Facts in fiction: on stopping the release of the Hindi film, Hamare Baarah  

No ban on books or films can be justified in the name of upholding order 

Published - June 12, 2024 12:10 am IST

The likelihood of protests, communal tension or prejudice to law and order ought not to be cited as a reason to suspend the screening of a film. The Karnataka government’s decision to stop the release of the Hindi film, Hamare Baarah, for two weeks violates the freedom of expression in the name of upholding order and preventing communal tension. Such a ban on public screening of films, independent of their merit, has no place in a democratic society. The Bombay High Court, which initially stayed the release of Hamare Baarah, has lifted the ban, following the producer’s offer to remove some controversial dialogues. Its observation that allowing an individual to stall the release of a certified film would encourage film producers being held to ransom is consistent with judicial precedents. Once it is certified by the Central Board of Film Certification, presumably after proper scrutiny of its suitability for public viewing, there ought to be no scope for a second opinion by a law enforcement authority. The position that a work, be it a book or a play or a film, may be proscribed under threat of protests or likely violence has been rebuffed by the Supreme Court of India in some landmark verdicts. “... freedom of expression cannot be suppressed on account of threat of demonstration and processions or threats of violence,” the Court said in its 1989 judgment in S. Rangarajan vs P. Jagjivan Ram on the film, Ore Oru Gramathile.

The emphasis on freedom of expression does not mean that one should endorse any film whose content is distasteful or obnoxious or contains vile propaganda. As for the film now under the scanner, there is reason to believe that such criticism is justified, beginning with the overt communal overtones in its title itself. Its posters and synopsis suggest that the film draws upon sectarian allegations that the Muslim community is responsible for population growth and that its men force women to bear many children, in utter disregard of their health and well-being. The film’s proponents may claim it is about spreading awareness on population control, and that watching the film may dispel such an impression. However, it cannot be denied that contemporary film-making has made stereotyping the Muslim community a significant trend. Any film that gives prominence to the claim that members of the community have more children, must be aimed at pandering to communal sections and the political establishment that encourages them. If the country is to be a free and open society, there is no need to suppress any point of view. At the same time, it must also develop the wherewithal to counter sectarian propaganda with facts and without resort to unconstitutional methods.

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