Graphics: Filimonas Triantafyllou
Graphics: Filimonas Triantafyllou

A tale of two documentaries

COLUMN: What the disruption of two documentary films means for free speech and dissent in India.

In early June this year, I reviewed Nakul Singh Sawhney's documentary film Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai (Muzaffarnagar Eventually…) for Himal Southasian. Shot between September 2013 and April 2014, the film captures the communal violence that tore through areas in north India in the run up to the 2014 general elections. The documentary meticulously maps out the cynical polarisation along communal lines in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts in Uttar Pradesh. Besides demonstrating how the riots played into the electoral calculations of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), it also indicts the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) for failing to provide protection, and subsequent support, to the riot victims and the displaced – an overwhelming majority of whom were Muslims. With these broad swipes at dominant political formations, the film has ruffled many feathers. Nevertheless, it was screened at a number of venues across the country, before a screening in Delhi faced a crude disruption.

On 1 August, members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, stopped a private screening of the documentary organised by the film society of Kirori Mal College in Delhi University. A video of the incident shows about 30 members of the ABVP marching into the venue about an hour into the film and demanding that it be stopped. The organisers asked them to watch the film before raising objections to it. Predictably, they refused, before threatening to assault a student who was recording the stand-off.

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