Indian army blocks film on gay soldier, sparking censorship row

Indian army blocks film on gay soldier, sparking censorship row

The script tells the stories of a trans woman, a lesbian, a bisexual man and a love story between a gay officer and Kashmiri boy.
18 Feb, 2022

Critically-acclaimed Indian filmmaker Onir wanted to direct a movie inspired by a gay army major who resigned and came out in a blaze of publicity — but despite the country's democratic status the military stopped it being made.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist government has been repeatedly accused of ramping up censorship in a systematic attack on dissent — including clampdowns on human rights activists, journalists and NGOs — since coming to power eight years ago.

In 2020 it issued an order advising filmmakers to seek prior clearance for any military-themed script, a decision described by free speech campaigners as both Orwellian and unconstitutional in the world's largest democracy. Onir, who uses only one name, is gay himself and was among the first major Bollywood figures to openly acknowledge his sexuality.

He is known for his movies about the lives of socially marginalised groups, and his creative eye was caught by the case of Major J. Suresh, who hit national headlines in 2020 after he quit the army and announced: “Out!! Proud!! Liberated!!”

“I'm gay — and I'm very proud that I'm gay,” the ex-army officer — who had served in some of India's most turbulent regions including Kashmir — wrote on his blog.

He later gave a ground-breaking interview on national television that went viral in the socially conservative country.

Onir's script, We Are, narrates four stories, those of a trans woman, a lesbian, a bisexual man and a fictitious account of love between a gay officer and a Kashmiri boy.

But when he approached the defence ministry for a “no objection certificate” — which most studios, streaming platforms and producers now insist on to ensure there are no legal or administrative hurdles — he was rejected.

“They told me... the fact that I have portrayed the army man as gay is illegal,” he told AFP.

Barometer of patriotism

India only decriminalised gay sex in a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, but both homosexuality and adultery remain punishable offences under the Army Act, with jail terms of up to 10 years.

At the same time, India also has a long history of post-production film censorship, and concerns over freedom of expression were raised by new social media regulations last year.

The country's junior defence minister Ajay Bhatt confirmed to parliament last week that Onir's film had been refused permission because of “the portrayal of a romantic relationship between an army soldier serving in Kashmir and a local boy which casts (the) Indian army in poor light and raises security concerns”.

He insisted the pre-screening process was neither unconstitutional nor a denial of free speech, and said the government considered factors including national security, popular sentiment and the image of the armed forces to ensure the military “isn't depicted in a manner which brings disrepute”.

But Mumbai-based Onir, 52, pointed out that movies where officers fall in love with women were never rejected.

“Why is one's sexuality being made the barometer for one's patriotism or ability to defend the nation?” he asked.

“Everyone seems to get offended over the slightest things but what about the artists' creativity or sentiments?” he added. “We don't matter.” Several of his films have addressed gay themes, including My Brother...Nikhil, the story of Indian swimming champion Dominic D'Souza who was arrested in the 1980s after testing HIV positive.

I Am combined four stories examining same-sex relationships and other taboo subjects such as sperm donation and child abuse.

It was named the best Hindi film in the 2012 National Film Awards, the country's equivalent of the Oscars, but even then satellite channels declined to broadcast it.

In his own life, he said, “I have always been out. I have never had any one moment of coming out or crisis about who I am.”

Patriotic chest-thumping

Some of the most popular military-themed movies and web series in India in recent years have been nationalistic, all-guns-blazing stories of heroics by soldiers, including Uri: The Surgical Strike, inspired by a Modi-ordered 2016 operation into Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

The prime minister's populist vision of a muscular India dominated by the Hindu majority has brought him multiple election wins, and he enjoys strong support in the armed forces, whose budgets and benefits he has significantly improved.

But critics say giving the military control over how it is portrayed is fundamentally inappropriate in a democratic country.

“It's problematic,” said Hartosh Singh Bal, political editor of Caravan magazine. “How can the army decide how it is depicted, seen or criticised by the people?”

India's military has traditionally stayed well clear of domestic politics, unlike those of neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, all of which have seen multiple coups.

But Modi's government has “repeatedly invoked the army with its patriotic chest-thumping for domestic politics”, Bal said, and now senior generals have “started making political comments”.

