Sunday, April 10, 2011

An Urgent Appeal from the Secretary, International Federation of Film Societies

The Minister-in Charge
Information and Broadcasting
Government of India
New Delhi

Dear Sir,

I would like to draw your kind attention to the following fact.

Sengadal the Dead Sea, a factual feature fiction directed by Leena Manimekalai, captures the fragments of ordinary lives battered by three-decade-long ethnic war in Sri Lanka. It unfolds in a fisher village at Dhanushkodi, the southernmost tip of India and talks of the travails of the fishermen risking their lives everyday in the border waters between Sri Lanka and India. Dhanushkodi fishermen community, refugees and the common public of Rameswaram have acted in the the film speaking their own dialect and it is a peoples film made by the people themselves using the film unit as facilitators.

The Censor Board refused the clearance certificate to the film and cited its reasons as the film has denigrating political references to the Government of India and Sri Lanka, as well as uses unparliamentary words.

This country guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, and that right stands violated if such true depiction is not allowed.The Supreme Court of India has repeatedly upheld this right as a cherished and zealously guarded right of the citizens of India, including in the context of film-making and exhibition and other forms of artistic expression.

The intention of the film is to depict the rage of the affected Indian fisherfolk at the human rights violations directed against them by the Government, mainly by the Sri Lankan Government. An attempt to tone down that anger would do gross injustice to the truth of their harsh lives being portrayed. It would result in a distortion of factual reality.When the CBFC bans Sengadal the Dead Sea from public exhibition for such flimsy reasons, it is freedom of expression and right to information which are at stake. In fact, the anger of those affected by terrible human rights violations inflicted upon them by the State (whether Indian or Sri Lankan), should be allowed to be expressed freely and even encouraged by allowing the film to be screened.

The film honestly shows how torturous life had become for the fishermen owing to the ethnic war in Sri Lanka and inaction of Indian Government on Srilankan Navy Excess and this reality is shown without any compromise.The issue is extremely important and has generated a raging international and national debate. Specially so, after several such incidents have come to light in the media even after the end of ethnic war. To hide behind reasons such as straining of friendly relations with countries or defamation to hide the truth is far from the objectives of film certification.The question of defamation can arise only when allegations are devoid of truth; but truth itself is a defense in defamation,and depicting the truth cannot be deemed to be defamatory.

On the use of unparliamentary words, the depiction of some words / expletives frequently used to express anger, sorrow, disgust, etc. that merely portray day to day life, may not be prohibited on grounds such as obscenity, etc.They must be allowed in the realm of freedom of artistic expression.If the idea is to communicate certain social and political atrocities, and the sheer helpless rage of the victim, they should not be hidden and should be fully expressed to convey the theme.

The Sengadal team has appealed to the Appellate Tribunal to lift the ban. 

We , the film fraternity, intellectuals, human rights activists and the general public, have signed this petition that demands that the film be granted a CBFC Clearance for public exhibition without any cuts.

Sincerely Yours,

Premendra Mazumder

Vice President, Federation of Film Societies of India
Secretary-Asia, International Federation of Film Societies
India-Correspondent, Cannes Critics Week