AGAINST THE POLITICS OF HATE
Filmmaker Rakesh Sharma
Asiatic Film Festival came to Rome and opened some closed
windows in the minds of cinemagoers here. Among the films
that moved me were some issue-oriented Indian ones that filled
me with admiration for the capacity for truth seeking and
soul-searching among the enlightened filmmakers of India.
The world has a lot to learn from them; especially, certain
claustrophobic sections of the world where many have lost
the courage to be self-critical or to speak out the truth;
where, to question religious and political bigotry, specially
to defend the rights of the minority, could cost the protestor
or truth-seeker a fatwa against his life.
Govind Nihalani and especially Rakesh Sharma for holding up
the torch for truth, justice, reason and compassion, and revealing
in their films the savage world of political manipulations
which uses people like cannon fodder. I commend these two
Hindu filmmakers for speaking out for the minority Muslims
of India, an act of courage that in many repressive societies
could have cost them their lives. I cannot imagine a reversed
scenario where Muslim filmmakers could have survived such
a graphic examination of the naked truth.
films that stand out in my mind share the same subject: the
genocide of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.While 'DEV' by director
Govind Nihalani is a feature film using the major issues in
a storyline acted out by stars like Amitabh Bachchan; Rakesh
Sharma's 'FINAL SOLUTION' concerns itself with the actual
events in Gujarat, and is a hard-hitting documentary which
was suppressed by the BJP government when it came out. It
was banned by the Censor Board of India and rejected by the
Mumbai International Film Festival but won awards at the Berlin
to director Nihalani and will write about him later. First,
I will discuss Sharma's documentary. (He was not present at
the festival so I could not talk to him. The post-screening
discussion was led by actress Nandita Das, whom I got to know
during the festival, and I will talk about this beautiful,
articulate actress with a social conscience in another article).
Solution' is set in Gujarat between February 2002 and July
2003, and the film examines the spiral of vindictive violence
that followed the burning by Muslims of 58 Hindu activists
returning from controversial Ayodhya on the Sabarmati express
train at Godhara. Some 2,500 Muslims were slaughtered, 200,000
made homeless, their women raped and killed by Hindutva cadres
in a virulent reaction, which many claim was state-supported
if not sponsored.
was awarded among other things for its analysis of the propaganda
mechanism through which politicians manipulated the Godhara
incident for political purposes spawning hate and violence;
and for "its measured voice to seek a final solution
to the conflict".
film, made with the maker's own money and using an unobtrusive
handheld palmcorder manages, through hair-raising eyewitness
accounts (of both victims and victimisers) and visual and
verbal details, to document the helplessness of the minority,
and the calculated politics of state complicity in violence.
valuable were the interviews not just with the Muslim survivors
of the pogrom but with the Hindu victims of the Godhara incident.
It revealed how ordinary citizens do not feel the communal
divide or need for revenge as sharply as the power hungry,
rabble-rousing political elements incite the mob to feel.
A Hindu girl who lost her mother on the train, when asked
if she was still friends with her Muslim school mate said,
"Of course. She didn't do it." Dr Girishchandra
Rawal, who lost his wife, said, "When my wife's body
arrived, Muslims, Khojas, Christians, everyone came here weeping.
Why should I avenge myself on my Muslim neighbour?" And
yet, the politicians who were not personally affected exploited
this incident in mob-inciting speeches for electoral gains,
encouraging vengeful mass lynching.
taken from blood curdling political campaign speeches and
religious meetings to private interviews. But, while the film
takes a clear standpoint against violence and right-wing Hindu
nationalist politics it avoids simple accusations and gives
both victims and perpetrators equal space. Under the objective
handling of Sharma's camera and use of a polite interrogative
voice, situations and people are left to reveal or betray
of the first sequence in Patiya, some Hindu teenagers are
seen playing cricket near a well where bodies were dumped.
Asked: were there many? One boy, a policeman's son, shrugs
in nonchalant reply: yes and he saw truckloads of bodies,
'mostly women and children'. A pregnant pause; the boy's eyes
falter and the camera registers his internal conflict about
whether he endorses the killings.
sequence, the film alternates between Gujarat Chief Minister
Modi denying the carnage in his 'Gaurav Yatra' (Hindu Pride
march) even as we hear victims narrating the horrors of seeing
their family butchered before their eyes. At another point,
Ghanashyam Joshi, a member of the VHP who helped create the
Bajrang Dal cadres accidentally mentions that a few years
ago, the majority and minority communities 'lived in peace'.
But the Hindu tribals needed 'enlightenment' to organize them
to defend Hindu society. How were they enlightened, Sharma's
neutral voice asks. By "training them, giving them trishuls
and making them take an oath that they would help build the
Ram temple, divide Pakistan into 40 parts and make India a
the end, Sharma speaks to a small Muslim schoolboy, who says
he wants to become a soldier. Why? So he can burn all the
Hindus. Why? Because he saw them doing it to his people. "I
am a Hindu," says Sharma's voice. "Will you kill
me too?" The child is confused, then in all innocence
he replies that he will not harm Sharma because he doesn't
look like a Hindu.
asks the people he interviews what the final solution to this
terrible problem is and receives the same hopeless response:
the politicians have divided the two communities too deeply
for them to co-exist now. Still, the only answer is awareness,
education and the removal of religion from politics. The film
ends with a song sung in a pained voice against the use of
religion to spill blood. God lives neither in the mosque nor
the temple but among men; don't kill your God. It is the cry
of wounded people on both sides. But would those who reap
power from blood watch this film and learn?
not, but that India is growing towards being a mature democracy
is revealed through the fact that when this film was banned
in India, there were scores of courageous people committed
to truth who after a sustained campaign of protest screenings
countrywide, petitions, both on-line and multi-city signature
letters to the Government managed to get the Censor Board
ban lifted. Also, when the government-backed Mumbai International
Film Festival rejected Sharma's documentary, other filmmakers
boycotted the festival; and film actor and director Girish
Karnad withdrew as chairman of the national jury. Then the
Campaign against Censorship organized a parallel festival,
'Vikalp: Films for Freedom', to screen the documentary and
to provide a platform to show solidarity to the cause of Freedom
our fledgling democracy, instead of imitating only the song
and dance rituals of Indian commercial cinema, might learn
the socio-political consciousness and intellectual dedication
of our neighbour's filmmakers in the parallel film industry.
Instead of abdicating the powerful medium of film to crass
commercialists, we the educated and privileged should use
socially motivated filmmaking to reach and teach our people.)
weapon against the politics of manipulation, deceit, hypocrisy,
hatred and violence is the voice of enlightened people. The
proof of a healthy democracy is in allowing every voice, even
the voice of dissent to be heard. I salute Sharma for stepping
further and giving voice to the voiceless.
WEEK: PART 2--Meeting Filmmaker Govind Nihalani
(R) thedailystar.net 2004