election is not about development...the issue is Godhra...Everyone knows that even in America, England and Delhi!” The Congress remains silent, though there is both scope and precedent for legal action – after all, Bal Thackeray was disenfranchised on similar grounds! Hindutva ideologues first deny any horrific violence, then deny state complicity and finally deny their cynical exploitation of the Godhra tragedy for electoral gains. Haren Pandya, the only Minister from the Modi government to testify before the Citizen’s Tribunal provides some insights into the State’s involvement in the carnage. He is shot dead a few months later, under what can only be euphemistically termed as “mysterious circumstances”.

Report any of this and earn the sobriquet –“enemy of Gujarat” or “human-rightswallah-out-to-defame-Gujarati-asmita”! NDTV’s coverage of the carnage so infuriates Modi that he orders a black out of their signal for several days. “60 Hindu girls abducted from Sabarmati Express” headlines a prominent Gujarati daily on Feb 28, 2002, fuelling sexual violence against Muslim women, only to retract the report a couple of days later in a tiny paragraph buried in the inside pages. Modi personally expresses his high appreciation for the newspaper’s restrained coverage in the ‘best traditions of journalism’; Times of India, Indian Express and other national dailies do not receive a similar letter of commendation from him.

Prof Bandukwala, whose home was destroyed by the very people who invited him to deliver the Savarkar Memorial lecture on Feb 26, 2002, tells me – “Gandhi was an accident that happened to Gujarat”. I attribute it to anger and despair, but it sets me thinking – Would Bapu have embraced Modi as the “chhotey Sardar Patel”? Could the Mahatma have ever imagined that the gates of his Sabarmati Ashram would be shut to those who sought shelter at the height of the carnage? What would he have thought of his Congress – of some of its members equally complicit in communal attacks, of its president who failed to visit her own ex-MP’s home, the site of his brutal hacking or of the myriad ‘intellectuals’ who failed to raise their voice against Moditva? Would he have been proud of Vali Gujarati’s flattened mazaar or Ustad Fayyaz Khan’s desecrated tomb? Of the kathakars and Godmen who failed to condemn the killings and preach peace? Or of Mallika Sarabhai’s persecution? Or the Gaurav Yatra?

At the karsevak anniversary meeting on Feb 27, 2003 in Pavagad, the local leader exhorts the crowd – “Buy only from Hindu shops, use only Hindu rickshaws and raise saffron flags from your shops”. He has police protection! In village after village, Muslims are unable to return home, their shops and fields taken over by people who should’ve been behind bars for driving them away in the first place. In cities and towns, informal ghettos have sprung up, children speak of being afraid to cross the ‘border’ to go to their schools. Would Mahatma Gandhi himself have been safe in his own Gujarat?

So, who do the people of Gujarat turn to? A partisan Legislative? The Executive – IAS and IPS officers - intent on serving its political masters – the very same bunch of IAS and IPS officers who crawled when asked to bend, barring a few notable exceptions? Or that last bastion of hope - the state Judiciary?

According to the Editors’ Guild report on the Gujarat carnage – “Two serving Muslim Judges of the Gujarat High Court, Mr Qadri and Mr Akbar Divecha were threatened and had to flee their homes. The residence of one was attacked and burnt. A Hindu brother judge who offered him a safe haven in his own home was reportedly the recipient of threatening calls”. A senior lawyer insisting on anonymity speaks of hindutva in the Judiciary and cites examples of many BJP or VHP sympathisers appointed as public prosecutors or judges in the last decade! I attend a trial at the Godhra court – a courageous Muslim woman has decided to seek justice for the horrific rape and killing of her daughters. An ace lawyer, an ex-BJP MP, represents the accused. The Public Prosecutor, an erstwhile partyman, seeking justice on behalf of the Muslim woman as her lawyer hasn’t seen it fit to even meet her though she is a key eyewitness! Later, many of us read the Gujarat High Court’s remarks against Teesta Setalvad and Mihir Desai with a mix of horror and resignation; thankfully, the Supreme Court expunges them. Still later, the Zaheera Shaikh drama is played out, the SC steps in again and terms her a “liar”.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh created history by apologizing to the nation for the 1984 anti-sikh carnage during his speech in the Parliament. But, honestly, do you see M/s Sudarshan, Advani, Togadia and Modi apologizing for the genocidal violence in Gujarat? Instead, they speak of janadesh – the peoples’ mandate; Modi is now flying high on the back of his triumph in the Ahmedabad municipal elections and his earlier sweep of the Gujarat assembly elections. But does an electoral victory legitimise evil? After all, Hitler did win the German elections!

