Kerala High Court decides on the side of Reason
Patwardhan’s documentary Reason was denied public screening rights by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Today, the Kerala High Court quashed this decision.
The Kerala High Court just decided to allow the screening of the documentary, Reason, at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival currently underway in Trivandrum, overturning the ban on the public screening imposed by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The documentary by Anand Patwardhan, centers on the issues surrounding religious fundamentalism and extreme nationalism in India. It places particular focus on the murders of Narendra Dabholkar, Gauri Lankesh, Govind Pansare, and MM Kalburgi - all high profile deaths of liberal voices.
In order to screen it at the film festival, the Kerala Chalachitra Academi sent the film - with 207 others, of which 160 were documentaries - to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, seeking exemption from the Central Ministry. This was necessary as the documentaries sent had not been screened by the Central Board of Film Certification, and thus needed a special exemption before they could be publicly screened.
The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had barred the screening, scheduled for the 24th of June, citing the possibility of the screening instigating an uproar. Live Law reported that the Ministry rejected the documentary, stating “it felt that the theme of the documentary is sensitive in nature and may have law and order ramifications”.
According to the law, under section 9 of the Cinematograph Act, if a public screening of a movie or documentary is made, it has to be certified by the Central Board of Film Certification. If this has not been done, an exemption may be granted by the I&B Ministry.
The petitioners - the Kerala State Chalachitra Academi and Anand Patwardhan - through advocate Jose Jones Joseph, filed a writ petition, arguing that the denial of permission to screen Reason was arbitrary and illegal under section 9, and was further violative of Article 14 and Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
They also relied on Kerala High Court precedent from 2017, where the Court had issued an order quashing the Centre’s rejection of permission to screen two documentaries - March, March, March on the JNU protests, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, on Rohith Vemula’s suicide.
In the decision today, the High Court of Kerala, through a Single Judge Bench, refused the Centre’s claim, stating that concerns of breaking law and order because of the screening of the documentary are not a valid reason to withhold sanction under the guidelines framed by the Ministry itself. As such, the documentary could be screened at the Festival - but not anywhere else.