Judgement Day - WAR AND PEACE (JANG AUR AMAN) Vs Censorship

Anand Patwardhan

24 April 2003. The Honorable Justices H. Gokhale and R. Desai of the Bombay High Court delivered their final verdict in the matter of the censorship of the film "War and Peace".

It may be recalled that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had ordered 21 cuts in this anti-war, anti-nuclear documentary film. The cuts included demands to delete footage depicting the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, all mention of the Tehelka arms scandal, all statements made by Dalits and all speeches by political leaders.

We appealed to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) who reduced the cuts to two and also asked for an "addition" to the film. Aggrieved by these interventions we approached the Bombay High Court for redress. Following his petition, the CBFC shockingly filed a petition challenging the order of their own higher body (the FCAT) and demanding that all 21 cuts be re-imposed.

On 5th April during the course of arguments, the Honourable judges asked the CBFC if they had ever in their history appealed against the orders of their own higher authority. The answer came in the negative. The judges then inquired as to what special interest the CBFC had in the matter of "War and Peace" that had prompted them to challenge the order of the FCAT. When no coherent reply was forthcoming the judges asked if the CBFC wanted to withdraw their petition. The CBFC withdrew their petition challenging the order of the FCAT.

What remained in contention were the orders passed by the FCAT. The following are some excerpts from the judgement delivered by Justices H. Gokhale and Ranjana Desai in the matter.

Excerpts from the Judgement:

" In the present case, the petitioner is trying to espouse the cause of peace and against war. It is in this context of making of this documentary that the above three scenes are incorporated therein. It is a matter of his legitimate right to decide as to what should be included therein and we have no hesitation in saying that neither of the two cuts recommended are in any way justified. The Petitioner has only recorded a demonstration in one scene and then the speech of a Dalit leader in another. It was his choice to include both these scenes and even what is stated by the demonstrators or in the speech of the Dalit leader, is not conflicting with the theme of the documentary. Similarly as far as the addition recommended is concerned, the Petitioner submits, and in our view rightly, that the same was totally uncalled for."

оо.. " Before we conclude, we would like to record the oft stated proposition that an issue may be one but there are many facets of looking at it. It is quite possible that the persons in authority today may feel that what they see is the only correct facet of it though it may not be so. It is only in a democratic form of government that the citizens have the right to express themselves fully and fearlessly as to what is their view point towards the events which are taking place around. By suppressing certain view point, it is not only the propagator of the view point who suffers but it is the society at large and equally the people in authority who suffer. This is because they fail to receive the counter view and it may eventually lead to an immense damage to society due to erroneous decision at the hands of the persons in authority in the absence of the counter view. That apart, the freedom of speech and expression is important not merely for the consequences that ensue in the absence thereof but since the negation of it runs as an anti-thesis to basic human values, instincts and creativity. It is high time that the persons in authority realize the significance of freedom of speech and expression rather than make and allow such attempts to stifle it."

I am deeply grateful to Advocate P.A. Sebastian who fought the case in the Bombay High Court, to Ms Nitya Ramakrishna and M.S. Ganesh who earlier represented the film before the FCAT in New Delhi and to the thousands of well wishers across the country and globe. We believe that this judgement will be a shot in the arm for all democratic and secular forces and for artists, writers, journalists and filmmakers in particular as it re-establishes the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by our Constitution.

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