Former Prime Minister Vajpayee preached rajdharma to Modi, but himself shunned all advice to practice what he preached, deliberately ignoring counsel from the President of India. Said the late K R Narayanan in March 2005 in an interview to Malayalam monthly Manava Samskriti – “I met him personally and talked to him directly. But Vajpayee did not do anything effective…I feel there was a conspiracy involving the state and central governments behind the Gujarat riots”

Can politics of hate and intolerance be the basis for the creation of a harmonious society and a robust democracy? Is Gujarat 2002 a turning point in our recent history? You decide...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Take the scissors away from the Censor Board

Enclosed below is a piece I wrote for HT, for your information. Please sign our petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/MIFF/petition.html if you haven't already done so. Rakesh Sharma

Hindustan Times, Oct 29, 2005. Mumbai

Take the scissors away from the Censor Board

The Government of India thinks you are stupid, I am an imbecile, indeed each person who steps into any cinema hall is an idiot. The Government is deeply concerned about us, which is why it has appointed wise men to take care of us. Collectively, they inhabit this space called the Censor Board and toil day and night to keep us from plunging headlong into a life of sin. Their boss is usually a retired or out of work actor. He may have molested countless women on screen or she may have gyrated in a sequined bikini, but they discover hitherto hidden reserves of morality as soon as they are appointed to the Censor Board.

The Government does not always think of us as idiots. It has permitted us to decide whom to marry, though there are some groups of even wiser men who boycott or kill those marrying into other castes or religions. The government lets us decide our professions, even has employment guarantee schemes committing to us a minimum average income of five hundred rupees a month! And it has given us the right to vote - Pundits sing our praises and lively, colourful graphics analyse our wisdom in rejecting the politics of hate in 2004 or the politics of totalitarianism in 1977.

The government thinks we are capable of watching 20 news channels and seeing through all the chutneyfied headlines and 'breaking news' to get our daily dose of truth. It feels that we are capable of watching dozens of ads about soaps and shampoos and make an informed choice to acquire our own lather-generating agents. Curiously, it has no problem letting us watch nubile young women gyrating in virginal white garter belts or playfully caressing a bdsm riding crop to the tune of sainyaan dil mein aana rey on television! We can watch any serial or any television show, we can hear any radio programme and read anything on the worldwide web and remain wise. But cross the threshold to buy a cinema ticket and you and I suddenly transform into idiots. We need to be protected by the thought police.

Lets now take a look at the wise men the government has charged with the chest-puffing task of preserving our virtues. They normally sit huddled in small groups of three to five, intently scanning flickering images and sounds for any contaminant. They decide what you and I can and should watch and they do so selflessly, as an act of 'social service', without seeking any payment for their wisdom. They usually represent a wide cross-section of society – a Minister's girlfriend or his unemployed nephew, a local corporator's convent-educated wife, some MLA's campaign accountant who helped him hoodwink EC's regulations, a Jai Shri Ram chant-enthused party worker from the BJP/ VHP/ Bajrang Dal/ Hindu Jagran Manch/ Durga Vahini or one of Soniaji's Congressmen. As associates or chamchas of some politician, they have a rare intellectual depth, a deep understanding of culture and aesthetics and an even deeper understanding of the dark sides of the human soul. Since they also happen to possess expertise in constitutional matters, they can swiftly figure out whether a dialogue will cause a law & order problem and breach peace, faster than any court of law as they only have 3-4 hours to do so while any court can drag on a case for years! These wise men decide to remove words like Gujarat and Ayodhya from Govind Nihalani's Dev, set against the backdrop of riots. They readily send legal notices to film-makers but turn a blind eye to Praveen Togadia's Ramsevak Amar Raho VCDs sold openly over the counter at the VHP office! They brand Anand Patwardhan's cinema as dangerous, even though the Judiciary has never agreed with them! They decree that an anti-prostitution film like In the Flesh is derogatory to women or films like Parzania and Final Solution will lead to law and order problems, even though the Supreme Court has not just dismissed such insinuations in the past but also chastised the government severely - "…freedom of expression cannot be suppressed on account of threat of demonstration and processions or threats of violence. That would tantamount to negation of the rule of law and surrender to blackmail and intimidation. It is the duty of the State to protect the freedom of expression since it is a liberty guaranteed against the State."

