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9 Films That The Censor Board Tried To Stop You From Watching

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The Central Board of Film Certification’s refusal to certify the film “Lipstick Under My Burkha” has once again raised questions about the stifling of voices through theatre and cinema. This debate has been raging in India for the past few years. But banning films or refusal to provide a certificate isn’t new. Over the years, many films have been banned, for having political overtones, homosexual content or adult language and humour. Basically, for having voices that the State may not want us to hear. Here’s a look at some of them.

Neel Akasher Neechey (1959)

Set in the turbulent 1930s, the last few years of the British Raj in India, this Bengali film tells the story of a poor Chinese hawker – Wang Lu (played by Kali Banerjee). Lu is an honest man, who consistently refuses to be part of the flourishing and profitable opium trade in the city. The central plot of the film is his platonic relationship with Basanti, a woman with political affiliations. When Basanti is arrested and imprisoned, the simpleton Lu is pushed into involvement with her political group. The film eventually shows Wang Lu returning to China, to fight the Japanese invasion of his country. The film was banned in India for having political overtones and for showing the country in ‘bad light.’

Kuttrapathirikai (1992)

This Tamil drama depicts the story of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by a female suicide bomber, in the backdrop of the Sri Lankan Civil War. It also charts the police investigation that followed, and India’s efforts to deal with Tamil militant organisation Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The film was completed in 1992, but the censor board refused to allow a film with such a drastic political message to be released. The film was eventually released with a few cuts in 2007, but failed to make much of a mark due to its outdated cinematography and visual effects.

Fire (1996)

The Shabana Azmi – Nandita Das starrer, directed by Deepa Mehta, revolves around a lesbian relationship. Radha (Azmi) and Sita (Das) are two women trapped in unhappy marriages. Seeking comfort in one another, they end up becoming lovers. Overjoyed at the satisfaction they find with one another, they continue their relationship in secret. But, when the truth unfolds, they must make a choice. The film was initially released uncut in 1998, the only condition for release being that Sita’s name had to be changed to Nita. What followed were protests – some that turned violent – leading to a withdrawal from theatres for re-examination by the Board. The film was eventually allowed to re-release.

Hawayein (2003)

This film looks at the consequences of Operation Blue Star in Punjab, which eventually lead to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. What followed were three days of violence against the Sikh community in Delhi. The film focuses on the turmoil faced by the youth of Punjab and their families, following the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi, and explores the psychological reasons for many of them to turn to violence and terrorism. The film was one of the first to be made on the subject of the ’84 riots. It was banned in Punjab and Delhi.

The Pink Mirror/ Gulabi Aaina (2004)

This 2004 film was one of the first to focus on transgender people and address the many taboos surrounding them. The film is centred around two drag performers, Bibbo and Shabbo, who are both attracted to Samir, an aspiring actor. It addressed the issues and emotions of the transsexual community in a way that was path-breaking, even more so considering that it was made for a society that is still extremely conservative about the issue. The film was screened at many international film festivals and also won two awards. But back home, it was called ‘vulgar and offensive’. Despite appeals by the filmmaker for a certification and release, it still remains banned in India.

Final Solution (2004)

This documentary focuses on the different perspectives of the 2002 Gujarat riots. Hindus and Muslims of different age groups and sexes were interviewed and what resulted was a range of justifications and reasons for the riots, as well as stories of what happened. They also shared their vision for the future. The documentary is divided into two parts, ‘Pride and Genocide’ which deals with the riots and their immediate aftermath, and ‘The Hate Mandate’, which focuses on the exploitation of the violence by political groups for their own agendas. While the ban on the film was eventually cleared, it is yet to be shown on Indian television.

Water (2005)

The third and final part of the ‘Elements’ trilogy, this Indo-Canadian film by Deepa Mehta deals with the lives of widows at an ashram in Varanasi, the youngest of whom is only eight years old. The film follows their spirit and hope for a better life, even though they are treated as dispensable and exploited by the woman who runs the ashram. It was a path breaking movie that questioned social practices such as child marriage and the ostracisation of widows. So, naturally, trouble started during the early days of filming, with many right wing elements protesting the film. Eventually, the team was forced to abandon shooting in India, and moved location to Sri Lanka. The film was finally shown the green flag for release years later in 2007.

Inshallah, Football (2010)

It is the story of a Kashmiri boy who is an aspiring footballer. He wants to tour the world and play but is denied the chance to, as his father was a wanted militant in the 90s. The film captures the scenic beauty of Kashmir as well as the claustrophobia of many of its citizens who are continuously denied opportunities to progress. The film follows the obstacles that a young Kashmiri boy must face to follow his dreams, and a dedicated Argentinian coach who starts his own football academy under the constant threat of violence. The film was banned due to its content, as the authorities believed it would flare communal sensibilities in India. The film was eventually given an ‘A’ certificate, which is highly unusual for documentaries.

Mohalla Assi (2016)

Around the same time as the “Udta Punjab” certification controversy, another film ran into trouble and was eventually not given a certificate for release. It was Mohalla Assi. A relatively low budget movie, it is a satire based on the commercialisation of the city of Varanasi, one of the holiest cities of Hindu culture. It is based on the literary piece “Kashi Ka Assi” by Sahitya Akademi winner Kashinath Singh. The film was banned as it would ‘hurt the sentiments of a particular community’ as well as due to abusive language. One of the most controversial scenes of the Sunny Deol starrer shows a man dressed as Lord Shiva, uttering expletives.

As these cases clearly show, banning voices that cause discomfort to the State is a longstanding tradition. But ironically (and aptly) enough, the more such voices are stifled, the more they will look for newer modes of expression – and you can’t ban them all.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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