Organisers of a documentary film festival are unlikely to screen a 21-minute film that deals with “beef-eating practices in Mumbai” during the event starting Friday because the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has refused to exempt it from certification.
The documentary, titled Caste on the Menu Card, was the only one among the 35 sent to the I&B Ministry to be denied exemption for screening during the 12th Jeevika Asia Livelihood Documentary Festival 2015 in New Delhi, according to Centre for Civil Society (CCS).
Delhi-based CCS said they were told that the film could not be exempted from the certification process — exemptions are a normal practice for such festivals — due to the “current political situation over the beef ban issue”. But an I&B Ministry official said exemption was denied to Caste on the Menu Card because the ministry was “not provided with adequate information about the film”.
The makers of the 2014 film — students of the School of Media and Cultural Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) — said the ministry’s decision has “shocked and upset” them.
Manoj Mathew, the festival director who is also an outreach director with CCS, told The Indian Express that “this is the first time we are facing such a situation” — according to the original schedule, the film was to be screened at 5.10 pm on Saturday.
“In all, 35 documentary films, including 19 competitive documentaries and 16 non-competitive documentaries, were recommended for screening by our jury members. On October 4, we sent the list of these 35 documentaries to I&B Ministry’s Joint Secretary (Films) K Sanjay Murthy seeking exemption from provisions relating to certification of films for these documentaries,” said Mathew.
“Today (Thursday), we have received a letter from S Naganathan, undersecretary (Films), that they have given exemption permission for 34 documentaries, but not for the documentary Caste on the Menu Card,” he added.
”When we approached senior officials of I&B ministry, they said that due to the current political situation over the beef ban issue they have not give exemption permission for this particular documentary,” said Mathew.
According to CCS, the documentary festival — be held from October 30 to November 1 at Siri Fort Auditorium — is based on the struggles of marginalised people, and highlights issues of entrepreneurship, livelihood, education and gender.
When contacted, Murthy, Joint Secretary (Films), told The Indian Express: “We have not given exemption from certification to this documentary since we were not provided with adequate information about the film by the festival organisers.”
Murthy, however, added that the ministry may take a relook if it is provided with the information it had sought.
CCS’s Mathew said: “I have requested them to watch this documentary once and asked them not to take a decision by just going through the synopsis.”
“It attempts to portray the prevalence of caste differentiations as seen in the food choices of people in the city, and touches upon concerns related to livelihood, social inclusion and human rights. By tracing the mythological and historical roots of the meat-eating culture in our country, the film discusses the hierarchy maintained by Brahminical preferences and its intended subversions,” it states.
“This is seen in the stand taken on dealing with the political economy of the leather and meat industries. The film follows the ruptured background of universities’ caste politics over the demand of inclusion of beef in institutions. It observes that many restaurants in Mumbai offer beef delicacies, but off the menu. Thus, the film title reads Caste on the Menu Card,” the synopsis states.
The documentary was made by Ananyaa Gaur, Anurup Khillare, Atul Anand, Reetika Revathy Subramanian and Vaseem Chaudhary, all students of Mumbai-based TISS at the time.
When contacted, Anand said it was inspired by a “row on the TISS campus” over a proposed ban on beef and pork.
“We are shocked and upset after we came to know about this news. We made this documentary from August to September 2014, before beef was banned in Maharashtra. We took almost three months for making this documentary and it was sparked by a row on the TISS campus in 2014 after some students demanded that beef and pork be banned,” said Anand.
“This documentary film explores the question of food politics from various angles. We have not touched upon the religion factor in our documentary,” he added.