Other such bogeys include "relations with foreign countries" – last year, CBFC's examining committee rejected Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 when it was playing to packed houses in USA; Dubya was yet to win his first legitimate election and daddy Bush, though he hated the film, could not prevent screenings, even under the Patriot Act. Yet our censor board sprang to their defence.

The crown jewel is the provision included in the proposed new policy aimed at tightening censorship even at film festivals. The bureaucracy would like to retain the powers to ban "any film that affects human sensibilities". So what happens to those of us making films in the fond hope of affecting these very sensibilities? Naturally, this provision will not extend to Guddu Dhanoa's Siskiyan (of the multiple rapes fame) or to the countless dubai-se-bhai-ne-supari-diya films! Not content with butchering documentaries and sensitive narrative features at the Censor Board, the babus now want to dictate what film-makers, critics, students and international delegates can watch in a film festival space.

Though the NDA government tried to introduce censorship for Indian films at MIFF 2004, it had to buckle under the pressure exerted by independent film-makers and withdraw the controversial regulation in the face of a boycott by Indian and international film-making community. MIFF managed to strike back through backdoor censorship – its selection committees found our films substandard. Films for Freedom, a collective of over 250 film-makers was born and an alternative screening space – Vikalp was created, which has by now held hundreds of screenings countrywide, even while facing police action at the behest of the Congress-led Ministry of I & B in cities like Bangalore and Chennai and extralegal censorship by rightwing goons. The 'liberal' UPA regime now wants to introduce tighter censorship at film festivals, something the BJP-led government tried and failed to do. Why should anyone have a monopoly over fascism?

At the recently-concluded Film South Asia, the Kathmandu declaration against censorship was signed by all film-makers, jury members and festival organizers. Last week, at the prestigious Yamagata filmfest in Japan, hundreds of delegates signed a petition to the Government of India urging the Indian government to remove the shadow of censorship at MIFF 2006 by removing the controversial clause 8 that empowers the Ministry to reject even those films that have been shortlisted for competition by a selection committee comprising eminent film-makers! But is this government listening?

On Oct 21, when President Kalam handed out the National Film Awards, perhaps the Minister and his officers did not tell him about the ongoing boycott for the last two years by over 200 film-makers, who have refused to enter their films for the Awards since the government insists that only films cleared by its censor board are eligible! The film-makers rightly point out that evaluation of artistic merit or cinematic excellence by a jury of peers can not have censorship as a precondition. Official minutes in sarkari files speak of censorship at foreign film festivals and awards to justify their new policies, but as a film-maker whose work has been screened at over 100 film festivals worldwide, I have never been asked for censor clearance nor have I been ever asked to delete a certain sound or visual by any film festival. Some totalitarian regimes may insist on such censorship in isolated pockets of the world, but surely, our 'liberal' rulers do not wish to cite those as examples to emulate.

