Leaving Punjab High And Dry

By demanding 89 cuts to Udta Punjab, the Censor Board is editing a harsh reality

Punjab is fragile. The state is easily attacked. A film disturbs its peace. The ruling dispensation has made that fact abundantly clear. But months before Udta Punjab, the ambush was less ambiguous. On January 2, Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists attacked the Pathankot air force base, killing one civilian and seven security personnel. The Udta trailer seems to suggest that drugs connect disparate dots across the state. Strangely, investigators probing Pathankot had also found this assertion to be true.

A week after India and its security establishment were left red-faced, it was concluded that to enter Punjab, Jaish militants had used the same channels that drug smugglers do. In Punjab’s border areas, understandably, the sting of drug use is keenly felt. In 2014, for instance, Border Security Forces had seized 370 kg of heroin from these parts. Dispatches from the region speak of scores of emaciated addicts, their hands marked with puncture wounds. Drugs aren’t just a problem. They’re the plague.

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Part of the political combine that governs Punjab seems appalled by Abhishek Chaubey and his cinematic efforts

Part of the political combine that governs Punjab, the state unit of the BJP seems appalled by Abhishek Chaubey and his cinematic efforts. Vijay Sampla, the party’s state chief had this to say about Udta – “Nobody should be allowed to defame Punjab. Why did the producers name the movie Udta Punjab? Why not ‘Udta Bollywood’? The drug problem is a global issue. Why is one state being singled out?” Sampla demonstrates a nervous petulance that is indeed hard to counter with reason, but his rationale for defamation warrants an answer – Why is only Punjab being singled out?

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The Central Board of Film Certification has recommended that Udta see 89 cuts before it is released, and co-producer Anurag Kashyap has moved the Bombay High Court for this decision to be reviewed

The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has recommended that Udta see 89 cuts before it is released, and Anurag Kashyap, the film’s co-producer, has justifiably moved the Bombay High Court for this decision to be reviewed. Interestingly, however, it is an affidavit filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court which could well bolster Kashyap’s plea.

Shashi Kant, former Director General of the Punjab Police, said that his May 4 petition concerned “the glut of drugs in Punjab and resultant ‘genocide’ of people at the behest of highly placed drug lords and drug barons living on the very soil of Punjab, a number of which are known to be highly placed politicians, with active and willful connivance of a number of personnel belonging to security forces including Punjab Police and BSF etc.” Coming from an IPS officer, the word ‘genocide’ doesn’t quite seem a hyperbolic exaggeration.

The Udta trailer sees a politician campaigning before an election. Punjab will elect members of its legislative assembly next year and it is understandable why the state’s political class will be unnerved by a film that may inadvertently expose the nexus Kant has mentioned in his affidavit.

In 2014, wrestler, Arjuna Award recipient and former DSP Jagdish Singh Bhola was arrested for his involvement in a Rs 6,000 crore synthetic drug scam. Bhola then named state Cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia, alleging the drug trade enjoyed the leader’s patronage. The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has since defended Majithia, who is also the brother of Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the daughter-in-law of Punjab’s CM. Sadly, Majhitia isn’t the only ministerial aberration.

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The Udta Punjab trailer leaves little doubt that the film condemns drug use. In no way, does it condone it

“Punjab youth is in drug addict [sic]. If this is not stopped, Punjab will soon become like Mexico.” These are the first words you hear when you see the Udta trailer. The remaining three minutes leave little doubt that the film condemns drug use. In no way, does it condone it. Consider these facts. According to a Punjabi university researcher, 12,994 patients were admitted in 18 rehabilitation centers, and by 2012, that figure had shot up to 18,770. According to a survey conducted by All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the state sees opioids worth Rs 7,500 crore being consumed every year. Worryingly, a report by the Department of Social Security Development of Women and Children estimated that in the 15-25 age bracket, the rate of heroin abuse in rural Punjab is 73 per cent. CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani ought to reconsider his stand. “The film [Udta] shows 70 per cent of the people in the state consume drugs. The movie puts entire Punjab in bad light,” he said recently.

After Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi started piggy-backing on his tweets, Kashyap rightly asked them to keep away. The fight, he said, was one he’d fight on his own. The producer has also referred to his dilemma as Kafka-esque, but his quandary is more Orwellian. The 1984 author wrote, “If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it. But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.” Kashyap may not like it but this fight really ought to be ours and Punjab’s too.

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