Taking a cue from five other states, the Andhra Pradesh government has imposed a ban on the screening of the controversial film, The Da Vinci Code in the state.
The government felt that the exhibition of the film could hurt religious sentiments of the Christian and Muslim communities and lead to law and order problems.
The government issued a Government Order (GO No. 1012) to ban the movie. 'After taking into consideration the reports and complaints from the minority community, particularly the Christian community, the ban was promulgated,' the GO said.
'Reports from government agencies indicate that some Christian groups may take recourse to agitation if the film is released and that untoward incidents may take place,' the GO pointed out.
In an official statement, Special Chief Secretary (Home) Paul Bhuyan justified the ban, arguing that the minority organisations had pointed out that 'the film's story line attacked the very heart of the Holy Gospel destroying the divinity of Jesus Christ. Its screening might lead to unrest among the semi-literate and illiterate rural folk following the faith.'
Andhra Pradesh has 1.18 million (11.8 lakh) Christians as per the 2001 census. The Muslim population is 6.98 million (69.8 lakh). Christian organisations, however, estimate that there are six million (60 lakh) Christians in Andhra Pradesh.
A delegation led by Archbishop of Hyderabad Marampudi Joji met Chief Minister Dr Y S Rajasekhar Reddy recently and urged him to ban the film.
The Archbishop welcomed the government's decision, 'We appreciate the decision and we are grateful to the state government,' he said.
Earlier, on Thursday, the Chief Minister had conferred with top officials, including Director-General of Police Swaranjit Sen, Advocate-General C V Mohan Reddy, Special Chief Secretary Paul Bhuyan and Principal Secretary Jannath Hussain alongwith representatives of Muslim and Christian organisations on the issue.
Hyderabad Member of Parliament Asaduddin Owaisi, who called on the chief minister to apprise him of the feelings of the Muslim community, had also demanded a ban on the movie.
Owaisi, who belongs to Majlis-e-Ittehaadul Muslimeen, a local political party, said, "Muslims regard Jesus Christ as one of the great prophets of Allah. Muslims will not tolerate any blasphemy against any of the prophets mentioned in the Holy Quran. Islam believes that Jesus Christ had not married."
Meanwhile, the decision to ban the film in Meghalaya was taken by a screening committee of the General Administration Department (GAD), which had earlier been authorised by the state Cabinet to examine the matter and take a stand.
State GAD Minister HDR Lyngdoh said the ban would be enforced immediately as per the Assam Cinema Regulation Act, 1953. The government also banned the screening of the film by cable operators and video parlours.
It may be mentioned that the Deputy Commissioners of East Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills and Ri-Bhoi districts of the state were asked to elicit views from different quarters, including cinema hall owners, on the screening of the film and submit their reports to the government.
Lyngdoh said that all hall owners agreed to respect sentiments of the Christian community and not screen the movie. "Taking into consideration the reports of the DCs and the appeal from various Church leaders, we decided to ban the screening," he said, adding that the ban was imposed even on private viewing and that anyone found violating the law would be punished.
Notwithstanding the decision of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) of India to clear the film with an 'A' certificate, the Nagaland government had earlier decided to prohibit its screening as well as ban the novel on which it is based.
However, Church leaders in Mizoram, where Christianity is nothing less than a way of life, have so far preferred to adopt a wait and watch approach and await the film's release.
Inputs from K Anurag in Guwahati