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 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!”
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.
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.”