India does not shine on everyone and we have the right to say so

The Right to Freedom of Expression is a measure of democracy. In India it is a fundamental right. But the time has clearly come to remind both government and ourselves that such a right not only exists but is essential to practice.

In recent years not only has overt and covert censorship been imposed by the State, the authorities have chosen to look the other way as riotous mobs burn books, destroy paintings, attack artists, tear down cinemas, rip apart ancient manuscripts and make a mockery of all our constitutional safeguards.

Under the thumb of an increasingly intolerant Central government, organizations like Doordarshan, the Central Board of Film Certification and the Mumbai International Film Festival for Shorts, Documentaries and Animation Films (MIFF) have become pro-active in suppressing voices of dissent.

The Campaign Against Censorship (CAC) is an action platform of over 275 documentary filmmakers from different parts of the country who came together in August 2003 to fight against a censorship clause that had been introduced for Indian films at the MIFF 2004. As a result of CAC’s stand official censorship was removed, but a backdoor variety was introduced via a compromised selection procedure. MIFF 2004 excluded some of the best made new Indian films dealing with subjects like the Gujarat carnage, communalism, caste and gender, sexuality and the environment. Many of these have been invited to international festivals and won awards.

In the past the independent filmmaking community tolerated acts of omission and commission by MIFF because it looked upon the festival as an important space for the Indian documentary. However this time the blatant attempt to stifle critical voices cannot be ignored. Many filmmakers whose films were selected for MIFF have withdrawn their work.These along with those that were “rejected” will screen at VIKALP: Films for Freedom at a venue near MIFF the Bhupesh Gupta Bhavan on 85 Sayani Road from 10 AM to 10 PM from 4th through 9th February. Entry is by invitation and you are all invited to become members of a growing movement against censorship.

We are not calling for a boycott of MIFF, as despite a flawed selection process, some good films will screen here. We instead demand dialogue, transparency and professionalism so that MIFF has a future we can all look forward to.

Our appeal is not to the filmmaking community alone. For an assault on freedom of expression does not affect filmmakers alone. It is an assault on democracy itself.

10 AM, 4th February 2004, Bhupesh Gupta Bhavan

Inauguration of Vikalp: Films for Freedom

A 25 minute monologue excerpted from ‘Kali Shalwar, Safed Jhoot’ will be performed by Jameel Khan, directed by Naseeruddin Shah and produced by Motley Productions. Ratna Pathak Shah will introduce the piece.
About Saadat Hasan Manto’s Safed Jhoot

Written about half a century ago, Safed Jhoot by Saadat Hasan Manto is a direct defence of the freedom of expression. This is Manto’s response to allegations of obscenity which were aimed at him; allegations which centred around his choice of subjects and his choice of language.

The daily ‘Prabhat’ and the Weekly ‘Khayyam,’ both from Lahore, published strident editorials condemning Manto and calling for a ban on his writings. They even demanded that he be arrested and punished for arousing the baser feelings of his young readers. According to them, he merited the same treatment as writers of objectionable religious articles, who were prosecuted by the powers that be.

This was not new for Manto. During his brief but prolific career, he had been accused of obscenity several times and tried for it thrice. Till he died in 1954 he continued to write just what he wanted to, and almost half a century later, his writings still have the power to sway, move, and offend !