Kashmir University authorities on Saturday stopped the screening of a film which contains heart-rending visuals of conflict victims and holds the Army and paramilitary responsible for human rights abuses in Kashmir. However, the documentary of 27-minute duration, made in Kashmiri and English, has been funded by subsidiaries of the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), and has also been certified as legitimate by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
A gathering of more than 200 men and women — mostly students, teachers, filmmakers and social activists — raised slogans outside the KU’s Convocation Hall in favour of Azadi and the hardliner separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. They alleged that the KU authorities initially allowed screening of the film and collected the stipulated fee from the director, but finally disallowed the event “under police pressure.”
“They are more loyal than the king,” co-researcher and director of the film titled Ocean of Tears, Bilal Jan, complained to The Hindu. “We had completed all the procedural formalities. They previewed and cleared the documentary, and thereafter made us deposit a fee of Rs. 20,000. We got sponsors and put up paid advertisements in local newspapers. A gathering of more than 200 eminent persons turned up to attend the screening. But, at the eleventh hour, we were told that the screening couldn’t be allowed, as according to them, someone had submitted a complaint, claiming that the director had plagiarised his footage,” Mr. Jan explained.
According to Mr. Jan, Superintendent of Police, Hazratbal zone, Abdul Qayoom remained closeted with the KU Registrar, Professor Zaffar Ahmad Rishi, for a long time, and the police prevented the invitees from entering the auditorium. He confirmed that the film was selectively on the plight of women “who had been raped and tortured by the Army, their sons who had been killed and husbands subjected to enforced disappearance.” However, he insisted, there was nothing wrong or unlawful in making and screening such a documentary as, according to him, it had been “approved and funded” by MIB’s Films Division and a key subsidiary, the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT).
According to Mr. Jan’s statement and documents, the film had been cleared by PSBT’s eminent panel of filmmakers and critics. They included FTII Pune’s Professor (Film) Suresh Chhabria, the former director-general of Doordarshan, Bhaskar Ghosh, and prominent critic K. Vikram. It credits the high-profile filmmaker, Rajiv Mehrotra, as the producer of the film. Anchor of DD’s longest-run talk show ‘In Conversation’ and a graduate in Master of Fine Arts in Film Direction from the University of Columbia in 1981, Mr. Mehrotra played a key role in producing the film and getting it cleared from the censor authorities, Mr. Jan said.
“From 2000, he has been Managing Trustee, Executive Producer and Commissioning Editor of The Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT), which has produced more than 400 documentary films, winning some 100 awards from 250 international film festival screenings. His films have won numerous international awards and 18 national awards from the President of India,” Mr. Mehrotra’s profile on Wikipedia says.
“Yes, it’s true that almost all the local business tycoons and prominent NGOs refused to sponsor the screening event. They invariably argued that the film ran against the government agencies and its CBFC certificate and PSBT sponsorship wasn’t enough,” Mr. Jan revealed. He informed that the main part of the film was on the infamous Kunan-Poshpora (Kupwara) alleged mass rape of February 1991, and the “rape-cum-murder” of two young women in Shopian in 2009.
A 7-minute video, which has been running on YouTube since October this year, has recorded 145,000 views until Saturday. It carries emotional statements of the “victims of state terror”, all invariably holding Army and paramilitary forces guilty of “gang rape, murder, custodial killing and torture”. It does not contain the reaction of the Army, the BSF, the CRPF or any government agency to the explicitly-used statements. Mr. Jan said the CBFC members were divided regarding clearing the film, but chairperson Leela Samson was assertive in convincing the people who were against its clearance.
KU’s Registrar, Professor Zaffar Ahmad Rishi, insisted that the screening was stopped only after a local activist of a Gujarat-based NGO complained that his work had been plagiarised by the producers and researchers of the documentary. “We had given the permission [for screening], but once we received the complaint we withdrew it,” Professor Rishi told The Hindu. “Copyright and plagiarism is a big issue in universities these days. Nobody wants to land in trouble.”