Many of us believe that the main censorship law – the Cinematograph ACT of 1952 itself is archaic and needs a thorough review, especially in light of rapid changes in the last decade – the spread of TV channels and internet have led to a greater 'visual literacy'; cinematic images no longer need to be treated as extra-potent images capable of influencing gullible minds and hence subject to a more stringent regulation, which for decades has been the underlying assumption behind the administration and interpretation of the Cinematograph Act both by CBFC and the courts. Some of us argue that to curb hate speech or pornography and denigration of women, provisions of the IPC and the CrPC need to be made more stringent and enforced rigorously – a fine of a million bucks and a five year jail term is a greater deterrent compared to any action taken by a largely toothless censor board. Let the CBFC become a ratings agency and advise parental guidance, if necessary, but do not let it have the power to ban, mutilate or maim a film! If a film-maker violates the law, prosecute him! Further, let documentaries be brought under the jurisdiction of the Press Council of India; it is ridiculous that Togadia can reach millions through a live telecast of his rally but if a film uses a 45 second excerpt from the same rally, it gets banned! An NDTV 'special' or an Aaj Tak 'vishesh' are no different from a documentary – if they can go on air sans censorship, why should a documentary be subjected to it?

For the last few years, we have been suggesting that the law needs to be liberalized even for general public exhibition of all kinds of cinema; instead even the erstwhile censorship-free spaces like film festivals are being taken away! A war is now on. At stake is our freedom of expression and our right to information. The last time such a thing happened, it was called the Emergency.

Rakesh Sharma

Indian filmfests : new 'proposed policy - An open letter to the Minister

Following our sustained campaign against censorship, the Ministry of I & B set up a committee to examine the issue of censorship at film festivals and the National film awards. the committe members appointed vide an order dated Feb 2, 2005 included Shyam Benegal, Manmohan Shetty, Jabbar Patel, Asha Parekh, DVS Raju. The members from Delhi included SS Mehdi, Prof Dipankar Gupta, Mohd Amin, Rahul Roy and Afzal Amanullah (Jt secy, I & B).

Last month, a draft policy was presented to the Minister, apparently based on the Committee's recommendation. In a discussion with the Minister on Aug 26 in Delhi, I protested against the proposed policy as instead of liberalising censorship, it actually tightens control.
Anand Patwardhan and I have sent two separate protest letters to the Minister.

Please help the campaign against censorship by signing our petition
Sh Jaipal Reddy Sept 22, 2005
Minister for Information & Broadcasting
8, 30 January Marg, off Aurangzeb Road
New Delhi - 110001


I write this open letter to you with a strong sense of dismay concerning the tightening of censorship controls over independent film-making in the country. I am deeply perturbed about the proposed new policy concerning film festivals and the National Film Awards. Many of these new proposals are deeply shocking, especially since the committee itself was set up to liberalize the censorship regime vis-à-vis filmfests and the NFA. It has been brought to my attention that the new policy:

* Brings all film festivals under the purview of stronger censorship by defining a film festival eligible for exemptions from censorship as one which is either funded by the Government or is affiliated to FIAPF ( e.g., IFFI), i.e., effectively only ‘sarkari’ film festivals!

* Empowers the Ministry to deny exemptions to any film even in these festivals on several grounds – internal security, impact on bilateral relations with other countries, law and order etc. in contravention of well-known Supreme Court judgements on these issues!

* Retains the highly contentious requirement of a censor certificate for entry to National Film awards, despite a boycott by over 200 documentary film-makers for two years - in 2004 and 2005!

Your officials have also proposed denial of exemption to any film that “affects human sensibilities”. Many of us make films in the hope of affecting these very human sensibilities. Under the ‘new policy’, any film can be ‘banned’ from film festivals on this count alone!

I, like most within the independent film-making community, fail to understand why the UPA government is introducing such totalitarian policies. Though I’m sure you are already aware of the background, but I’d like to underscore the norm/convention by citing the example of MIFF, organized by Films Division, a part of your Ministry. Ever since its inception in 1990, MIFF has been a censorship-free space. The Ministry has never intervened to either reject or include any film in the MIFF line up on any grounds whatsoever. The NDA government tried to make censor certification mandatory for all Indian films participating in MIFF 2004, a move that led to widespread protests within the Indian film-making community as well as a proposed boycott by international film-makers and film festival delegates! Your predecessor, from the BJP, unilaterally withdrew this controversial regulation, though later there was ‘informal’ censorship in selections.

