India's New War History Policy is Good News for the Content Industry
1.1. N.N. Vohra Committee (1993) and Kargil Review Committee (1999) recommended that war histories involving Indian defence forces should be compiled through a well-defined policy. The Group of Ministries’ recommendations on national security further echoed the need for reliable and certified war history.
1.2. MoD’s History Division had published several books regarding the operations and wars which happened before and after independence. However, such publications are either out of print or available scarcely. Interestingly, some of the History Division’s publications that are based on the declassified record of the Sino-India war of 1962 and India-Pakistan war of 1971 faced objections from the Ministry of External Affairs citing foreign relations with China and Bangladesh. Thus, the Ministry of Defence’s only option was to circulate those records for limited internal training purposes.
1.3. This limitation not only denies a chance to the Indian Government to present a narrative compliant with the Indian experience, it also leaves a vacuum for other actors to tweak historical narratives that may be damaging to India’s positions. An important reason for the current move is to prevent formation of rumors and media reports based on information gathered from unauthentic sources. For example, the leaked version of the Sino-India war records is cited as an authoritative document until today, although the Indian official version has never been formally released. Therefore, a timely and certified publication of war and operation histories will provide an accurate account of events to counter rumors and assist the public in many ways, including research.
2. AUTHENTICITY OF WAR FILMS – A BIG CONCERN
2.1. Often war themed content comes with a caveat that the content is based on or inspired by true events and is seldom backed by authentic records or documents, which is primarily because of unavailability of authentic documents and records in the public domain. Often, we find that content is created by imaginative writers who end up fictionalizing the limited information available in the public domain or portraying hearsay information acquired from sources closer to the events, the trustworthiness of which can always be a question mark.
2.2. For e.g., the movie 1917 was criticized by war historians for positioning some battalions way beyond the German line during World War I. Dunkirk’s production team referred to photo archives, books, museums, etc., to gather relevant information. The accurate depiction of Royal Air Force planes dogfighting the Luftwaffe in the movie was highly appreciated; however, some military veterans found that the movie was louder than the battle. Recently, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (2020) portrayed the story of Flt Lt Gunjan Saxena, the first Indian Air Force woman who went to war. Soon after its release, the movie gathered criticism from the Ministry of Defence and the Indian Air Force for portraying the Indian Air Force in a bad light. Also, one of Gunjan Saxena’s former coursemates Flt Lt Sreevidya Rajan, alleged factual inaccuracy in the movie and contested that she was the first woman pilot to have flown in Kargil. Further, the climax of the movie where Gunjan Saxena saved her commanding officer was not real and was added to amplify the achievements of Gunjan Saxena. Minister of Defence and Indian Air Force approached Delhi High Court to stay movie’s streaming as the movie was projected as a biopic; however, many facts were inaccurate as per official records. Ministry of Defence further alleged that the movie producers had violated the official guidelines issued by the Ministry of Defence which govern instances of film/TV serial/ documentary having a theme based on the Army, which explicitly requires that proposals of such film/TV serial/ documentary, etc., with a theme based on Army, must be submitted to the General Staff Officer, so that Army HQ can assess the proposal from both a security point of view and Army’s portrayal. Further, as per these guidelines, the producers have to execute a formal agreement with Indian Air Force. However, the court didn’t stay the exhibition of the movie as it was already released.
2.3. On 27th July 2020, the Ministry of Defence had issued a letter to the Central Board of Film Certification (“CBFC”) directing CBFC to advise producers of films, web-series, etc., having themes based on the Army theme to obtain no-objection certificate from the Ministry of Defence, to ensure that no such film, web-series, etc., uses content that distorts Indian Army’s image. For instance, distorted depiction of Army personnel and military uniform in web-series titled as ‘XXX Uncensored (Season 2)’.
2.4. Production costs can be better managed if the producers are able to pre-emptively comply with the authentic sources of war histories, after obtaining copies of accurate records of conflicts and like events, from official channels. This can save costly engagements with the judiciary or the government seeking to bring media in alignment, and also persuade a studio away from needless controversies that could negatively affect the viewing public’s sentiment, and impact revenues or worse, get the content unplugged.
