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Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai is a film that won't stay quiet

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:54 IST

You'd think we would have learned by now that banning something innocuous only makes it more popular than it would otherwise ever be.

The government of India found that out the hard way recently when their decision to ban a host of porn sites introduced the world to randyhags.com.

Unfortunately, some people are slow learners. Over the last month, a documentary on the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai, has been in the news.

Not because it just won an award, but because the student wing of the BJP, the ABVP, stopped its screening at Delhi's Kirori Mal College. Incensed JNU students also tried to screen the movie - they were stopped by the college administration.

But like the porn ban, these attempts at censorship are about to backfire spectacularly, thanks to a group called Cinema of Resistance. The group's plan - to hold a protest screening - has snowballed, with pan-India protest screenings of the documentary set for 25 August 2015.

Muzaffarpur baaki hai

According to Sanjay Joshi, national convener of Cinema of Resistance, the idea for the protest came about when news of the incident at Kirori Mal happened. The group passed a resolution condemning the act and the protest screenings were a natural progression. Even so, the scale of the event will be more massive than even Cinema of Resistance could have imagined.

It was always going to be a pan-India movement since the group has 15 chapters in 8 states. But, as Joshi says, "thanks to the wonder of Facebook and social media" there will be 60+ screenings in 50 towns and cities across 22 states. A video of the ABVP goons disrupting the screening also, ironically, went viral and helped increase visibility.

The movement doesn't seem to be slowing down either. As recently as a few days ago, when the group designed the flyer for their event page, it was only 50 screenings in 40 towns.

For their part, Cinema of Resistance is doing everything they can to help people who want to screen the film. Along with the documentary's producers NewsClick, the group have sent DVDs of the film to people who want to screen it. Free of charge. "It's not about money, it's about the message", says Joshi. So has the message reached people? It certainly seems so.

Over 2,000 people have confirmed their attendance on the event page. While it's no guarantee as to actual numbers, it's a pretty solid indication of sentiment. As with the porn ban, it looks like India is fed up of thugs and the moral and cultural police telling us what to watch.

The date of the protest screening - 25 August - is also significant. It's the first death anniversary of Shubhradeep Chakravorty, a journalist-filmmaker who fought against exactly this sort of censorship. His own documentary on the Muzaffarnagar riots - En Dino Muzaffarnagar - was, according to Chakravorty's Facebook post, "the first documentary film banned under Prime Minister Modi". Even in death, a more fitting rallying point would be hard to find.

As with any movement that goes against the system, there are unfortunately bound to be casualties, and today saw the first. Mumbai's The Hive, which was to screen the documentary as part of the protest, cancelled their screening after police intervention. The police had alleged they lacked the necessary permissions.

When asked whether they expected similar action at other screening venues, Joshi says a resounding 'no'. As long as venues declare publicly that it is a private screening, there are no permissions required, he explains. The Hive, while making clear that it was a free event with limited seating, had not done so explicitly.

Even so, Joshi says they will ensure all those who had signed up for the Hive event get to see it - the group plans on distributing DVDs.

Now, with the day of the screenings almost upon us, the biggest worry is security. The ABVP and similar groups are known for their endless amounts of spare time and their willingness to use it for mindless violence.

With venue details for all the screenings in the public domain, these locations could easily become targets for people looking to stir up trouble.

The group though, is not worried. "We haven't made any specific safety arrangements, nor have we asked for police protection," says Joshi, "we just hope the turnout is big and that if antisocial elements try to disrupt proceedings, people will stand together with us for this cause".

The protests aren't limited to a single day either. Cinema of Resistance is actively helping people set up smaller private screenings, even beyond 25 August. They've already slotted a host of screenings in different cities for subsequent days.

With the two-year anniversary of the riots falling on 21 August and the growing spate of intolerance in the country - the film and the protest couldn't be better timed. If you get a chance, here's a link to the event page so you can find a screening near you.

First published: 25 August 2015, 1:12 IST
Ranjan Crasta @jah_crastafari

The Ranjan (Beardus Horribilis) is a largely land-dwelling herbivorous mammal. Originally from a far more tropical habitat, the Ranjan can now be found wandering the streets of Delhi complaining about the weather, looking for watering holes and foraging for affordable snacks. Mostly human, mostly happy and mostly harmless, the Ranjan is prone to mood swings when deprived of his morning coffee. Having recently migrated to the Catch offices, he now inhabits a shadowy corner and spends his time distracting people and producing video content to distract them further.