//CHRO reiterate its support to Dalit causes

CHRO reiterate its support to Dalit causes

Documentary filmmakers, cultural activists and concerned citizens  protest against  disruption at Vibgyor Film Festival.  

On February 23, 2006, supporters of Hinduvta fascists shouted slogans  and tried to disrupt the screening of R. P. Amudhan’s Vande Mataram: A Shit Version, a film which questions the heinous practice of  untouchability and manual scavenging. They left quickly after the  audience protested against this undemocratic behavior. They accused  the organizers of screening ‘anti-national’ films and filed a police  complaint.

CHRO (Confedertation of Human Rights Organizations, Kerala ) condemn this attack and reiterate our right to  freedom of expression and our commitment to diversity and pluralism.

Vibgyor has emerged as a dynamic space that has been  showcasing a wide range of socially relevant films to large and  enthusiastic audiences of film lovers. Such creative spaces for  dialogue and debate must be protected and supported in the interest of  a responsive and democratic civil society that speaks out against the  injustice and tolerance.

Nearly 15 years after the Union Government brought in the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, manual scavenging, one of the most degrading and dehumanising of the occupations `assigned’ to Dalits under the hierarchical Hindu caste system, remains not the least affected by the legislation. Under the caste system, "Narada Samhita", which mentions the disposal of human excreta as one of the 15 duties assigned to the slaves.  The Andhra Pradesh-based Safai Karamchari Andolan, an organisation working among the manual scavengers, has stated that 13 lakh people from Dalit communities continue to be employed as manual scavengers in the country, in private homes, community dry latrines managed by the municipalities and public sector undertakings including the Railways and the Army. R. P. Amudhan’s Vande Mataram: A Shit Version is a film about the issues relating to manual scavengin.  Amudhan, is a Tamil film maker,  who has won the National Jury Award for his Tamil documentary on a manual scavenger titled, `Pee’, (Shit), in the National competition at the 9th Mumbai International Film Festival.

The disupted film, Vande Mataram — A Shit Version is a five-minute rendering of A.R. Rahman’s well-known number Vande Mataram. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s song is a salutation to the motherland. Amudhan presents the very same song with visuals not of breathtaking landscape, but of a public urinal having to be cleaned by women in Madurai town. The contrast could not have been starker. How can we be cleaning public urinals in the land of "Vande Mataram"?

The film captures manual scavenging through the experience of Madurai Municipal Corporation worker Mariammal. The camera literally follows her on her work early morning. Mariammal has to clean a whole road of shit. She puts powder on it for it to dry, scrapes it using boards, fills it in a bucket and carries it on her head to deposit it in a van. Mariammal cleans shit barefoot because it is difficult to wash her slippers later. She gets Rs. 3,000 per month as salary for this work. "I do this work with a lot of frustration. It is only because I don’t get as much money with other work," Mariammal states. Even a "job" like this is coveted and she, like many others will not easily budge until there’s another dignified job.

In Tamil Nadu, the film resulted in three things: the commissioner of Madurai Municipal Corporation did not get a promotion; the film has been taken up in political campaigns against manual scavenging by the political party Adi Tamila Pervai all over Tamil Nadu; municipal authorities helped Mariammal not by offering alternative employment but by employing two more people to clear the waste. 

Unfortunately, in Kerala, Hindutva fascism, continued to hanut free speech, often with the help of police. 

On July 8, 2003 in a bid to suppress the  freedom of expression, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Kerala state police have manhandled well-known documentary filmmaker Gopal Menon and his team in a public function at Kozhikode. Gopal Menon, who has made several films on human rights violations in India including ‘Hey Ram–Genocide in the Land of Gandhi’ (that documented the post-Godhra communal carnage in the State of Gujarat) was trying to record the vituperative public speech of VHP chief, Praveen Togadia, when the VHP activists and the police manhandled him. Gopal Menon was accompanied by Viju Verma and Mustafa Deshamangalam, who were also subjected to manhandling.

As soon as the team reached the spot at the Muthalakkulam Maidan in Kozhikode where Praveen Togadia was addressing the crowd, Gopal Menon was identified by the VHP activists. With the help of the state police, VHP activists manhandled all three and then threw them out of the venue. The VHP activists threatened the filmmakers and asked the police not to allow them again inside the maidan. The police threatened to arrest them if they failed to leave immediately.

The filmmakers argued that since the event was a public meeting, they had every right to attend and also film the function. But neither the organisers of the meeting nor the police paid any heed to basic ethics of media freedom or citizen rights.

The police force was evidently acting hand in glove with the VHP, giving protection to Togadia all through his Kerala tour aimed at fomenting communal hatred and violence. This was a clear instance of the official machinery of the State that is supposedly committed to secular principles being hijacked by a communal outfit like the VHP for its nefarious ends. The attack on Gopal Menon is a sequel to concerted attempts by the VHP, RSS and BJP activists last year to disrupt screenings of several documentary films across the state and the State police to foist cases against the organisers of such film screenings.

In 2001. the reception to moderate Hurriyat leaders like Abdul Ghani Lone in Thiruvananthapuram  had kicked up a controversy with the Sangh Parivar raising objection. They had observed a hartal in protest against the visit in Kerala, while Kashmir leader’s visit was not  disrupted in other states.

We request Documentary filmmakers, cultural activists and concerned citizens to condemn this undemocratic attempt by a handful of intolerant vested  interests to stifle freedom of expression, using the bogey of national  interest.   

with solidarity,

Confederation of Human Rights Organizations,
Kerala, India

India Stinking: Manual Scavengers in Andhra Pradesh and Their Work.

By Gita Ramaswamy

Rs 100, USD 10
ISBN 81-89059-06-8

In Lothal, 62 km from Ahmedabad, people had water-borne toilets in each house. That was in 2,500 bce. In 2005, India employs 6.76 lakh manual scavengers in 96 lakh dry latrines. Every day, they dispose shit. This shame of India owes to indifference and silence. Yours, mine.

Manual scavenging was constitutionally banned in 1993, and yet persists with active state support. In
Andhra Pradesh, home to over two lakh dry latrines, the Safai Karamchari Andolan led by Bezwada Wilson launched a demolition drive in 2004. Safai karamcharis went around demolishing the foundations of their indignity. Moving beyond the framework of ‘rehabiliation’, ‘amelioration’, and gandhian efforts to bestow ‘nobility’ on the profession, the ska demands nothing short of abolition of dry toilets. A single dry toilet anywhere in India will instantly create a cast of manual scavengers.

This book documents the efforts of the ska and offers a historical understanding of the problem of manual scavenging. It also calls for immediate action against the shit around us. The safai karamcharis do it because they are forced to, but we tolerate and encourage manual scavenging because we are lesser human beings.

Order Now !

Needs to be read by every civilized citizen of India.

Kancha Ilaiah, Outlook

" Viswanathan’s pieces are not mere tales of woe. He documents several cases of Dalit assertiveness and persistence"
C T Kurien, Frontline

"Dalit Diary demands a serious engagement."
Harsh Sehti, Seminar

"Dalits in Dravidian Land is a painstaking chronicle of the deprivations, discriminations and
atrocities faced by the Dalits in a progressive state "

K. Nagaraj, The Hindu