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Everything That’s Wrong With Film Certification In India

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By Kumar Abhishek and Arjun Natarajan:

We tend to use the acronym CBFC and the words “censor board” synonymously. In fact, we often think that CBFC stands for “censor board”. However, CBFC stands for “Central Board of Film Certification”; the word “censor” is nowhere to be seen. Nevertheless, the role performed by the Board is that of censorship, and that too, of a drastic nature, because it censors a film or parts of it, even before the viewers view it. This is what is known as “pre-censorship”.

CBFC can deny certifying a film, if the filmmaker refuses to make such cuts and modifications which it thinks are necessary. If a film is not certified, it cannot be released as a film. Denial of certification equals death for a film.

In a vibrant democracy like India, film pre-censorship has always been passed off as film certification. However, we are in an age where most things are a TV channel away and almost everything is a download away. If art manifests itself as a film, it is pre-censored. If the same art manifests itself as television content or as internet content, which wield more power than films as a medium of mass communication, then, it is not pre-censored. Why should it be so?

A seemingly all-powerful CBFC may want to sentence to death a film called “Guns & Thighs” by pre-censoring it. However, it cannot even touch it because it is a web-series. The trailer begins with this message by Ram Gopal Varma: “I always wanted to tell the complete true story of the Mumbai mafia in its raw and real form. Since for various reasons I couldn’t do that in films, I am going to do it here.”

A film on the Mumbai Mafia has to be raw and honest to the context and the theme. Let the viewers decide for themselves if it is suitable for their viewing. CBFC cannot expect Mumbai gangsters to say “Bon Appétit Mademoiselle”, as much as it sounds aesthetic and creates a fake good cinematic standard.

Governments interfere with peoples’ rights in three ways – regulation, control, and prohibition. Regulation is like what a traffic police personnel on any given day does. In order to ensure that the traffic moves smoothly and seamlessly, he might even stop the traffic. However, he does not ask a limousine as to why it is longer than other cars. Control is like what a traffic police personnel might do on Republic Day. He may completely restrict traffic movement on some roads. However, it is not his duty to do so as a matter of routine. Finally, prohibition is like a police personnel enforcing a legally prescribed ban on gambling in a particular locality, by bringing to book gamblers in the area.

Certification is meant to be a very subtle form of regulation. To this day, India is a liberal democracy, where what is not legally prohibited is legally permitted. However, pre-censorship of films is masqueraded as film certification, simply because the law is such.

What’s Wrong With Film Certification In India?

Film certification law is contained in Cinematograph Act of 1952 (under which the CBFC has been set up), Cinematograph (Certification) Rules of 1983, and Central Government’s guidelines of 1990, issued under Cinematograph Act of 1952.

CBFC was set up to sanction films for public exhibition. Central Government appoints the Chairman and the members of CBFC. However, their qualification/s are unspecified. CBFC’s resulting ignorance apart, film certification law in India empowers CBFC to deny certifying a film, if the filmmaker refuses to carry out such excisions (cuts) and modifications in the film as CBFC thinks necessary.

Chief of the Central Board of Film Certification, Pahlaj Nihalani.

To enable CBFC to efficiently discharge its functions under Cinematograph Act of 1952, the said law provides that the Central Government may set up advisory panels, at regional centres, which are duty-bound to examine the films and make such recommendations to CBFC, as they think fit. However, as per Cinematograph Act of 1952, the persons constituting such panels shall be qualified in the opinion of the Central Government to judge the effect of the films on the public. Similarly, Cinematograph (Certification) Rules of 1983 do not provide any criteria for appointment of its members, leaving it to the discretion of the Central Government.

This leaves the CBFC, advisory panels, examining committees and revision committee in the control of those whose qualifications are non-existent and/or based on subjective opinion.

In effect, every film in India must pass through a biased lens before it is released to a wider audience.

Kumar Abhishek and Arjun Natarajan have worked on this piece, which is inspired by Arjun Natarajan’s original piece “Film Certification In India And The Curse of Pre-Censorship”.

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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.

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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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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.

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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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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.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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