Students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on Thursday, February 8, staged a protest against upcoming film Bastar: The Naxal Story, after the teaser of the film was released. They burned the effigy of its controversial director Sudipto Sen, whom they accused of spreading dangerous propaganda and inciting violence. Seeking immediate action against Sudipto as well as the actors in the film, the protesting students alleged that the teaser contained hate speech against JNU, a public research university located in Delhi, and called for the lynching of its students.
Sudipto Sen had earned notoriety with his previous film The Kerala Story (2023), which had earned condemnation for distorting facts and inflating figures related to religious conversion to fuel anti-Muslim sentiments. The film, however, had earned public endorsement and adulation from leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The teaser of his latest film Bastar: The Naxal Story released on February 6, features a scene in which actor Adah Sharma — playing an IPS officer “at war against Naxals” — makes a call for the public execution of “left liberal pseudo intellectuals” who live in big cities and allegedly ‘side with the Naxals’. In the teaser, she also claims that students in JNU celebrated the killing of CRPF officers by Naxals in Bastar, Chhattisgarh.
Aishe Ghosh, president of the JNU Students Union and the Students’ Federation of India in Delhi, took to X (Twitter) to demand action against Sudipto Sen, Adah Sharma, and the film’s co-director and co-writer Vipul Amrutlal Shah for the “open call for genocide” of JNU students. “Such a step to mislead people is a criminal act. All legal steps will be taken and we appeal to our alumni and V-C to take urgent action,” she said.
The United Students of India (USI), a joint political platform of sixteen students’ organisations, issued an official condemnation statement against the film’s teaser, alleging that the film was “part of an ongoing fascist project to tarnish not only the Indian left, but to also undermine the rule of law and the tenets of the Constitution of India.” The statement said that while the association strongly believed and stood for the freedom of speech of every artist, it also understood that such calls for murder and attack on prestigious institutions are “part of political propaganda.”
“The country has borne witness over the past few years how elements of the media and culture industry, especially under the RSS-BJP government, have engaged in widespread propaganda against progressive and democratic movements across India that have held the state to account, and have struggled to attain the ideals enshrined in the constitution of liberty, fraternity, and equality. It is thus that the student movement in India’s premier institutes such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University and elsewhere are branded as traitors during their struggle against the commodification of education, how farmers who were forced into the streets of the national capital against the Union Government's draconian farm-laws were called Khalistani separatists, and how civil society activists and academics working to ensure social justice are tagged as anti-national and thrown behind bars for years on end without trial,” the statement read.
The USI added that the turn of events was not surprising, “given that we currently have a Union Minister who is on record having called for the gunning down of those his party deems traitors, amongst other such similarly accomplished leaders from the ruling party.” The association also appealed to the student community to stand united against this propaganda film and uphold secular values.
Student organisations including the All India Students Association (AISA), All India Students’ Bloc (AISB), All India Students' Federation (AISF), Chhatra Rashtriya Janata Dal (CRJD), Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti (CYSS), Student Wing of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Democratic Students Federation (DSF), Dravidian Students' Federation, National Students' Union of India (NSUI), Progressive Students' Forum (PSF), Progressive students Union (PSU), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) Chatra Sabha, Samajwadi Chatra Sabha, Satro Mukti Sangram Samiti, SFI, and the Tribal Students Union (TSU) are part of the USI.
The SFI Delhi wrote an open letter to Sudipto, referring to him as a “hate-mongering director” on X. “Came across the teaser of your new propaganda project. Waiting to see how your new enterprise, like ‘Kerala Story’, polarises and divides India and fills the minds of people with hatred. We hope that the students of JNU will see through the hate and the lies spewed against their university and the community by you,” said the letter.
While sharing the teaser of Bastar: The Naxal Story, Sudipto had claimed that he was born “just 50 km away from where it started.” In the next 50 years, “I saw the evolution and transformation of this movement as an extension of my life. Here is my soliloquy of 50 years,” he added.