Censorship on Film Screenings by the Ravenshaw University 


  • March 6, 2023
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Protests by RSS student wing ABVP have forced Ravenshaw University in Cuttack to drop from its ongoing film festival two documentaries, one of them Shabnam Virmani’s ‘Had Anhad’ on Kabir and his views about Ram and the other Debalina Majumder’s ‘Gay India Matrimony’ on samesex marriage. It is learnt that once the organisers of the Film festival had announced the schedule and the list of films to be shown, there was a campaign by certain fundamentalist groups in social media against a number of listed movies. Initially, the list included Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali for ‘romanticising poverty’, and Charulata for being ‘borderline incest’. However, after a negotiation with the authorities, the Film festival was allowed to go on from March 3rd, with the omission of two films from the roster, Debalina Majumder’s ‘Gay India Matrimony’ and Shabnam Virmani’s ‘Had Anhad’. 

 

PUCL in a press statement said that it is deeply concerned at the rise of fundamentalist and reactionary forces in the state who have, slowly but steadily, emerged as a serious threat to freedom of thought and expression in society in general and in educational institutions in particular. The human rights group said that the very purpose of the existence of a public university is to cultivate critical thinking among students. Instead, the Ravenshaw University, by not allowing the screening of certain films, clearly has taken on the role of moral policing of students – a tell-tale sign of the growing right wing politics of exerting dominance through irrational means. 

 

PUCL Statement

6th March, 2023

 

Oppose the unwarranted censorship of Ravenshaw Film Festival! 

Stand up for the Freedom of thought and Expression! 

Defend the right to dissent! 

 

The PUCL is deeply concerned at the rise of fundamentalist and reactionary forces in the state who have, slowly but steadily, emerged as a serious threat to freedom of thought and expression in society in general and in educational institutions in particular. It is clear that these forces do not believe in debate and dialogue to deal with any difference of views. They rather believe in physically preventing, intimidating and attacking their opponents. We witnessed these forces at work in Bhubaneswar when they hurled bricks and stones at the members of the Rationalists’ Organisation at Lohia Academy (November, 2022) where they were conducting a seminar on Solar/Lunar Eclipse and the widely practised taboo on taking food during the eclipse. They recently assaulted the organisers of a seminar at Utkal University organised by the Citizen’s Forum (February, 2023). The latest target has been the film festival at the Ravenshaw University, Cuttack, where they prevented the screening of certain films which they deem ‘objectionable’. The PUCL would like to state that it stands with the student community in Ravenshaw University and elsewhere who aspire to promote critical thinking and thoughtful dialogue through cinema in their educational environment.

 

We have gathered the following account from the student organisers of the film festival and a perusal of media reports on the incident. A film festival was scheduled from 2ndto 4th March with the due approval of the University authorities. The authorities were informed of the films to be shown in the festival. On the morning of 2nd March, when the organisers reached the venue of the film screening they were not allowed to enter the auditorium. Shocked at this development, the organisers went to the Vice Chancellor Dr. Sanjay Nayak’s office and demanded an explanation. They were informed that they wouldn’t be allowed to go on with the festival because a certain student had problems with certain films listed to be screened.

 

It is also learnt that once the organisers had announced the schedule and the list of films to be shown, there was a campaign by certain fundamentalist groups in social media against a number of listed movies, including Satyajit Ray’s much acclaimed Pather Panchali for ‘romanticising poverty’, and Charulata for being ‘borderline incest’. A student has allegedly filed a complaint with the local Malgodam Police Station against the festival organisers. The Cultural Committee of Ravenshaw University had met with this student before the festival and tried to fathom his demands, which turned out to be nothing more than misdirected ramblings.

 

Since due process had been followed and permissions had been granted, this surrender of the Ravenshaw authorities to a certain student’s complaint was met with protests by the student community. They demanded for the screening of all the films to be allowed. However, after a negotiation with the authorities, the festival was allowed to go on from March 3rd, with the omission of two films from the roster, Debalina Majumder’s ‘Gay India Matrimony’ and Shabnam Virmani’s ‘Had Anhad’. 

 

Gay India Matrimony is a documentary about the predicament of same-sex marriage in India and the society’s attitude towards the LGBT community. This documentary is funded by the Film Division of the Govt. of India and has received ‘A’ certification from the CBFC. Shabnam Virmani’s ‘Had Anhad’ deals with the spiritual communities across the Indo-Pak border. Both of these films have been widely screened and acclaimed.

 

It is unfortunate that a public university should be pressured by a group of students’ random intervention that such films would “corrupt” the minds of its students. The giving in to such objections makes us question the intent of the University to create a space to cultivate free-thinking individuals and open discussion. We believe that the very purpose of the existence of a public university is to cultivate critical thinking among students. Instead, the Ravenshaw University, by not allowing the screening of certain films, clearly has taken on the role of moral policing of students – a tell-tale sign of the growing right wing politics of exerting dominance through irrational means.

 

The PUCL therefore calls upon all citizens to stand by the student communities and the Film Societies, and condemn the action of the Ravenshaw University authorities. It is imperative to preserve the public spaces where students can exercise their rights to study, watch, and discuss in order to develop critical thinking.

 

Pramodini Pradhan

Suchishraba Sarangi

 

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