Singapore has banned a controversial Indian film over its “provocative and one-sided portrayal” of Muslims in Kashmir that officials fear could provoke religious and ethnic tensions in the city-state.
Released in March and one of India’s highest-grossing films this year, “The Kashmir Files” depicts in harrowing detail how several hundred thousand Hindus fled Muslim militants in Indian-administered Kashmir in 1989 and 1990.
The movie has been endorsed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and seized on by Hindu hardliners to stir up hatred against the country’s Muslim minority.
Critics say it tackles themes close to the political agenda of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, which has often been accused of marginalising and vilifying Muslims.
The media regulator in Singapore refused to classify the film, meaning it cannot be screened.
The decision was due to the movie’s “provocative and one-sided portrayal of Muslims and the depictions of Hindus being persecuted”, officials said in a statement late Wednesday.
“These representations have the potential to cause enmity between different communities, and disrupt social cohesion and religious harmony in our multi-racial and multi-religious society.”
The city-state’s population of 5.5 million are mostly ethnic Chinese but it also has large communities of ethnic Malay Muslims and ethnic Indian Hindus.
The film’s director, Vivek Agnihotri, lashed out at the decision, tweeting that Singapore was the “most regressive censor in the world”.
The tightly-controlled country is sensitive to anything that could trigger ethnic and religious tensions.
It occasionally bans films and publications for fear of inflaming divisions, leading some to ridicule it as a nanny state.
The movie revolves around a university student who learns about the death of his parents in the 1990s in Muslim-majority Kashmir, a disputed region split between India and Pakistan since 1947.
Three decades of insurgency in the region – with Pakistan’s backing, according to New Delhi – and a heavy-handed response by the Indian military have killed tens of thousands of people, mostly Muslims.
Around 200,000 Kashmiri Hindus – known as Pandits – fled after the violence began in the late 1980s. Up to 219 may have been killed, according to official figures.