NEW DELHI (AP) — India has blocked the release of a film on the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, saying it glorifies her killers and could trigger violent protests, officials said Friday.
India’s film certification board said the film glorified the Sikh bodyguards who killed Gandhi to avenge her suppression of an insurgency that culminated in an army assault on the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine.
“Kaum De Heere,” or “Diamonds of the Community,” was scheduled to be released in theaters across northern India on Friday.
Certification board chief Leela Samson said panel members saw the film and decided it could not be released as it posed a threat to public order.
India’s Home Ministry had expressed concern about a clearance earlier given to the film and had asked the panel to review it, Samson said.
The ministry had received intelligence reports that the film, in the Punjabi language, could trigger feelings of enmity between India’s Hindu and Sikh communities, she said.
“We saw the film and decided it could not be released as it was, due to fears that it would lead to disruption of public order,” she said.
“The film is double trouble. It glorifies Indira Gandhi’s assassins who took the law into their own hands and it glorifies the hanging of the two men,” Samson said.
The film is based on the lives of three Sikh men, including two bodyguards who shot and killed Gandhi against the backdrop of an insurgency that gripped the northern state of Punjab through the late 1970s and early 1980s when Sikh militants demanded a separate Sikh nation.
Gandhi ordered the June 1984 army operation to flush out hundreds of heavily armed Sikh separatists barricaded inside the Golden Temple. The attack outraged Sikhs and led to a catastrophic breakdown in communal relations.
Later that year, Gandhi was assassinated and the country was swept by a wave of anti-Sikh rioting which resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 Sikhs.
Officials said the recent arrest of India’s chief film censor on accusations that he solicited bribes to speed the clearance of films drew attention to the clearance given to “Kaum De Heere.”
Certification board CEO Rakesh Kumar was arrested Tuesday after a sting operation in which two of his associates sought 70,000 rupees, or about $1,050, on Kumar’s behalf to speed up the censor’s clearance for a film.
During questioning, Kumar revealed that he had accepted a bribe of 100,000 rupees ($1,666) from the makers of “Kaum De Heere” to approve its censor certification.
The film’s producer Pardeep Bansal and its director Ravinder Ravi have denied the charges.
Meanwhile, leaders of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the main opposition Congress Party have called for the banning of the film, saying it would offend people’s religious and community feelings.
Bansal said the film was based on historic events and that he would soon seek a review of the film board’s decision.
“It is a balanced film. Some people are unnecessarily trying to create a controversy,” Bansal told reporters.
Samson said the film had not been banned and could be reviewed after suitable changes to the script and cuts were made.
“The film’s producers can always file an appeal to the film certification appellate tribunal and seek redress,” she said.
Punjabi is widely spoken in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. It’s the 10th most popular language globally with about 130 million speakers.