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Updated: January 18, 2012 16:37 IST

Tracing the aftermath of a Dalit massacre

Deepa Kurup
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HARD TRUTH: Anand Patwardhan: ‘We live in a system that is [unequal and creates] inequality. Reservation is only a minor sop to assuage our conscience.' Photo: K. Murali Kumar
HARD TRUTH: Anand Patwardhan: ‘We live in a system that is [unequal and creates] inequality. Reservation is only a minor sop to assuage our conscience.' Photo: K. Murali Kumar

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.”

Watching "Jai Bhim Comrade" is both wonderful and painful!...'Wonderful'for the fine blend of narrative intertwined with the performances of 'kalaakaars' like those in the plays of Habib Tanvir!...'painful' because, the beginning and the end make you 'disturbed' for days to come. Vilas Ghore dead but haunts us throughout. Singer Sheetal Sathe's majestic voice reverberates around us reminding her being(?-we 'pray'not to the non-existent god but to the authorities of power!) with us.

from:  Kumaraguruparan R
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 20:36 IST

This documentary needs to be screened everywhere. Large sections of the society believe that there is no more caste system. But to me the form has changed and it is going stronger.

from:  Dr. Ramanath
Posted on: Jan 20, 2012 at 10:16 IST

How can we order this movie? If the director sees this can he please direct us to a portal or a method to get a copy of this movie. It was interesting to read these views.

from:  Sunny Varghese
Posted on: Jan 18, 2012 at 21:58 IST

Hats off to Anand Patwardhan for his efforts to bring to light the reality of the plight of dalits in india and the perpetrators of the inhuman caste system in india. Only a collective emancipatory conscience can aliviate the sufferings of the dalits by a transformation from within. Reservation has not only cheated the dalits but also added fuel to the hatred of the so called, the higher castes towards the dalits by the politicians over the years in independent india. What the dalits need is not just economic upliftment by way of reservations but above all, their human dignity which has been unduely denied by the perpetrators of the unjust caste system. Education is the only possible hope for the dalits.

from:  Justine Emma SJ
Posted on: Jan 18, 2012 at 17:05 IST
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