India’s government has blocked the release of a film about the Sikh assassins who killed the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, saying it could pose a threat to law and order.
Theaters across northern India and select cities elsewhere were set to start showing the Punjabi-language movie, “Kaum De Heere,” which translates as “Diamonds of the Community,” on Friday.
The film tracks the transformation of Mrs. Gandhi’s killers – anointed as martyrs last year by Sikh religious authorities — from dependable bodyguards to assassins.
Mrs. Gandhi’s death sparked large-scale anti-Sikh riots, one of the worst episodes of communal violence in Indian history. Around 7,000 people, mostly Sikhs, are believed to have died in the rioting.
Leela Samson, chairwoman of India’s Central Board of Film Certification, said the movie “rakes up very old and strong sentiments” and sends a “wrong message to the youth that a particular ideology comes above the nation’s interests and that taking the law into your hands is permissible.”
She said that after officials from the Home Ministry, Information and Broadcasting Ministry and film review board watched the film Thursday, film regulators decided to withdraw their earlier approval for it to be shown in theaters.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Thursday, the film’s producer, Satish Katyal, said the film was about the lives of the two assassins and the difficulties faced by their families.
“Nobody has been shown as being good or bad. There are no biases,” he said.
Mr. Katyal said it was unfair for the film board to reverse course just hours before the film’s release. If the government had any objections, he said, there was “ample opportunity to raise them before.”
The film opens with the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi, the daughter of independent India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Mrs. Gandhi, like her father, led the Congress party.
While she was premier, Indian security forces attacked alleged Sikh militants inside the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest site, in a raid dubbed Operation Blue Star. Hundreds of people were killed.
Soon after, Mrs. Gandhi was killed by two Sikh bodyguards, touching off a spasm of religious violence. Senior Congress politicians have faced trials, some of which are ongoing, for inciting mobs and fueling the conflict.
“There will never be any justification for the attack on the sanctity of Sikhs and the targeting of an entire community,” said Avtar Singh, head of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Sikhism’s highest authority.
The party has attempted to reconcile with the Sikh community. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, apologized for the riots when he came to power.