Modi govt blocks screening of documentary on beef-eating practices in Mumbai

International Business Times, 30 October 2015

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government has imposed yet another ban, this time on the screening of a short film depicting beef-eating practices in Mumbai. The short film was to be screened at a documentary festival in New Delhi.

A total of 35 documentaries, including one on beef made by the students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) as part of a class project, was to be screened during the 12th 'Jeevika: Asia Livelihood Documentary Festival' at Siri Fort Auditorium, starting Friday.

However, the organisers of the film festival had to block the screening of the short film -- "Caste on the Menu Card" -- as the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting denied censorship exemption certificate to the documentary, owing to prevailing tensions in the country over beef.

The Ministry claimed that the film will trigger political and religious disturbances as the situation is already tense with the ongoing controversy over consumption of beef by a section of the society.

The festival organisers tried to reason with them that the film only dealt with the livelihood issue, not religious or political. One of the filmmakers believes that the Ministry had a problem with the mention of beef in the synopsis of the documentary.

"Documentaries for public screening require an exemption certificate, which exempts you from having a censor certificate," a festival organiser, Snigdha Verma, told The Hindu.

"We sent 35 films, but the Ministry rejected 'Caste on the Menu Card'. An official communicated to us verbally that the documentary might be harmful in political and religious ways. We were really keen on this film as it is about a livelihood issue," she added.

A student who was part of the making of this film said that they had shot the documentary last year after tension erupted at TISS' campus over demands to include beef and pork in the canteen menu, Bangalore Mirror reported.

"We had made the film in August-September 2014 when beef was not banned in the state. It was triggered by a discussion around campuses across the country, including ours, on the inclusion of beef and pork in canteen menus. The film does not only talk about food, but extends to speaking on livelihoods dependent on the demand for the food cutting across religions but deeply embedded within caste," the student said.

"The Ministry had a problem with the mention of beef in the synopsis," filmmaker Atul Anand told The Hindu.

Professors of the School of Media and Cultural Studies at TISS said the government's decison to block the screening of this film shows the growing intolerance in the society.

"Needless to say, these attempts to regulate speech, food habits and behaviour in the name of 'Indian' culture are a threat to democracy. As citizens, we must resist such cultural policing and projects of censorship," said KP Jayasankar and Anjali Monteiro.

Defending their decision, the Ministry claimed they recieved the application for the screening of "Caste on the Menu Card" late due to which they could not clarify certain doubts about the short film.

"The organisers made the applications very late. As a result of which, there was lack of information about a film dealing with a topic like this. There are some protocols which we have to follow only after which clearances can be given. It is a one-off case where certain doubts have to be cleared before giving a go-ahead," said joint secretary (films) at I&B Ministry K Sanjay Murthy.

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