Friday, January 20, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Tracing the aftermath of a Dalit massacre

January 18, 2012
Tracing the aftermath of a Dalit massacre
Deepa Kurup

Anand Patwardhan's film probes caste atrocities, violence

Over more than 200 minutes, noted documentary filmmaker Anand
Patwardhan opens for his audience a window into the gut-wrenchingly,
unjust world of caste atrocities, violence and discrimination in 21st
Century India.

Screened on Tuesday evening at the Mount Carmel College auditorium,
Patwardhan's latest offering, Jai Bhim, Comrade, made over 14 long
years, documents the brutal police firing that killed 10 Dalits in
Ramabai Colony in the 'City of Dreams', Mumbai, where a statue of B.R.
Ambedkar was vandalised one night.

The massacre

The story, and Patwardhan's own journey into this complex issue,
begins with this massacre and the suicide of Dalit poet, singer and
Left activist Vilas Ghogre six days later. Ghogre, who died unable to
bear the injustice and brutal reality of the tragedy, was closely
associated with Patwardhan.

Interacting with the audience after the screening, Patwardhan pointed
out that though the film was about Maharasthra, this was indeed true
of many other States. The shocking statistics he provides in his film,
before delving into stories of caste violence in rural pockets of the
State, are testimony to this: "Every day, two Dalits are raped and
three killed."

Callous sound bytes

Asked of "cause and effect", he said: "We all bear the burden of this
shame… the caste system. There is no escaping that." It is this
shameful reality that the filmmaker tries to capture, be it in his
interviews with victims or the callous sound bytes given by Mumbai's
upper-class urbanites who articulate their "disgust" for the "lower
castes" or their opinions on the reservation system. During the
interaction, many among the young audience questioned the reservation
system and raised the issue of meritocracy. Patwardhan responded: "We
live in a system that is [unequal and creates] inequality. Reservation
is only a minor sop to assuage our conscience. There is this popular
argument of meritocracy, but [you] forget that we have not been a
meritocracy for centuries… we've oppressed and suppressed all along!"

Political narrative

The film, through the stories of a few central characters and Ramabai
Colony, provides a deeply nuanced view of the evolution of Dalit
politics in the State, including significant events in the last decade
such as the Khairlanji killings. Its narrative also includes a searing
critique of Dalit politics, the organised Left [in its failure to take
up the caste issue], and of appropriation of parts of the Dalit
movements by right-wing political parties.

"The film is critical of how Dalit parties have evolved, and also of
the Left parties and their [approach to] the caste problem… Ghogre
[who joined the Left in the 1980s] was expelled by the party he gave
his heart and soul to," said Patwardhan.

Revealing posters

Revisiting Ramabai Colony in 2010, Patwardhan shows how those who had
fought for Dalit rights 14 years ago are now helping the BJP and Shiv
Sena (the parties in power when the killing took place) blatantly
misleading people into believing that they represent their cause, even
as revealing posters show these same parties promoting the concept of
Brahmin or Maratha supremacy.

On this, Patwardhan explained that this had happened world over with
radical movements. "Like the Black Panthers, for instance. Some the
system killed, others were bought over. But there is hope. When I
screened my film in slums in Mumbai, I realised that the rank and file
are not going to go along with their leaders who are joining hands
with the perpetrators."


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