None of the reasons given by the Tamil Nadu government for imposing a ban on the film Dam 999 holds water. The right to freedom of speech and expression, as enshrined in the Constitution and upheld time and again by the Supreme Court of India, is too dear to be sacrificed at the altar of political contingency. Everything the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary, Debendranath Sarangi, stated about the film could be true, yet nothing would justify the ban on a film cleared by the Censor Board. Admittedly, the title of the film alludes to the Mullaperiyar Dam in Kerala, which was built in 1895 on land given to Madras State on a 999-year lease. The climax depicts the bursting of a weak dam, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of people. In publicity material for the film, the director, Sohan Roy, who hails from Kerala, spoke of dangers posed by old dams. Further, Biju Vincent, representing the Mullaperiyar Samara Samiti, which is spearheading opposition to the dam in Kerala, was present at a press conference to announce the release of the film. These facts do not constitute the slightest justification for a ban. To say the film would create discord between the people of Tamil Nadu and Kerala is to underestimate their good sense and maturity. If a motivated few instigate tensions that lead to law and order problems, the onus is on the State government and its law enforcing machinery to deal with them.
What is surprising is that the government allowed itself to be led by the chauvinist demands of some political parties for a ban on the film — instead of dealing firmly with those who threatened to prevent the screening of the film. As pointed out by A.P. Shah, retired Chief Justice of the Madras and Delhi High Courts, in an article in The Hindu (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2656995.ece), “different views are allowed to be expressed by proponents and opponents not because they are correct or valid, but because there is freedom in this country to express differing views on any issue.” If disturbance to law and order on account of the release of the film was a concern, the proper course for the government would have been to provide adequate security to cinemas screening the film and to act firmly against those seeking violently to disrupt public viewing of the film. As the Supreme Court laid down in its 1989 judgment in S. Rangarajan v Jagjivan Ram involving the film Ore Oru Gramathile, “freedom of expression cannot be suppressed on account of [the] threat of demonstration and processions or threats of violence.” Bans cannot be allowed to become a substitute for responsible policing. This is settled law, which will no doubt be reaffirmed when the matter is taken to court.