“I can think of one democratic parallel where the military is allowed control over free speech: across the border, in Pakistan,” he added. “But no one in this government likes that comparison.“


Fastrack Feb 18, 2022 02:58pm
Filth. The truth about disgraceful Indian army.
M. Saeed Feb 18, 2022 03:05pm
Why is Modi bent upon ridiculing and character assassinating the Kashmiri boys?
Asif A Shah Feb 18, 2022 03:07pm
In a democratic country, an individual should be allowed to practice his/her sexuality. It is as much a human rights issue as the right to education while wearing a hijab.
Fastrack Feb 18, 2022 03:15pm
"Indian Army blocks.." a movie. RSS, BJP and Indian army all fear and hate the truth.
Hakka bakka Feb 18, 2022 03:15pm
The Chinese army already bought the movie and will show to its military in the Himalayas
Sarat Feb 18, 2022 03:16pm
Democratic freedom doesn't mean the right to do any thing. If it is defaming the country it should be stopped.
Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Feb 18, 2022 03:28pm
What else could be expected of world's top false, feign, sham, shame, frail, feeble, futile, feint and fake democracy called Republic of India at this crucial, critical, carping, caviling and compelling juncture in time and history?
Sheraz Ali Rizvi Feb 18, 2022 03:30pm
Soldiers, I am pretty sure PM Modi is also Gay
Junaid Feb 18, 2022 03:34pm
India is at war with itself, at one hand it tries to portray itself as a modern secular state and on the other hand it allows such forces to censor freedom of expression. As being gay has been decriminalised in India and India has gay soldiers, this move by indian army is highly deplorable
Rubina Aleem Feb 18, 2022 03:41pm
A good decision of Indian Army. At least there are some decent people in India.
Raheel Feb 18, 2022 03:43pm
Not surprised that gays are common place in Indian army.
RK Feb 18, 2022 04:03pm
This is Year 2022!
AP Feb 18, 2022 04:11pm
Shining India. Please promote your gay army.
Rubina Aleem Feb 18, 2022 04:13pm
Being gay is a curse and Indian army has rightly condemned it. See faces of such people and you will fee negative wibes coming from them.
Shahbaz Ahmed Feb 18, 2022 05:14pm
Where is the democracy? Why Indian Army is forcing censorship?
Chrís Dăn Feb 18, 2022 05:52pm
The blatant hypocricy of a pseudo-secular India.
Asif Feb 18, 2022 06:15pm
Bring it to Pakistan. We will release it as we are a free society
Kiwi Feb 18, 2022 06:19pm
Wow sounds like indian army has a gay problem.
M. Saeed Feb 18, 2022 06:31pm
So, talking truth is not allowed unconditionally, in the Indian army?
Truth be told Feb 18, 2022 06:57pm
@Asif A Shah yes, Asif, go ahead, leave the closet and announce it today, here. We all support you.
Truth be told Feb 18, 2022 06:58pm
@M. Saeed because he thinks they will out his secret.
Fast comment Feb 18, 2022 07:08pm
Indian Army Officers involved in extra judicial killings, fake encounters, in Kashmir are worst then gays.
S Siddiqi Feb 18, 2022 07:16pm
@Asif A Shah has nothing to do with democracy.
Imran khan Feb 18, 2022 11:46pm
What’s wrong In being a Gay? Even the PM Shri Narendra Modi is a proud Gay though he won’t admit it for political reasons.
Chacha Jee Feb 19, 2022 12:12am
@Fastrack How about those Moulvis running Madrassas and indulging in sexually assaulting poor Children? Have you seen children (male) snd their exploitation on Truck Stops. BBC did a whole documentary on Children in Peshawar. It is called 'Bachabazi', v ery prevalent at least in Afghanistan.
KJ Feb 19, 2022 12:25am
@Sheraz Ali Rizvi "Soldiers, I am pretty sure PM Modi is also Gay" How is that any concern of yours???
vin Feb 19, 2022 12:43am
@Shahbaz Ahmed Because it is a movie on Indian Soldiers and by law, they have the right, just like in any other country.
Mouza Ali Feb 19, 2022 12:48am
As a full and practising democracy, we should allow equal rights to gays and also allow gay marriage. We should come across as a forward looking nation.
Chacha Jee Feb 19, 2022 05:09am
@Fastrack How about Mullah and Moulvies doing in Madrass with Male Children? In fact, a moulvi recently arrested for exploiting a student who video went viral asked for Bail within a weak and had no shame.
Gopal Patel Feb 19, 2022 06:50am
Gay persons are there in all the professions and in all walks of life.incuding def forces. The story line can still be maintained if the main character is changed from a military officer to to someone else.
Anonymouseee Feb 19, 2022 08:20am
The way they fight, the whole Indian army seems gay.
Sajjad Feb 19, 2022 10:50pm
Its fine , its their country and their laws. I mean North Korea would have done the same.