New Delhi: The Modi government is considering asking YouTube to take down the trailer of a documentary on lynchings by cow vigilantes, even as it struggles to find a way to block the movie altogether.
Lynch Nation is a 42-minute documentary that delves into lynchings, primarily targeting Muslims and Dalits, witnessed in the first term of the Modi government.
Its trailer was released on YouTube last September, and, three months later, the documentary was uploaded on the US-based video-sharing platform Vimeo. However, this file is password-protected and one requires a link from the film-makers to view it.
Lynch Nation has since been screened at several locations across the country. While the film-makers claim these were all private viewings, the government sees the screenings as public events, sources in the administration told ThePrint.
A film-maker can screen their film for a private audience without a certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), but doing so publicly renders them in violation of the Cinematograph Act.
And it is this provision that lies at the heart of the government’s conundrum over how to proceed against the documentary.
Sources in the government told ThePrint that the administration took note of the documentary recently as it “is being screened at several locations” despite not having been certified by the CBFC, better known as the censor board.
“The film or its trailer has no certification, but has still been screened at several places,” a senior government official told ThePrint. “It has not been released in theatres but is out on internet platforms.”
According to the sources, the ministries of information & broadcasting, electronics and information technology (MeitY) and home affairs (MHA) are in talks over the kind of action that can be taken over the documentary and its screening at different places.
One of the officials said while a final decision is yet to be taken, the government is considering various options, including approaching YouTube to take down its trailer.
While the government sees the screenings as public, the makers — Ashfaque E.J., Shaheen Ahmed, Furqan Faridi and Vishu Sejwal — insist that the film has only been shown at by-invite-only events.
Talking to ThePrint, Ashfaque said the film had been privately screened at different locations across the country in association with like-minded individuals and groups.
“There is no CBFC certification required for a private screening,” he added.
A CBFC certification is also not required for films released over the internet or on over-the-top platforms such as Amazon Prime and Netflix as the Cinematograph Act 1952 has yet to be brought in tandem with modern-day entertainment.
However, the government can direct internet platforms like YouTube to block links to a film in India, as it did with the 2015 BBC documentary India’s Daughter, on the December 2012 gang rape and murder that also featured an interview of one of the convicts.
The I&B ministry had, at the time, also issued an advisory to private television broadcasters, asking them not to air the documentary.
The sound of a rushing train introduces one to the trailer of Lynch Nation, whose views stood at just over 7,600 as of Monday evening.
It then takes the viewers to the homes affected by the lynchings — featuring interviews with the families left behind and those who survived the wrath of self-proclaimed cow vigilantes.
The crowdfunded documentary is the first project of the four film-makers, who hail from different parts of the country. While Ashfaque and Shaheen are from Kerala, Furqan and Vishu are from Jammu and Delhi, respectively.
Apart from the basic testimonies of people directly affected, the documentary also touches upon the political support that helps the accused get away with such crimes.
As of Monday evening, the trailer had 264 likes and seven dislikes, with several commenters saying they couldn’t watch the whole movie.
Ashfaque, 26, said he and his fellow film-makers were planning to approach the censor board soon to get the documentary certified “as more and more people should watch the film”.
“Last month, a screening at Jamia (in Delhi) was supposed to take place,” he said. “However, a particular Twitter handle raised objections to the screening. The event got cancelled eventually.”
The Modi government has drawn much censure over the alleged spike in lynchings that have been carried out in the name of cow protection, a cause dear to India’s majority Hindus.
But the government, including PM Narendra Modi himself, has questioned the criticism, saying the incidents of violence predated the ascent of this administration in 2014.