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Kashmir docu-maker Butalia wins court battle against censors, with a rider

Saurav Datta | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:41 IST

Irrespective of its political colour, every government is cagey about what views are being expressed about Kashmir. But on Monday, 15 February, Pankaj Butalia won a court battle that could deal a significant blow to successive governments' efforts at censorship on the Kashmir issue.

The Censor Board had demanded two cuts in veteran documentary filmmaker Butalia's latest, Textures of Loss. But a division bench of the Delhi High Court ruled that the demand was illegal and arbitrary, and legally unsustainable.

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The film speaks about the sorrows that the militancy and the army have left in their wake, and how they have taken a toll on the lives of ordinary people. But the Censor Board and its appelate body, the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal had insisted Butalia make two cuts.

On 25 May last year, a single judge bench of the Delhi High Court held that Butalia shouldn't be restrained from expressing his directorial freedom. The government went on appeal to a division bench, and had to bite the dust.

The sticking points

Ideally, what a documentary-maker wants to show or not show should be entirely his or her choice, part of his/her right to freedom of expression.

But the censors found a couple of Butalia's depictions unpalatable, and wanted him to mandatorily insert the following disclaimer:

"Views expressed by individuals in the documentary are solely their own views. Their views are not intended to hurt/defame any person, caste, community, religion, institution or organisation."

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The censors also wanted two scenes to be chopped:

1. There were rousing protests in Kashmir in 2010, to which the Indian State responded in a militarised fashion. The police and paramilitary forces fired on stone-pelting crowds and killed 110 people, and the voiceover in the film termed it "disproportionate force".

2. The father of a child murdered by the security forces screams out in anguish, and curses both the militancy and the security forces for the suffering they have brought.

Not all positive

The Delhi High Court allowed the two scenes in question to remain, but agreed that Butalia must put in the disclaimer.

Butalia is disappointed with this insistence, saying that he feels "bullied, because the court is asking me to do something which the law doesn't give it the power to do."

According to Butalia, censorship guidelines under the Cinematograph Act far exceed the boundaries permitted under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

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In fact, the veteran director has challenged the legality of the censorship guidelines, and the Delhi High Court is yet to decide on the matter. The next hearing is in April.

Although he has mounted a robust challenge, Butalia isn't too optimistic about the final outcome. "Courts look for the path of least resistance," he says, while gearing up for the next round of the battle against censorship.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

First published: 16 February 2016, 5:12 IST
Saurav Datta @SauravDatta29

Saurav Datta works in the fields of media law and criminal justice reform in Mumbai and Delhi.