With the new proposed measures, the UPA government is codifying as policy what the NDA was unable to do – introduce state control in the few rapidly-shrinking spaces in which artists can meet and share ideas. Why is the government afraid of letting film-makers interact and discuss their films in a forum like a film festival, which, anyway, is open only to film festival delegates and not to general public. Sir, if controversial ideas can not be debated even in ‘enclosed spaces’, if even the intelligentsia must seek sanction from state-appointed thought police before sharing their work and ideas, the question that begs to be asked is – under the benign guise of protecting artists from bad thoughts, is the actual agenda a fascist control of all arts? Such actions by your Ministry also make a mockery of the UPA’s stated commitment to Right to Information!

Many of us believe that the main censorship law – the Cinematograph ACT of 1952 itself is archaic and needs a thorough review, especially in light of rapid changes in the last decade – the spread of TV channels and internet have led to a greater ‘visual literacy’; cinematic images no longer need to be treated as extra-potent images capable of influencing gullible minds and hence subject to a more stringent regulation, which for decades has been the underlying assumption behind the administration and interpretation of the Cinematograph Act both by CBFC and the courts. I have been arguing that the law needs to be liberalized even for general public exhibition; instead even the erstwhile censorship-free spaces like film festivals are being taken away!

Chief Justice Hidayatullah once observed – “The standards that we set out for our censors must make a substantial allowance in favour of freedom thus leaving a vast area for creative art to interpret life and society with some of its foibles along with what is good.” In another case - Rangarajan vs P Jagjivan Ram and others, the Court observed – “…freedom of expression cannot be suppressed on account of threat of demonstration and processions or threats of violence. That would tantamount to negation of the rule of law and a surrender to blackmail and intimidation. It is the duty of the State to protect the freedom of expression since it is a liberty guaranteed against the State. The State cannot plead its inability to handle the hostile audience problem. It is its obligatory duty to prevent it and protect the freedom of expression.” Yet your government proposes to use “law and order” as a ground to ‘ban’ a film, that too from a film festival!

Sir, how will internal security be compromised or relations with foreign countries be affected if a film is merely screened at a film festival? Is a bureaucrat’s perception of a threat an adequate reason? To quote the Supreme Court again – “The anticipated danger should not be remote, conjectural or far-fetched. It should have proximate and direct nexus with the expression. The expression of thought should be intrinsically dangerous to the public interest. In other words, the expression should be inseparably locked up with the action contemplated like the equivalent of a "spark in a power keg"….”. Sir, I am hard pressed to recall an incident from the past where film festival delegates emerged from a cinema hall and indulged in rioting, arson and killings of the kind we have grown to associate with political parties. I assume that your Ministry does not look at film-makers, critics, film students and film journalists as people unable to think for themselves, capable of being led astray by a film. Why, then, is your Ministry keen to tighten censorship in film festivals? Perhaps the new proposals are a result of bureaucratic zeal and at the very least, need to be re-examined. I enclose my suggestions on censorship exemption for film festivals, most of which. were discussed with you last month after you asked me to come to Delhi for a meeting.

Another major issue we discussed was your commitment to allow dating devices other than the censor certificate in order to determine the eligibility of any film for the National film awards. I enclose my letter of July 14 concerning the withdrawal of my writ petition from the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in view of your instructions to the Ministry officials. Yet, shockingly, I hear that your own instructions are being flouted by the very same officials in the new guidelines for the NFA! As I had pointed – “Policy-making is primarily a political function while its implementation is the responsibility of the bureaucracy. As the political head is ultimately accountable to the people, it is rightly he who sets the tone and tenor of policies. Bureaucratic obduracy can not and should not pass off as sagacious advice, especially when it seems to either subvert or stall policy-making.” Yet, by accepting the advice of your bureaucracy to retain censorship at National film awards, you will yourself be subverting your own stated policy. Perhaps this is an oversight; I urge you to resolve the issue that has deeply exercised the independent film-making community and has led to a boycott of NFA by an overwhelming majority of independent film-makers in India for two years!

