I learned from my experience at the movie theater and from watching TV shows in India that censoring plays a big role in what can be shown on-screen. Fortunately, I was given a case to read in which a suit was filed against the producer of a movie due to the negative portrayal of a religious group, and I was able to read about censoring in-depth.
The Censor Board, which is controlled by the central government, sets guidelines for film certification and reviews films before they are released. They have the ability to deny certification and ask that certain scenes or dialogue be removed.
These guidelines began by stating that the films submitted for approval by the Censor Board needed to be “sensitive to the values and standards of society,” and be “clean and healthy entertainment” of “aesthetic value” and “cinematically of a good standard.” It also stated that the censorship was not meant to unfairly restrict artistic expression and creative freedom.
Ironically, the guidelines then went on to give a list of scenes that were not allowed to be included in the movie. These included ones depicting “child abuse, abuse of animals, or the abuse or ridicule of physically or mentally disabled persons.” “Scenes involving sexual violence against women” had to be “avoided or reduced to a minimum [with] no details shown.” “Anti-social activities such as violence” were not to be “glorified or justified.” Scenes “justifying or glorifying drinking, drug addiction, or smoking,” “scenes degrading women,” and “visuals or words promoting communal, obscurantist, anti-scientific, and anti-national attitude” were not allowed to be shown on-screen. Furthermore, during the course of the film, the “sovereignty and integrity of India [was not allowed to be] called into question,” the “security of the state [was not to be] jeopardized or endangered,” “friendly relations with foreign states [were not to be] strained, “ and “public order [could not be] endangered.”
After reading the whole list of guidelines, it became clear why so many movies were banned in India. The government has complete control over the arts.
And so even though the Constitution of India guarantees freedom of expression, logically, it cannot.
I always get emotional reading through human rights cases, but today’s case file hit my heart in a different way. Today, I caught a glimpse of the 1984 genocide against the Sikhs.
In 2011, an engineer discovered a site in a village called Hondh Chillar in Haryana, India. After realizing what had happened there, he took pictures of the deserted area, and enlisted the help of Sikh organizations to help preserve the site. The man had found the aftermath of a massacre that occurred twenty-seven years ago.
In response to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in October 1984, thousands of Sikhs were killed in horrific attacks all across India. On November 2, 1984, the village of Hondh Chillar, which was inhabited by more than 35 Sikh families, was invaded by three truckloads of people who came shouting and armed with weapons. According to eyewitness reports, the mob took diesel from the tractors of the villagers and burned children alive. The women of the village were raped and murdered. Innocent Sikhs were beaten, and when they ran into their homes to save themselves, their attackers would lock them inside and set the houses on fire. An estimated 60 – 70 people died that day.
A very vague First Information Report (FIR) was registered on the complaint of a reported killing of Sikhs in Hondh Chillar. The police barely did any investigating. There were no interviews with survivors or witnesses. The case was closed, and the FIR was claimed to be lost or misplaced. The survivors left the village and did not return out of fear and because they knew the police were involved and would not help them.
And so the story of the Hondh Chillar massacre was forgotten. Only when the site was discovered twenty-seven years later did the details of the attack come to light. Only then were twenty-nine of the victims traced and identified as casualties of the mass grave. It’s hard to believe that they went forgotten for so long after such brutal violence and horrendous bloodshed. It hurts to think about it.
As I looked over the photographs of the site that the engineer took in 2011, a knot formed in my throat. The entire area lay in ruins. You couldn’t miss it from afar. Beyond the bright green thriving grass was a large patch of gray and brown, where pieces of what once was lay amongst the burnt, dead grass. Human remains, mostly bones were scattered in the torched compounds. The village’s Gurdwara, which was once a safe, beautiful, peaceful place, was completely burnt and inhabited by stray animals. Shambles of homes, crumbles of bricks, a few portions of gray walls left standing, decaying plants…it was as if someone had gone in and snatched all the life out of this place. It was colorless, lifeless. Frozen in time. Forgotten.
I closed my eyes and prayed.