Caste film causes uproar in India
Updated August 18, 2011 14:39:25
A Bollywood film that's been banned in India's most populous state has
stirred up emotions about the divisive issue of caste in the
The film's title Aarakshan literally means 'reservation' in English
and refers to the system of quotas for lower caste people in India's
universities and public service.
Lower caste representatives have slammed the film as offensive and it
was last week been banned from screening in India's biggest state
A Supreme Court challenge has been lodged to overturn the ban.
Speakers: Bikas Mishra, Founder and Editor, dearcinema.com; Prakash
Jha, film director; Dr. Udit Raj, President, Indian Justice Party, New
Delhi; Dr Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Centre for Comparative Politics &
Political Theory, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
MISTRY: The movie Aarakshan features some of Indian cinema's biggest
names including Bollywood giant, Amitabh Bachchan. Bachchan plays an
upper caste college principal whose integrity costs him his job, to a
ruthless, profiteering rival. Bikas Mishra is the editor and founder
of the Indian film website dearcinema.com. He says Aarakshan tackles
caste issues from the point of view of upper caste Indians.
MISHRA: This is primarily about two different views about two views of
Aarakshan that's reservation amongst upper caste people one who
believed in a little bit of affirmative action based on economic
status of the people, and second one who is casteist and deadly
MISTRY: A system of reservation for India's oppressed lower castes
began during British colonial rule, but was formalised when India
gained Independence in 1947. While the benchmarks change from state to
state, people from lower castes must make up 50 percent of all
university entrants. The system was designed to end centuries of
discrimination against groups such as the Dalits, who were known as
'untouchables' and relegated to menial work.
But the quota system has caused tension amongst those who miss out on
jobs and university places.
Speaking at a festival in Mumbai last month, Aarakshan's director
Prakash Jha said the film didn't take a position on the system.
JHA: We have to see what is happening in the backdrop and landscape of
a reserved society and that is what film will try to show. It's not
always easy to simplify these huge social issues and put them into a
film or come out with some kind of solution.
MISTRY: But the film reviewer Bikas Mishra says even the hero of
Aarakshan has an ambivalent attitude towards the reservation system.
MISHRA: Even the good guy isn't in favour of it rather he is in favour
of reservation based on economic status of people not on the basis of
caste. And this is where I think the film lands itself in a little bit
of difficulty in states which are ruled by the political parties which
are involved in caste based politics.
MISTRY: While this year marks the first time that India's national
Census will collect information about lower castes, unofficial
estimates put India's Dalits at 160 million people. In Uttar Pradesh,
caste rights have been elevated by the election of a Dalit woman,
Mayawati, to the post of Chief Minister. Last week she banned the
film, saying it poses a risk to law and order because of inflammatory
dialogue about Dalits.Two other states Punjab and Andra Pradesh
initially moved to ban the film, but recanted after Prakash Jha filed
a petition in the Supreme Court to have the bans overturned.
Dr Udit Raj is the President of the Indian Justice Party, which
advocates for the rights of oppressed castes. He says the reservation
system has been essential to advance Dalits in India.
RAJ: They have only participated in Government jobs and in politics
through reservation. In other fields like industry, higher education,
media, arts and culture their presence is almost zero.
MISTRY: Dr Raj doesn't want the film banned, but is calling for some
scenes to be censored.
RAJ: The thrust of the film is to argue the case against reservation
that's why we are opposing. However we are not arguing for a ban of
the Aarakshan film, rather we are asking the director to remove
certain dialogues which hurt the sentiments of Dalits.
MISTRY: In the state of Maharashtra some scenes have been cut from the
film, at the behest of the local government. The controversy sparked
by Aarakshan is a sign of the growing political muscle of lower castes
in some states, according to Professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy from
Jawaharal Nehru University.
CHENOY: Virtually every political party is wooing them for sheer
electoral considerations given their numerical strength. So the
reaction to our action is also because of that.
MISTRY: Dr Chenoy says there's no doubt the reservation system causes
some tensions. But he says it is necessary to heal the injustices of
CHENOY: This is a very major experiment in social engineering and it
should be looked at with sympathy no matter what faults have occurred
and we Indians have to learn to live as one equal people.
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