This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Arjun Natarajan. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

These Ridiculous Censorship Guidelines Are Why Indian Films Are Having A Tough Time

More from Arjun Natarajan

By Kumar Abhishek and Arjun Natarajan:

Late last month, filmmakers Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla ran into trouble with CBFC,  over a documentary called “An Insignificant Man”. Recently, “Lipstick Under My Burkha” and “Ka Bodyscapes” also faced CBFC’s ire.

It has become important to recognise that pre-censorship of films is a concern for not just filmmakers, but viewers as well.  

India is a democratic country. We can change governments based on votes. We can, of course, decide for ourselves which films are good for us. It was held by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, before over two decades that, under the Indian Constitution, citizens have the right to know and receive information. However, our film certification laws have compromised these rights.

Cinematograph Act of 1952 reiterates the reasonable restrictions contained in Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. Thus, a film shall not be certified for public exhibition if, in the opinion of CBFC, the film (wholly or partly) is against the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence.

Lipstick Under My Burkha

Subject to these provisions, the Central Government may issue such directions as it may think fit, setting out the principles which shall guide CBFC to certify films under Cinematograph Act of 1952 and sanction them for public exhibition.

Central Government’s guidelines of 1990, issued under Cinematograph Act of 1952, are still in force.

One of the objectives of these guidelines requires that, “The medium of film remains responsible and sensitive to the values and standards of society.” Which is the society in question? What are its values? What are its standards? Expecting the medium of film to remain responsible to such unknown parameters is preposterous. If, in CBFC’s view, the medium of a film fails to remain responsible to such unknown parameters, the filmmaker’s artistic expression goes for a toss. His creative freedom also stands curbed. The viewers’ rights to know and receive information are also undermined.

Another objective of these guidelines requires that, “The medium of film provides clean and healthy entertainment.” Presuming that clean and healthy are universal, what is entertainment? Insisting that the medium of film provides entertainment which is clean and healthy is ludicrous, because, entertainment is subjective. If, in CBFC’s view, the medium of a film fails to provide clean and healthy entertainment, the filmmaker’s artistic expression and creative freedom are affected along-with the viewers’ rights to know and receive information.

Yet another objective of these guidelines requires that, “As far as possible, the film is of aesthetic value and cinematically of a good standard.” The maker of a film has a choice to make it with aesthetic value and cinematically of a good standard. Then, as is only logical, the filmmaker has a choice to make it without aesthetic value and cinematically not of a good standard. If, in CBFC’s view, despite possibilities to that effect, a film is not of aesthetic value and is cinematically not of good standard, the filmmaker’s artistic expression and creative freedom are affected along-with the viewers’ rights to know and receive information.

A Maze Of Restrictions

Suppose there’s a film called “Needles”, intended to create awareness about injection drug use. Without glorifying or justifying drug addiction or injection drug use, the modus operandi of peddlers and addicts, other visuals or words have to be shown, as they are germane to the theme. But such showing gets hit by a guideline that in pursuance of the aforesaid objectives, CBFC shall ensure that the modus operandi of criminals, other visuals or words likely to incite the commission of any offence are not depicted.

The script of “Needles” might demand portrayal of an injection drug user’s physical and mental state, when he desperately needs his drug but he does not find it. However, showing such a scene is most likely to have the effect of de-sensitising or de-humanising people. It gets hit by another guideline which requires that in pursuance of the aforesaid objectives, CBFC shall ensure that such scenes as may have the effect of desensitising or dehumanising people are not shown.

Similarly, the script might demand portrayal of an amateur injection drug user incorrectly injecting a needle, blood spurting out and hitting the roof. It might offend human sensibilities by depravity. It might get hit by yet another guideline which requires that in pursuance of the aforesaid objectives, CBFC shall ensure that human sensibilities are not offended by depravity.

Ka Bodyscapes

At this juncture, it would be useful to examine one more facet of 1990 guidelines under Cinematograph Act of 1952. It mandates that CBFC shall also ensure that the film is judged in its entirety from the point of view of its overall impact, and, examined in the light of the period depicted in the films and the contemporary standards of the country and the people to which the film relates.

Thus, there seems to be some limitation on CBFC’s power to curb what a film like “Needles” shows and what viewers get to see. This limitation is also in tune with the objectives that artistic expression and creative freedom are not unduly curbed and certification is responsible to social changes.

However, the said guidelines go on to say that the film should not deprave the morality of the viewers, in CBFC’s view. Thus, if “Needles”, a film which is intended to create awareness about injection drug use, depraves the morality of the viewers, in CBFC’s view, it shall fall foul of the said guidelines.

If only “Needles” were to have been a television show or a web-series, it would not have been pre-censored under Indian law, as television shows and internet content are beyond the purview of CBFC.   

What About Documentaries?

Till date, Cinematograph Act of 1952 and Cinematograph (Certification) Rules of 1983 have not defined the word “documentary”.

Pertinently, Cinematograph (Censorship) Rules of 1958 which existed before Cinematograph (Certification) Rules of 1983 were issued, treated newsreel and documentary separately from a feature film. In fact, Cinematograph (Censorship) Rules of 1958 prescribed a separate examining committee for certifying documentaries, educational films et cetera. However, Cinematograph (Certification) Rules of 1983 having replaced Cinematograph (Censorship) Rules of 1958, the said distinction is a relic of the past.

For the purpose of Cinematograph Act of 1952 and Cinematograph (Certification) Rules of 1983, a documentary is just another film.

Documentaries, by their very nature, either portray real life incidents, or, recount details of any incident. The basis of such portrayal or recounting is facts. Facts should never be censored. Pre-censorship of facts is disturbing.

Television content and internet content are extensively dotted with editorials, investigative reports and news. In India, such content is not at the mercy of any authority for certification/scrutiny. It travels to the audience, freely. However, Indian documentaries (which are a lot like editorials, investigate reports and news) are haunted by pre-censorship, because, documentaries are films, as per Indian law.

Documentarians often suffer a host of hardships, including monetary hardships, since documentaries are made on shoestring budgets. Critical acclaim apart, documentaries rarely generate revenue. In view of such compelling monetary reasons, ideally, there should be no requirement to pay any fees for certification of documentaries in India. However, in India, the fees for certifying documentaries is the same as that for films, which have budgets running into lakhs and crores.

So, what if “Needles” had been a documentary? Well, it’s likely to suffer a lot more at the hands of CBFC.

If being a film in India is a curse, being a documentary in India is worse.

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”.

You must be to comment.

More from Arjun Natarajan

Similar Posts

By Anuj Dahiya

By Anjali joseph

By Subhajit Murmu

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below