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Report on the screening and discussion of ‘The Advocate’ documentary film by Deepa Dhanraj on civil liberties, social movements and state in Andhra Pradesh, India.

The Development & Conflict Group at the University of Westminster, CAMPACC, the International State Crime Initiative at King’s College and Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers co-hosted a successful screening of the documentary The Advocate on 23 October 2013 at the University of Westminster’s Cavendish Campus.

The choice of the documentary was prompted by the paradox that even though India and Britain have close political, economic, social, cultural and historic ties across diverse social strata, there is very little understanding in Britain about state repression, violence and impunity. The idea of India as the world’s most populous democracy remains embedded in popular imaginations so much so that violations of liberties are perceived, invariably, as exception rather than a systemic and pervasive feature of society. The documentary was an eye opener to many in the audience, including those of South Asian origin. Indeed the high turn-out at the event suggests that there is receptivity to knowing and understanding the problems and paradoxes of India.

The discussions turned on the peace process and what we should make of it. What did it achieve in the end? If police authority cannot be controlled by political authority what are we to make of civil liberties? What is the role of the media? How does the media, in this case the documentary film, construct a particular narrative of reality? Does that narrative alter the reality? This issue led to a lively discussion on the persistence of injustices that feed the struggles and neutralise media representations of reality – a reality-representation-reality ‘dialectic’ as John Hutnyk Professor of Media Studies at Goldsmith put it. The invisibility of the causes of the Maoist movement in the film was also discussed. Views varied on whether the film’s focus on law and civil liberties diverted attention from the struggles on the ground to legal and constitutional struggles.

Prof. Penny Green from the International State Crime Initiative,  King’s College chaired the meeting and Prof. John Hutnyk from the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmith College, Saleh Mamon from CAMPACC and  Dr Radha D’Souza from the School of Law, University of Westminster acted as discussants.

As conflicts intensify in South Asia - drone attacks on Pakistan, rise of militant Hindu fascism in India, the Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka accompanied by widespread suppression of civil liberties, fears of regional insecurity in the wake of internal political turmoil in Bangladesh – there is need for more concerted and informed engagement with the problems of the region in Britain. Collaborative events such as the one last week play a vital role in promoting public debate on the issues between diverse groups and sections of society.

For further information contact:

Campaign Against Criminalising Communites (CAMPACC)

Estella Schmid e-mail:

Tel 020 7586 5892 /

Development and Conflict Group: R. Seenivasan –