The Sangh Parivar has been emboldened since the coming to power of the BJP government to disrupt and threaten all secular/democratic cultural expression. In a new turn, as in the case of the genocide in Gujarat, the government is now becoming more active in directly suppressing such expressions through its own institutional bodies/state organs. Besides sponsoring the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, and bull dozing the infamous POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) through Parliament, the government has come down heavily on all criticisms of the Sangh Parivar and of government policy that have bearing on Hindutva politics. A case in point is Anand Patwardhan’s film, War and Peace
Truth, they say, is the first casualty of war. But even without war, nuclear states fear the truth about what costs their nuclear paraphernalia actually extract from their own people. Or what it could do to people, both in their country and elsewhere.
The trend started with the United States, which developed its nuclear weapons in secret, and did not disclose for decades the extent of damage in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the impact on people who were involved in the nuclear fuel cycle in the US and elsewhere - from miners who extracted uranium all the way to soldiers who participated in military exercises while deliberately being exposed to radioactive fallout from nuclear tests. Well after the end of the cold war, in 1995, historians at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington were not permitted to mount an exhibit that described the casualties due to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Other nuclear weapon states have also followed suit in their own ways.
The latest victim of this tendency has been Jang aur Aman (War and Peace), an epic documentary by Anand Patwardhan, one of India's most accomplished filmmakers. Patwardhan has made several prize-winning documentaries on a variety of issues ranging from the struggle in the Narmada valley to the plight of mill workers in Bombay to the activities of the Hindu rightwing groups. As with his other films, Jang aur Aman also won awards at this year' s Mumbai International Film Festival and the Earth Vision Global Environment Festival in Tokyo.
A really moving film, Jang aur Aman explores the many impacts of the acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan. Going from one topic to another in a somewhat non-linear fashion, Patwardhan manages to tie together the problems faced by people living near nuclear testing and mining sites, the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the psychological numbing in the United States with the consequent blind eye to the arguments against the bombing of the two Japanese cities and the global reach of the merchants of death, namely arms traders. But the film is not all gloom and doom - it also documents extensively the growing movement for peace both in India and in Pakistan. One of my favourite scenes in the film was a discussion between the filmmaker and schoolgirls in Lahore which reveals the shallowness of the oft-stated support for nuclear weapons.
Despite these prizes and ample praise from many who have seen it, the Indian Censor Board has so far prevented its release for public screening in India as it is. After taking extraordinary measures to prohibit non-commercial screenings in the interim, in particular at the Films Division of India festival in Calcutta that featured other prize-winning films from the Mumbai International Film Festival, the censor board's committee finally watched the movie on June 6th and gave a list of demands for eliminating (cutting) various shots. The scenes they objected to point to the fears of the powers that be.
The first scene that they objected to was one involving the burning of an Indian flag by fundamentalist groups in Pakistan. While this may seem normal - authorities in most countries dislike their national flags being burnt - the scene is important since it balances shots of similar jingoistic actions on the Indian side. The next two scenes that were objected to involved a dalit, a member of the lowest section of Hindu society, pointing out that it was a high caste Brahmin who murdered Mahatma Gandhi, and a dalit who had converted to Buddhism, objecting to the use of the term "Buddha is Smiling" as code for the message that a test of a weapon that could kill millions had been successful. In this demand, we see an effort not only to suppress the voices of those who have been suppressed for centuries, but also to avoid any challenges to the Hindutva attempt at negating contradictions and social tensions between different castes within Hindu society.
The apprehensions of the ruling BJP combine is also clear from another demand - to avoid any visuals or dialogues about the infamous Tehelka exposé, which proved beyond doubts that the BJP or its allies were corrupt, even in matters of national security. Given that millions of people have seen the Tehelka video recordings, the ridiculousness of this demand is clear. But common sense and shame are not qualities that these politicians are known for.
Another objection is to a leading nuclear scientist saying that China is a possible enemy against which nuclear weapons could be used, a statement made by several political leaders, most notably defence minister George Fernandes. Even more drastic is the diktat - "Delete the entire visuals and dialogues spoken by Political Leaders including Minister and Prime Minister" . That many of these shots have appeared in the state run Doordarshan and possibly seen by hundreds of millions of people - many times the number who can be expected to see Patwardhan's film - only underscores the Orwellian irony.
Thankfully the attempt to censor Patwardhan's film has been challenged by many. Various prominent magazines have carried critical stories on the events. Dozens of people have signed an online petition circulated on the Internet. One hopes that these efforts would have some effect.
Censoring Patwardhan's film would be particularly unfortunate. People in South Asia have not been exposed to images of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, of the accident at Chernobyl or the plight of uranium miners around the world, that throw light on the dark underbelly of the nuclear age. Without this knowledge, they would have no basis for deciding about their future. But most of all, it would deny people in India and Pakistan any humanistic visions of peace that is absolutely necessary to counteract the systematic propaganda that has been put forward by governments and hawks about the wickedness of the "other" and the need to be able to reduce them to radioactive rubble.
The Daily Times
June 27, 2002
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