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.
Confederation of Human Rights Organizations,
India Stinking: Manual Scavengers in Andhra Pradesh and Their Work.
By Gita Ramaswamy
Needs to be read by every civilized citizen of India.
" 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