While we often pay lip service to the idea of inter-disciplinarity, putting it into practice as a self conscious part of the way we go about interrogating disciplines is often a much more difficult task. At ALF, we have been committed to the idea of an alternative practice of law, consisting not merely of engaging with the law in a different manner, but also subjecting the entire edifice of legal theory through different entry points from other disciplines and practices. The intersection between law and media that interests ALF does not entail an instrumental or programmatic use of media for the purposes of legal or social arguments, but an enrichment of spaces between law and media. While we often pay lip service to the idea of inter-disciplinarity, putting it into practice as a self conscious part of the way we go about interrogating disciplines is often a much more difficult task.
At ALF, we have been committed to the idea of an alternative practice of law, consisting not merely of engaging with the law in a different manner, but also subjecting the entire edifice of legal theory through different entry points from other disciplines and practices. Thus media practice as conceptualized and practiced currently at ALF is an interrogation of law and especially of law as an exclusive body of knowledge that remains inaccessible and opaque to those outside of law regardless of its impact on their lives. In recent years, the radical transformation in media practices, through low costs technology, user friendly editing tools dilutes the boundaries of classical media producers and consumers. The challenge that lies ahead for us is to take this diffusion in the classical user producer model and apply it into our own work.
Social movements and civil society organizations have had a limited use of media as a part of their dissemination strategy, and ALF seeks to use media to make the work of the organization public and widely shared. In the past one year ALF has started engaging with a wide variety of methods of distribution, and one of the ways is through the creation of CDs which are databases of legal, academic and other material. As a form, the CD database as envisaged in ALF is a precursor to the idea of a public legal database that allows a wide variety of people including activists, social movements, students, film-makers and others to access legal knowledge and to unravel its implications on their particular work. A project undertaken by ALF – the ‘fearless speech’ CD is part of the nationwide campaign against censorship is to create a database of laws and cases related to freedom of speech and expression, media and cinema related laws and cases. The fearless speech database includes articles on the issue of media ranging from academic understandings of free speech. It also includes summaries of important cases and over-views of relevant laws on censorship enabling the CD to help expand the understanding of the current laws applicable to people, in terms of censorship, obscenity, sedition, copyright etc. The idea behind the CD is also to transport the open source model for software to the domain of research, and thus by creating databases to allow others to build on these databases. It is because of this that a second version of the fearless speech CD and is now circulated at various conferences and meetings.
ALF has also created the ‘queering bollywood’ CD that is an exploration of representations of the queer community in Indian popular culture. ‘queering bollywood’ was initiated as a research project, but grew in imagination to become a resource for groups discussions and classrooms. Thus the CD database is a collection of articles, movie clips and varied other materials around the issue of queer representations in media, and is an invaluable resource especially for sessions in colleges, classroom interventions and group discussions that ALF is often part of. The CD also helps to broaden the scope of discussion on representations in media, bringing within its domain the research that is taking place in the domain of media studies on issues of spectatorship, and the practical implications of impact of media representations that are derogatory or harmful to queer communities. Even as illegal practices proliferate and along with it a playfulness with the commodity, the discourse on ownership of intellectual property seems to be taking over, discouraging the dissidence in readings, parodies and copying. In this context, ALF is interested in these practices as not only emerging areas of research and analysis on intersections between law and media, but an engagement with practices of creative copying that challenge discourse on originality and allow spaces for critical practices (e.g. adbusting) and subversive readings (e.g queer readings of Indian cinema) as an aspect of contemporary transformations.
The phenomenon of new media allows reproduction and dissemination of information and material, and ALF’s media practices seek to engage with this and to exploit the democratic potential of new spaces opening up around media. Ongoing and Future Projects While dissemination remains an important goal, there is also the larger question of how the adoption of certain media practices enriches our own work and poses new questions to the way we understand the question of law, power and justice. Thus ALF’s media projects shall aim at not only bridging the gap between law and media, but also to provide critical insights and perspective on the inner workings of law. It is with this intent that the media project called the fearless speech calendar was first imagined, which brings together stories of censorship and the laws that are often used to suppress voices, whether of movements or individuals. The fearless speech calendar is a compilation of visual and audio material that documents the events around censorship in India and globally. The stories range from Safdar Hashmi’s play Halla Bol to the powerful images of the protest in Manipur recently. The fearless speech calendar shall allow for interaction with people viewing, allowing them to add stories of censorship and being silenced. Thus the calendar either as print or as the video is meant to circulate to different venues where movements and organizations are holding meetings to allow it to become a collection, whether personal and smaller stories from colleges and institutions, or stories of larger political and social movements.
As part of the ongoing research project by ALF-Sarai (Publics and practices in the history of present) on media regulation and analyzing it in terms of shifts and changes in the content, carriage and space of media, and also as a result of the collaboration of ALF with film-makers to organize a film festival in Bangalore, ALF is now interested in collaboration with groups and film-makers, to begin working on a film on the Cinematograph Act. The entry point of the Act being the central focus of the film, allows us to explore the origin of censorship and media laws in India back to 1918 and various predecessors to the Cinematograph Act that are attempts by the colonial government to govern the ‘native’ gaze on cinema. The origin of censorship, specifically in the Indian context, then allows for questions regarding censorship to escape the generic domain of ‘is censorship good or bad?’ to the more specific questions that deal with the origin of censorship laws in the distrust of cinema and how it was likened to sorcery and magic, the various changes that have taken place in the Indian context brought about by the colonial government and also post independence, the processes of censorship and the political and social dynamics of the government bodies that are empowered to censor. The idea of a film is also to engage a wider public and many movements that believe that censorship is an issue only for the creative artists and film-makers, inspite of a wide range of methods including defamation suits, contempt of court being used to silence social movements. Many of the projects that entail the use of media in ALF use largely low cost media or shall be done with the collaboration with other groups.
The creation of CD databases is a low cost method that allows the dissemination of valuable resources that were previously kept strictly within the domain of the law that is understood and has to be interpreted by lawyers. The public legal resource is an imagination of a physical space that can be used by various people to access information about the law, but at the same time the website and the dissemination of material through CDs also allows for reaching to a wide public. Media is however not only being used as a form of dissemination, but also to actively seek the engagement and participation of other people in various issues that ALF engages with on a daily basis. This is the imagination that fuels various other media projects described above, including the fearless speech calendar and the film on the Cinematograph Act, but resources for these will be raised either through collaboration with other organizations or individuals, and also through other funding sources that are specifically interested in media projects.