Thursday, January 12, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Inheriting injustice: A chilling film on India's Dalits

Inheriting injustice: A chilling film on India's Dalits
IANS | Jan 12, 2012, 12.06PM IST

Inheriting injustice: A chilling film on India's Dalits
Jai Bhim, Comrade

"Every day two Dalits are raped and three killed," goes a shocking
statistic in well-known filmmaker Anand Patwardhan's latest
documentary, " Jai Bhim, Comrade".

It begins with such murderous day, July 11, 1997, when 10 Dalits
gathered to protest the desecration of an Ambedkar statue were shot
dead by Mumbai Police. Six days after this massacre, unable to take
the pain and grief of his people and as a mark of protest, Dalit
singer, poet and activist Vilas Ghogre committed suicide.

"Jai Bhim..." then traces the legacy of the unique democratic protest
style of the Dalits through their stirring poetry and music and the
story of Ghogre and other singers and poets.

What emerges are tales of injustice and atrocities in the world's
largest democracy that will wrench your gut. Its riveting parallels
span not just Maharashtra (where the film is situated) but the world.

A Dalit leader in the film is heard saying, "We have a singer, a poet
in every home." It is here that you realise the similarity between the
fight for justice of the mostly lowly and oppressed of Indian people
with that of Afro-Americans. Both share a strong tradition of music
and poetry that provides them relief, strength and prepares them to
fight against injustice.

This is the reason why the state of Maharashtra blacklisted one of the
strongest Dalit music groups (prominently featured in the film), the
Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), by calling them Maoists.

Patwardhan has a keen sense of social satire. He rips apart the notion
that equal justice prevails for everyone in India. When you see
political leaders of national stature speaking of wiping out entire
castes and religions, which in a true democracy would have landed them
in jail, you realise how truth can sneak out from rhetoric and
rewriting of histories, and punch you in the gut.

Documentaries thus serve as a public justice system. The powerful may
not be punished for their murders, but those who see the film can see
their true face, and remember.

'Jai Bhim...' also abounds in irony of how a constitution drafted by a
'dalit', Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, continues to fail his own community. It
balances the grand sweep of dalit injustice with individual stories.
Thus on one side you see a Dalit working in a garbage heap without the
basic protection, cleaning Mumbai's filth, you also see middle-class
Mumbai talk about 'how dirty and filthy these people are.'

The film's objectivity is laid bare because it spares no one. Speaking
to IANS, Patwardhan said, "The film is critical of everything, even
the Dalit movement, except its youth who have been forced to go

In a fitting screening, which Anand calls its 'real' premiere
(previously screened in a few film festivals), over 800 people in BIT
chawl in Byculla, where a part of the film was shot, sat mesmerised
Monday, without a break for its 200-minute duration.

In an ideal world, cries against Dalit injustice would have sprung all
over. Since we don't live on a just planet, "Jai Bhim, Comrade" will
retain relevance so long as caste-based atrocities are not uprooted.

For it may have taken Patwardhan 14 years, in reality this story of
those who inherit injustice in their genes has been in the making for
thousands of years in India.

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