Apparently, your officials attribute the new proposals to the committee set up in early 2005 to examine these issues. Sir, briefly, I’d like to direct your attention to the nature, composition and workings of the committee:

The “final recommendations” presented by your officials last month had not been ratified by the committee members! In fact, even the minutes of the last meeting were not circulated to them. Yet, despite their being in the dark, their ‘recommendations’ were presented to you as a formal policy draft!

The committee held all its meetings in Delhi. Most of the film industry representatives (specifically Mr Shyam Benegal and Mr Manmohan Shetty) did not attend any meeting. Though it might have inconvenienced your officials to hold at least a meeting or two in Mumbai, the film-making capital of India, it would have allowed the film-makers and various trade associations to interact with the committee.

Curiously, most film festival directors/ curators and various trade bodies like IDPA and Hindi/Tamil film industry associations were kept away from this committee.

None of the film-makers who have directly experienced censorship recently were invited to the committee. These could have included Govind Nihalani (who had to cut words like Ayodhya and Gujarat from Dev at the CBFC’s insistence) and Anand Patwardhan (whose name was specifically suggested to the Ministry but did not figure in the list of ‘invitees’).

Further, organizers of filmfests that have suffered both legal and extra legal censorship recently were not even contacted! These include the Bangalore-based Freedom filmfest (Hindu Jagran Manch-affiliated members of the regional censor board disrupted screenings on July 29, 2004, Sh PP Nair from your Ministry asked the Regional officer, CBFC to lodge police complaints against the film-makers and festival organisers!), Vikalp (organized in Mumbai as a protest against censorship at MIFF 2004) and Prakriti Foundation (faced police trouble in Chennai in 2004) etc.

Many within the film-making community sense a regressive pattern in several actions by your officials ever since the UPA government took over from NDA. Whether it is the issue of police intervention in film festivals or the initial denial of censor certificates to films dealing with politics of hate/ communalism (Parzania, Final Solution, Dev etc) or the appointment of an independent festival Director for MIFF or even the composition of CBFC panels, the UPA government seems to be as committed to maintaining a draconian stranglehold as its predecessor. Film-makers like me facing harassment by CBFC are made to waste valuable time and energy and when finally, we are accorded our legal due, it is touted as a ‘favour’ and trumpeted as a testimony to the secular character of this government.

Sir, I hope that you are as perturbed about this pattern as most of us. I urge you to intervene and remove the shadow of censorship from filmfests and the NFA. I further request you to order a comprehensive review of the Cinematograph Act itself.

