The Kashmir Files – Censorship’s Unintended Consequence

Editorial

Mont Ida Entertainment Ltd could not have asked for a better and more effective advertising prop for ‘The Kashmir Files’, which was scheduled for release in cinema halls as from last Tuesday, than the certificate of censorship handed down by a an obscure and to date unknown panel of the Film Classification Board (FCB) on the eve, that is on Monday afternoon. That decision was revised following a Notice of Appeal submitted by Mont Ida Entertainment Ltd, and the film’s release green-lighted on Wednesday evening. It is not known whether the issue was brought to the attention of the Prime Minister’s Office, and the decision to annul the FCB’s censorship was taken at that level, but there can be no doubt that public outrage on different social media platforms at the FCB’s ridiculous decision must have weighed heavily in the equation.

Even as the FCB’s decision has brought ‘The Kashmir Files’ greater attention and certainly much more than paid publicity for its importer, it should also prompt an important discussion and a reappraisal about censorship of films in the traditional circuit and increasingly online and of content on social media. Although we recognise the necessity for governments and the concerned public regulatory bodies to step in where highly objectionable and offensive content in social media posts, what with fake news and hate speech (which is not free speech anyway), and in films are likely to disturb harmony and lead to social unrest, the hard truth however is that the circumstances in today’s digital age are totally different from what prevailed earlier –one that should be examined anew in the digital age with the rise of the internet and large-scale access to high-speed broadband.

The digital infrastructure that powers big tech companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google is vast and complicated; the three most visited websites in the world are Google, YouTube (which is owned by Google), and Facebook — Google and Facebook account for more than 70 percent of all daily web traffic –, and these provide an easily accessible alternative to traditional forms of transmission of news and other content to the planetso much so that almost any change in policy or practice can have unintended and unanticipated consequences. ‘The Kashmir Files’ would have certainly found its way into the living rooms or on the mobiles (which are everywhere by the way) of interested viewers via YouTube, WhatsApp or even Netflix — and that despite official censorship.

‘The Kashmir Files’ on the other hand is not about offensive content, it is about historical events and their poignant accounts, not the fabricated narrative to suit some form of political correctness or appeasement. As mentioned earlier, we are not aware of the composition of the panel and the reasonings which went into the outright ban of the movie through the certificate of censorship. But its success at the box-office in India and in more countries worldwide is ‘just another testament to the hunger for truth amongst the masses, really’ as Indian writer Tushar Gupta puts it. ‘Kashmir Files, Gujarat Files, Bengal Files, Muzaffarnagar Files, Delhi Files, Kerala Files, Assam Files… for decades, many stories of suffering and pain have been either dismissed, denied, or downplayed by the governing regimes for reasons that can be attributed to the umbrella of political appeasement.’

Gupta goes on to add that the biggest success of the movie, however, is on social media, where raw emotions, unfiltered, have surfaced. ‘These are people who suffered and were in silence. These are people who heard stories of pain and agony but were asked to remain silent. These are people who were an audience to all the rapes, murders, and butchering back in the day, and were conveniently forgotten by the future political establishments.’ That’s also the unintended and unanticipated consequence of a long-held State censorship exercised by the political establishment in India for decades. History books and student textbooks were masqueraded to cloak over the roles and responsibilities of post-independence and post-partition Indian political leadership in a blinkered, cocooned, undisturbed environment of haughty disregard for reality.

For nation-building to make any progress one cannot escape taking a more dispassionate view of the sometimes uncomfortable, harsh or cruel realities of past eras, while doing everything possible to correct those mistakes and prevent their recurrence at whatever costs.

* Published in print edition on 18 March 2022

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