CPJ protests censorship of documentary

New York, March 20, 2003— The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calls on India’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to reverse its earlier decision to deny a certificate to the documentary “Aakrosh,” which prevents the film from being shown publicly. “Aakrosh,” or “Cry of Anguish,” is a 20-minute, Hindi-language documentary that features interviews with survivors of the communal violence that swept the western state of Gujarat in 2002.

On March 4, the CBFC notified the producers of “Aakrosh” that their application for a certificate was denied. The filmmakers appealed the decision to the board’s Revising Committee, which met yesterday, March 19, to screen the documentary. Committee members told producers that a decision would be made shortly, but no date was given.

In the CBFC’s March 4 letter to the filmmakers explaining the decision, a copy of which was obtained by CPJ, the board lists several “Reasons for Refusal of Certificate,” including the fact that, “The film depicts violence and reminds the people about the Gujarat riot last year. It shows the Government and Police in a bad light. The overall impact of the film is negative as it leads to communal hatred.”

The film’s producers say it does not show footage of the violence and is not incendiary. The film “preaches the importance of peace and communal harmony,” said a statement from the People’s Media Initiative, an independent production company that made the documentary. “We wanted to show futility of the violence and tell the people that violence of any kind is bad.” The filmmakers say they did not identify the victims interviewed by name or religion to avoid contributing to further polarization between Hindu and Muslim communities.

The clashes in Gujarat began on February 27, 2002, when a Muslim mob set fire to a train carrying Hindu activists, killing 59 people, according to official reports. More than 2,000 Muslims were killed in the retaliatory violence that followed. Journalists, diplomats, and human rights groups have reported that much of this violence was actually organized and encouraged by political leaders and groups associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party that governs Gujarat State and leads India’s national coalition government.

Arvind Trivedi, a former actor and BJP politician from Gujarat, currently heads the CBFC.

This is not the first time that the film board has censored a documentary for political reasons. In 2002, the CBFC ordered filmmakers to alter their documentary “War and Peace” (Jang aur Aman), a program about the dangers of the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan. The film’s director refused to make the cuts and has filed a case with the High Court in Mumbai challenging the board’s decision. The next court hearing is scheduled for March 25.

“War and Peace” has received numerous awards, including top honors at the Mumbai International Film Festival and the Sydney International Film Festival, but it cannot be screened publicly in India without an official certificate from the film board.