Rakesh Sharma

Suggestions on exemption of film festivals from censorship

1. Requests for exemptions under section 9 of the Cinematograph Act to the Ministry would be entertained in respect of international and national film festivals. Such exemptions will be provided by the Ministry within 7 working days upon receipt of requests.
2. An international film festival would mean a film festival screening a mix of Indian and international films while a National film festival shall mean a film festival screening only Indian films. Such festivals maybe organized by any film festival registered with FIAPF and/ or the Directorate of film festivals, any registered film society, film-makers’ collectives, media schools, registered NGOs and educational institutions.
3. The viewership in these festivals would be confined only to delegates as defined in the recommendations of the committee – “film-makers, students, critics, film theorists, film lovers, those associated with production/ business of films, duly registered members of the press and festival jury”
4. The request for exemption would contain recommendations of a duly constituted Preview Committee of the festival, synopsis of each film with details like country of origin, year, format etc, details of the screening venues and dates of screenings. As is the norm with exemptions provided to Federation of Film Societies of India, the exemption provided in respect of a film will be valid for a period of 10 years for the purposes of a film festival screening as this would help avoid duplication since the same film maybe programmed by more than one film festival.
5. The Ministry shall not ordinarily deny exemption from censorship to any film festival. If it does so in the rarest of rare circumstances, it must cite in writing to the film festival organizers those specific portions of the film that attract such an action by the Ministry. Further, the denial of exemption must be ratified within 7 working days by a panel comprising Secretary I & B or his nominee, independent experts drawn from a pool of national and international award-winning film-makers, film critics from national publications and representatives from Federation of Film Societies (FFSI). This panel shall also function as the grievance redressal committee in respect of any representations concerning denial of exemptions to film festival organizers.
6. In view of the Government of India’s commitment to the recently enacted Right to Information, a formal recommendation by Sh Shyam Benegal to relax censor certification requirement for documentaries and the Ministry’s encouragement of attempts to popularize documentary films, all documentary film festivals should be exempted from any censorship for an initial period of 5 years, provided the festival organizers send a list of films to the Ministry alongwith details as outlined in clause 5 above at least 7 days in advance. Exemption will deemed to have been granted upon receipt of the list and details, unless otherwise specified in writing by the Ministry with details of reasons for suspension of the exemption. However, documentary films containing enactments and docudramas etc will be subjected to the same exemption procedure as feature films, narrative films and short fiction films.
7. Any clarifications or disputes pertaining to NFA and/or exemptions for filmfests shall be referred to the grievance redressal committee specified in clause 6.

Suggestions on new policy for National Film Awards

To continue with the present system followed for receiving entries for the National Film Awards – of using the censor certificate as a dating device, i.e., to ascertain the date of completion in order to determine the eligibility of the film as having been produced in the previous calendar year.

Additionally, in view of the formal recommendation by the 52nd NFA jury (non-feature), representations made directly to the Ministry by several film-makers and trade associations like IDPA vis-à-vis the dating devices used for the 52nd National Film Awards and the Ministry’s categorical assurance that led to the withdrawal of the writ petition filed by Sh Rakesh Sharma in July 2005 to incorporate dating devices other than the censor certificate, it has been decided that w.e.f 53rd National Film Awards, the following may also be used as dating devices:

The date of World/ International premiere of a film at major international film festivals, especially those affiliated with FIAPF (International Film Producers’ Association).

The date of Indian premiere at an Indian film festival registered with the Directorate of film festivals only if it precedes the international/ world premiere of the film.

The date of registration of the film with NFDC and/ or the National Film Archives. A separate order should be issued in this respect enabling film-makers to deposit DVD copies of their films with the Archives, especially since this would help build a valuable national resource in the form of an exhaustive archive of Indian films at no substantial or extra cost to the Government of India. A catalogue number will be assigned by NFDC/ National Film Archives for copyright purposes as well as registration of completed film and/ or film titles.

Further, as jury screenings do not constitute a public screening as defined under the Cinematograph Act, no censor certificate should be required for such screenings. However, if the Directorate of Film festivals organizes any public screenings of award-winning films, it would be the responsibility of the film-maker to expeditiously obtain a censor certificate and furnish the same to DFF.

National Film Awards : The absurdity of censorship

July 14, 2005

Sh Jaipal Reddy
Hon’ble Minister for Information & Broadcasting
Government of India
New Delhi


This is in continuation of my letter of July 9, 2005 and our meeting last evening concerning the issue of censorship at the National Film Awards and the arbitrary rejection of my film Final Solution (149 minutes) about the Gujarat carnage by officials from your ministry. I entered my film for the 52nd NFA in order to demonstrate the absurdity of using the censor certificate as the sole dating device to determine whether or not a film was produced during the previous calendar year. I also wanted to urge you to not allow the censor board primacy over a Jury comprising eminent film-makers, critics and media professionals, especially since they are more qualified than panel members of CBFC preview committees to judge the artistic and technical excellence of a film. Though my film wasn’t allowed to be screened to the Jury even in light of what you felt to be “convincing evidence” that the film was produced in 2004, I’m happy that it has accorded you an opportunity to intervene personally and finally set at rest an extremely contentious issue – censorship at the National Film Awards, which has led over 250 independent film-makers to boycott the awards in 2004 and 2005.

