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Letter of protest against cancelling the screening of documentary made by MF Husain

by Sahmat, 26 November 2008

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SAHMAT
- 8, Vithalbhai Patel House, Rafi Marg
- New Delhi-110001
- Telephone-23711276/ 23351424
- e-mail-sahmat at vsnl.com

26.11.2008

Minister of Information & Broadcasting
- Govt. of India

Dear Minister,

We are deeply shocked at the decision to cancel the screening of a documentary made by the eminent Indian painter M.F. Husain, after it had been scheduled for November 25 at the ongoing International Film Festival of India in Goa. We are also profoundly alarmed at the wider implications of this act of blatant censorship imposed on artistic production.

You are surely aware of the background to this decision by the Directorate of Film Festivals. On November 22, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) and an affiliated body that calls itself the Sanatan Sanstha, petitioned the chief minister of Goa and the director of the film festival, urging that the screening be cancelled since it involved a person who had allegedly caused offence to the "religious and National sentiments of crores of Hindus and Indians (sic)".

Almost at the same time, activists of the same two bodies carried out a series of protests in the city of Mumbai, in the vicinity of the Films Division office. As the website of the HJS puts it: they made a "representation with a warning" to the Films Division officials, about the plan to screen the Husain documentary.

Then, in the narration on the HJS website: the official at Mumbai had "a long discussion with the Chief Officers in the Film Division", "tried to contact the officers in Goa and New Dehli (sic) again and again and finally told the delegation at 3.30 in the evening that the screening of the abovementioned film was cancelled".

The craven and unprincipled capitulation by the film festival organisers has been portrayed by the HJS as "one more feather" in its cap (http://www.hindujagruti.org/news/5830.html).

At the same time, the official response has been to either feign ignorance or pretend that the issue is of little consequence. The chief minister of Goa has reportedly said that he had no knowledge of the entire process and the director of film festivals has taken the position that the screening was being "deferred".

Frankly, we are appalled at this abject failure of principle and the thorough abdication of responsibility by officials entrusted with safeguarding the autonomy of cultural and artistic production.

The HJS and its affiliated organisation, the Sanatan Sanstha are, as you would know, under investigation by police and intelligence agencies for their possible complicity in a number of terrorist actions in the country. Indeed, the option of declaring them "unlawful" organisations, is reportedly under active consideration.

You would also be aware that the HJS has for years been the central switching-board for a number of cases against M.F. Husain, lodged on the grounds of "obscenity", "causing ill-will on grounds of religion" and "incitement". This entire range of charges was considered by the Delhi High Court and in a historic verdict of May 8, held to be completely without substance.

The Delhi High Court finding was upheld by the Supreme Court.

However, the HJS and its associates have managed to effectively mobilise a sufficient number of complainants scattered all over the country, and the Supreme Court is yet to decide on a petition requesting that all cases be brought within its jurisdiction.

You would appreciate then, that the continuing harassment of one of India’s greatest living artists, is a consequence of technical procedures involved in the administration of justice and most importantly, the failure of the administrative authorities to stand up to the coercive strategies of bodies that are currently under investigation for terrorism offences.

We urge you to reflect upon the consequences that this would have, for the faith that the common man places in the system of administration he lives under. We urge you moreover, to reflect upon the consequences for artistic production in this country. Husain’s documentary was produced in 1967 and has been widely recognised and awarded by the most discerning judges. It is a sad day for creative activity everywhere, when work of such calibre is deprived of an audience, because of the power of the mob.

In the interests of cultural freedom, we urge you to rescind the ban on Husain and allow his documentary to be screened at the ongoing film festival.

In anticipation,

Yours,

Vivan Sundaram, Ram Rahman