I don't think the film is anti-Dalit, no question of reviewing its certification: Censor Board chairperson

The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and the Censor Board have come to a stand-off over Prakash Jha's new film ‘Aarakshan,' which deals with reservation and commercialisation in education.

The Commission, which viewed the film on Tuesday, said certain dialogues in the film were “derogatory” and “objectionable” to Dalits and asked the Censor Board to order changes. However, the Board, which granted the film a U/A certification, said it would defend Mr. Jha's right to free expression.

“While the overall theme of the film is not objectionable, it is loaded with anti-Dalit and anti-reservation dialogues,” said NCSC chairman P.L. Punia. He pointed to a scene where two businessmen remark that they don't want their children to study with those from Dalit communities “who stink” and have no manners as particularly “humiliating.” He added that rather than condemning such an attitude, Mr. Bachchan's character merely replied that he would not take two sets of classes for Dalit and non-Dalit students.

‘Reservation ridiculed'

Other characters mock the concept of reservation for Dalits, comparing it to alms, and claiming that Dalit students should be shining shoes rather than pursuing their studies.

“The film ridicules the rights given to the underprivileged by the Constitution as well as the Supreme Court. This is a matter of shame for the nation as a whole,” said Mr. Punia.

However, Censor Board chairperson Leela Samson said there was no question of reviewing its certification. “When you show a certain situation, you must show reality as it is… [These dialogues] are nothing new when you consider the abuse hurled in everyday dialogues in this country,” she said. “I don't think the film is anti-Dalit.”

The Amitabh Bachchan-Saif Ali Khan starrer had come under fire from Dalit activist groups and politicians even before the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), better known as the Censor Board, cleared the film. However, on Tuesday, the Mumbai High Court refused to ban the film, observing that “the only appropriate authority who has a right to judge a film is the Censor Board,” adding that the filmmaker's fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression could not be restricted.

Mr. Jha, who organised the screening for the NCSC after the Court's ruling, said he had not received any instructions from Mr. Punia, adding that everyone was free to air his or her observations on the film. However, he would only take instructions to revise the film's dialogues from a body which had the power to revoke the Censor Board's certification. “A High Court has cleared it. So has CBFC. So where is the problem?” he asks.

‘Active debate needed'

Scriptwriter Anjum Rajabali — who is a member of the CBFC — said the film should be seen in totality. “The film takes the issue of casteism, an old wound, head on and in doing so it has to echo different prejudices and biases present in our society for years,” he said. “Only then an active debate is possible. People could have objections with dramaturgy or the inability of the film to hold attention but as far as the issue of reservation is concerned it is fairly debated. The film goes beyond reservation to show how it has led to commercialisation of education.”

Mr. Punia said that he would not fight with the Censor Board if it refused to make the cuts or delay the release of the film.