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‘Messenger Of God’ has Kicked Up A Storm, And Raised Some Uncomfortable Questions For The Govt.

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By Bala Sai:

Perhaps we are a fragile country, an inchoate, albeit delicate assembly of ideals and beliefs that could collapse at the slightest disturbance. Perhaps we are a country simmering with anarchy, on such a brink that it can be swiftly undone by a Bollywood movie. Merely weeks after PK rode its controversies to the Box Office, here’s another movie that is supposedly poised to threaten our democracy, and make a fortune out of it.

But this time, the issue runs deeper than the generally accepted ‘Secularism-hurting’ levels. The controversy surrounding Messenger of God has revealed a ghastly truth about how our country is run, and the implications seem terrifying.

After the Censor Board decided against allowing the movie to be shown in public, fearing backlash from various sections of the society, the decision was promptly overturned by the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), leading to immediate resignation of two high-ranking officials of the Central Board of Film Certification, including its chief Leela Samson and member Ira Bhaskar, citing “interference, coercion and corruption of panel members and officers of the organisation who are appointed by the (information) ministry”.

MSG (Messenger of God) is a curious case. It isn’t your usual movie with a hard hitting social message or a controversial take on a delicate issue, which generally warrants such widespread opposition. MSG, according to the Censor Board, falls into the ‘ridiculous self-advertising masquerading as a movie’ category, where the Dera Sacha Sauda chief and controversial Godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim plays himself in an immensely larger-than-himself role, claiming to be a messenger of God, thereby inviting the ire of an entire community of Sikhs he has a hefty record of offending.

In 2007, there were clashes between the Sikhs and Dera followers in Bathinda after an advertisement appeared in which Gurmeet Singh was depicted with a Guru Gobind Singh kind of persona, the tenth and last guru of the Sikhs. Allegedly, MSG projects the Dera chief as a Guru who performs miracles, which goes against the essence of Guru Nanak’s philosophy. That he has a past involving criminal offenses, charges of sexual exploitation, and allegations of manipulating hundreds of devotees into castrating themselves doesn’t help bring him any closer to God either.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who exercises a strong army of supporters and a sizeable political clout, was known to be a Congress supporter but had switched his loyalties to the BJP just before the 2014 elections. The quick clearance given to the movie is seen as a BJP payback to the Dera chief.

The controversy that has been brewing for a few months now reached fever pitch last evening, the circus finally spilling out into the streets on the day of the movie’s slated release. The SAD, the Indian National Lok Dal and various Sikh outfits protested actively in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh, even as the Dera chief thanked the almighty for His divine sleight of hand that apparently led to his movie being cleared for release by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT).

We need to understand that this is not to be dismissed off as yet another show-down between the Akali Dal-led Sikh groups and the Dera supporters. This is not even to be seen merely in the context of freedom of speech and expression. Two high-ranking officials of the Censor board have quit their jobs in the light of the controversy, citing ‘excessive interference’ from the government in its performing of its duties. The out-going chief alleged that the ministry was planning to exert disproportionate influence over the Board by appointing ‘an additional charge CEO’.

She revealed that this is not an isolated case of Government pushing its agenda on the body, as the Board recently had to put up a strong stand to defend the movie PK, even as they were under pressure to force certain changes to it. To not consider the ramifications of these statements is a blind denial of a cancer that has slowly been eating into the very fabric of our democratic ideals.

It has happened before and it has happened yet again. Cracks have once again appeared on the surface of the Modi sarkar’s ‘acche din’ apparition, as we find politics steadily seeping into governance, the sovereignty of independent organizations breached blatantly by a government that believes it has the right to wield the whip, and use it towards furthering its own political gains.

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  1. Siva Bhaskaran

    Law and Order is state issue. The board had no business stopping the release of the movie MSG or any movie on the basis of Law and Order. The right to free speech of an Individual has been curtailed by the State and you are supporting it. The whole board should have been sacked for not releasing a movie on flimsy grounds. If this was a congress govt and had sacked the board, I would have supported the move. I want the Indian Govt to do away this awful thing called Censor Board.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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