Wednesday, August 17, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Don’t ban Aarakshan, it’s just upper caste (Kancha Ilaiah)

Don't ban Aarakshan, it's just upper caste

August 17, 2011
By Kancha Ilaiah

The debate around Aarakshan, Prakash Jha's movie on reservation, has
several major implications for our civil society and state. The
objections raised by several organisations, individuals and also the
ban imposed by three state governments — Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh
and Punjab — because of their suspicion that the film is against the
interests of pro-reservation forces, made it controversial.

The film has been seen by the Central Board of Film Certification
(CBFC) and certified U/A without any cuts. But the National Commission
for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes demanded to see it before it
was released. After the viewing the commission felt that there are
many dialogues that were objectionable from the dalit point of view.
However, the CBFC felt that the SC/ST commission's opinion was not
binding on them, and they did not agree to cut some of the dialogues
suggested by the commission and other organisations. However, after
some cuts were made, the film was released in Andhra Pradesh.

I watched the film on the first day of its release. It evoked a good
response from filmgoers. Aarakshan presents a paternalistic upper
caste view of balancing the problems of reservation and
commercialisation of education. Amitabh Bachchan's role of a
paternalistic Hindu teacher could well be viewed with suspicion by any

However, a serious issue to debate is whether the right to freedom of
expression of a director/producer could be taken away by dalit/OBC
groups or individuals opposed to a film? What is the difference
between the Right-wing forces that attacked M.F. Husain's paintings
and the dalit/OBC organisations that opposed Aarakshan? I happened to
take part in a panel discussion on the issue on an English news
channel where Soli Sorabjee, a well-known Supreme Court lawyer, argued
that Mr Jha's freedom of expression cannot be taken away in this

We must understand the pro- and anti-reservation contentions from the
point of view of caste and historical oppression that the majority
population suffered for centuries.

Bollywood as a film industry still represents the upper castes and, to
a small extent, the Muslim minority. Few years ago even the best of
the Muslim actors had to adopt Hindu names (like Dilip Kumar) to
survive in the industry and the market. Now, because of strong
identity politics among Muslims, there are several visible Muslim
heroes and heroines with their own names. Even a film like My Name is
Khan was made to assert that identity. But most of them come from rich
families. Why is it that no dalit/OBC could become a visible actor in
that industry? Hollywood overcame its white hegemony and now blacks
have come to occupy a very important place (like Will Smith) in that
global industry. But blacks constitute just 12.6 per cent of the total
population of the US. Whereas dalits, tribals and OBCs constitute
about 70 per cent of the population in our country, yet there is not a
single visible person in the film industry from these communities.

Also, how many SC/ST/OBCs are in the CBFC today? Perhaps none. When
the industry itself is constituted of upper castes, and rich ones at
that, a lot of scope for suspicion about their intentions in making a
film on reservations exists. Suppose they deliberately make an
anti-reservation film or a film that treats the productive castes as
polluted people based on the Brahminic sociological premise? Should
these castes keep quiet? And if they create hurdles in the film's
release, is that "curtailing the positive freedom of expression?" When
the oppressors' right to freedom of expression impinges upon the very
right to life of the oppressed, the oppressed need to invoke their
natural right, as John Locke rightly proposed, to fight against the
oppressors' right to freedom of expression. If "castocracy" begins to
operate, using the liberal space the Constitution provides, against
the historical victims, they have to stand up and say, "No, we will
not allow this."

In democracy, if one does not examine the political position of the
oppressed seriously, if a mechanical "right to freedom of expression"
is deployed in the discourse, as John Locke himself foresaw, the
oppressed masses have no choice but to resort to the right to
revolution. For SC/ST/OBCs, the right to defend reservation (in the
absence of uniform English-medium school education for all) is
equivalent to defending their right to life.

Because of caste and cultural degradation and denial of right to
education and employment for centuries, the SC/ST/OBCs have lost many
opportunities to develop themselves. That should be the core anchor of
the debate. The problem being treated paternalistically, as has been
done in Aarakshan, is not a solution.

In a situation of rabid casteism and educational commercialisation,
Prabhakar Anand's (the character played by Bachchan) paternalism might
appear positive. But Ambedkar himself opposed such paternalism of
Gandhi and attacked it in his classic book, What the Congress and
Gandhi have done to the Untouchables.

The film, as it is being shown in Andhra Pradesh, does not warrant a
ban in any state at all. But it certainly needs to be debated.
Ideologically it does not represent Ambedkarism but Gandhism. That
itself is a major problem. A Bollywood film with an Ambedkarite
ideology on aarakshan can be possible only when aarakshan is
implemented in Bollywood itself.

Kancha Ilaiah is director for the study of Social Exclusion and
Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad


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