Monday, May 2, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Play on Khairlanji atrocity poses discomfiting questions

Mumbai, May 1, 2011
Play on Khairlanji atrocity poses discomfiting questions
Rahi Gaikwad

When will Dalits get justice in this country, asks protagonist

The story of Khairlanji as a story of the plight of the Scheduled
Castes in scores of villages has joined the pantheon of protest
literature of the Dalit movement with the staging of Marathi play
Tanta Mukta Gaon (Dispute-Free Village).

The Maharashtra government in 2010 declared the village of Khairlanji,
infamous for the brutal killings of four members of the Bhotmange
family, a "Tanta Mukta Gaon" under a government programme which seeks
to resolve disputes at the village level through community

The play, written by young Sandesh Gaikwad, opened this week here. It
invokes the extreme brutality of the incident that has left an
indelible mark on the Dalit consciousness. Depicting the events that
led to the killings, the play offers a glimpse into the mechanics of
caste oppression at the village level.

It reveals how the jealousy of the dominant castes over the awakening
of the Dalits and their subsequent assertion of rights was the true
reason behind the atrocity. One full Act is used to show the
impoverished yet progressive life of the Bhotmange family. The play
dwells on the aspirations of the family, which is striving to rise up
through education, and their refusal to be cowed down by the upper

In a rare sympathetic advice, the village police inspector tells the
family to leave the village. "Your crime is that you are a Dalit," he

The play asks some very direct and pertinent questions to which
perhaps no one has an answer even after 60 years of Constitutional
freedom. Bansi, a young student who returns to Khairlanji with the
dream of reforming it, is thwarted by the local administration. His
bagful of books of renowned thinkers is seen to be more dangerous than
weapons of mass destruction. Driven to despair, he asks: "When will
Dalits ever get justice in this country?"

The play does have some shortcomings. For instance, its departure from
factual events for the ending, endorses a violent revenge, which
perhaps may not find resonance in certain sections of the community.
Use of the stereotype of the bumbling havildar seems irrelevant to the
narrative, although like Shakespeare's Fool, he is chosen to utter the
uncomfortable truth about injustice and discrimination to his

Infused with a quintessential Ambedkarite perspective, this real-life
depiction offers a sweeping critique of caste oppression and the
political establishment. It does not leave out Dalit leaders either.
"Our politicians are like me, blind," says the visually impaired
Roshan Bhotmange.

In the backdrop of the protests that mark the killings, the government
is shown to play a crucial role in stifling the subaltern voice and
maintaining the structures of oppression.


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