In view of your personal assurance and your follow-up instructions last evening to Jt Secreatry (film) Sh Afzal Amanullah to include dating devices other than the censor certificate, thereby effectively removing the shadow of censorship from the National Film Awards, as discussed with you, I have this morning withdrawn my writ petition from the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi. I’d like to formally thank you personally and on behalf of the documentary film-making fraternity for taking this progressive step. This will also formalise as a policy the strong recommendation made yesterday by the National Film Award Jury (non-feature) to remove the requirement of a censor certificate for entering the NFA. Though we now await your formal announcement of the same to the media, this step will not only put to rest an extremely contentious issue but also help dispel the pall of infamy these measures attracted within the international film-making community, especially since no film festival or reputed awards worldwide allow censorship of any kind.

I am also deeply appreciative of your transparency in dealing with this entire matter, especially the frequent access that enabled us to discuss the matter with you on multiple occasions. That we were not led to reel under the opacity of the decision-making process is a measure of your deep commitment to openness in administration. However, Sir, I must share with you my strong disappointment concerning the administrative ethos at your Ministry. Policy-making is primarily a political function while its implementation is the responsibility of the bureaucracy. As the political head is ultimately accountable to the people, it is rightly he who sets the tone and tenor of policies. Bureaucratic obduracy can not and should not pass off as sagacious advice, especially when it seems to either subvert or stall policy-making. In the specific case of my film, the bureaucracy seemed to suggest that a Minister of the Union is bound by administrative instruction to a point where he neither has the powers to interpret it, nor implement its spirit. It is with deep dismay that I watched you being informed that you had no discretion to take a purposive and equitable view of a mere executive instruction, even though you have the statutory if not constituent power to do so. When you sought clarification from the law ministry, it was delayed to a point when it became infructuous, i.e., just hours after the Jury finalised the list of awards. Even then, for a full 12 hours, this formal advice did not reach you.

I will desist from speculation about what may have happened if the clarification had come to you in time and allowed the Ministry to tender my film to the Jury for consideration, but at the same time, I am deeply perturbed about the bureaucracy’s shackling campaign, characterised by the obfuscatory interpretation of small print by smaller minds. What the odd individual and department did in this case is something that must be addressed, but more important is to recognise that such a roleplay is not an aberration but an inexorable pattern.

Sir, I know through our discussions that you too feel that small print must not be allowed to outwit reason and policy direction. In this instance, the officials advanced a series of specious arguments in order to prevent the film from even being considered for a national award. It is ridiculous that though Final Solution (149-minutes) was seen by thousands in 2004, showcased at numerous international film festivals and screened at over 100 universities worldwide, these officials claimed it did not even exist in that year and that the film was produced only in 2005!

Sir, Final Solution created history at the Berlin International film festival by not only being the first Indian film to win an award in the last couple of decades, it signalled a recognition of the documentary form as being most significant in the post-911 world. Berlinale’s Wolfgang Staudte prize had never been awarded to a documentary before; later in the year, the Cannes jury underscored the import assigned to the documentary form by giving its main prize to Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911. Final Solution (149) has been the first ever Indian documentary to win awards at the 3 Continents film festival in Nantes (France), the first ever Indian film to be nominated for the coveted Grierson Awards (UK) and the first Indian film to win the prestigious Freedom of Expression award given by the worldwide Index on Censorship. Yet, this country’s national awards and official film festivals fail to find a place for the film.

Broadcasters worldwide want the film as part of their programming lineup, but it is yet to find a space on Doordarshan! Audiences on BBC (UK and Ireland), NHK(Japan), DR2 (Denmark), Dutch television and a host of other networks have already appreciated the film; I am now in dialogue with major broadcasters in Germany, France, USA and half a dozen other countries. Yet, I despair to think of the bureaucratic hurdles I’ll need to navigate to have the film shown on national television in my own country.

I do hope, Sir, that my experience at the 52nd National Film Awards sets in motion a process of review of some of the policies and processes currently in place at your Ministry.

Rakesh Sharma