3. PLANNED DECLASSIFICATION OF SECRET MILITARY RECORDS
3.1. As per Ministry of Defence’s press release on 12th June 2021, Defence Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh has approved a new policy setting a definitive timeline for compilation, archiving, and declassification of war/operations (“War History Policy”). Under the new regime of War History Policy, the organizations within the purview of Ministry of Defence, such as Services, Assam Rifles, Integrated Defence Staff, and Indian Coast Guard, are required to transfer war and operation records and documents, including war diaries, letters of proceedings, record books, etc., to the History Division to maintain, archive, and for writing war and operational histories.
3.2. The War History Policy sets a strict timeline of two years for the Joint Secretary, Ministry of Defence to compile war and operation histories. Joint Secretary will lead a committee for this purpose. The committee will include representatives from Services, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, other organizations, and prominent military historians. The committee must also collect and compile all records and documents for bygone events, within three years from its constitution.
3.3. The new policy specifies that declassification shall be as per the Public Records Act, 1993 and associated rules, which set the timeline for declassification at 25 years. This also means that sensitive records maybe withheld by the government in national interest. Additionally, records older than 25 years will be evaluated by experts and transferred to the National Archives of India.
3.4. The Public Records Act, 1993 and associated rules govern maintenance and declassification of records. Under the Public Records Rules, 1997, the Director General or the Head of Archives is vested with the responsibility of maintaining such records which the record-creating agency has retained for twenty-five or more years. Such records are referred to as ‘records of permanent nature’ and are to be preserved permanently. Rule 19 of the Public Record Rules, 1997 states that an authorized officer of the record-creating agency has to appraise and downgrade records classified as top secret, confidential, and restricted. Evaluation for downgrading the classified records must be conducted every fifth year. Once such classified records are declared as records of permanent nature then they are to be transferred to the National Archive of India. As per section 6 of the Public Records Act, the Ministry of Defence is the record-creating agency in respect of war and operation histories.
3.5. Further, under rule 19 of the Public Records Rules, the records preserved by the National Archive of India can be accessed by the general public after submitting an application in the prescribed format; however, access to such records is subject to the approval of the Director-General or Head of Archives.
4. OPPORTUNITIES FOR MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY
4.1. Monetization Opportunity
Contents based on war, covert military operations, etc., have always been appreciated by the public worldwide as it allows them to experience the whole operation through a new perspective. For example, movies like 1917 (2019) based on World War I and Dunkirk (2017) based on World War II have made worldwide box-office collections of $384.9 million and $525 million, respectively.
The Indian entertainment industry has also periodically exploited war and military operations themed genres with movies like Hindustan Ki Kasam (1973) based “Cactus Lilly”, an operation conducted by the Indian Air Force during the India-Pakistan war of 1971 and the movie 1971 (2007) based on the real-life stories of prisoners of war after the India-Pakistan war of 1971. Recently released Raazi (2018) that portrayed the difficult life and choices of an Indian Research Analysis Wing’s agent, grossed more than INR 200 crores worldwide. The latest addition to Indian war genre movies is Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019), based on the surgical strike conducted by the Indian forces in response to a terror attack on Indian army’s base camp in Uri, J&K. Within 28 days, the movie grossed INR 300 crores worldwide.
4.2. Cost Saving
Lack of authentic and certified war history records is one of the chief reasons behind the film controversies discussed above. India's new war history policy serves to achieve planned declassification of war records in a bid to ensure that war histories available in the public domain flow from official version of Indian experiences.
This will help content producers prevent costly mistakes as they will be able to develop scripts compliant with the official versions. This will help avoid unnecessary regulatory engagements with the authorities that could result in injunctions, delayed releases, negative public sentiment, or worse, a straight ban.
The War History Policy is expected to ensure timely compilation and declassification of records and documents. Availability of declassified documents will provide opportunities for writers to develop stories that do not deviate from verified and true facts and details about wars and operations, thus saving studios the hassle and costs associated with inaccurate depiction of war histories, while creating possibilities for them to receive critical acclaim for maintaining historical integrity.
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