Jai Bhim Comrade
Credits: Directed by Anand Patwardhan
Details: 195 mins, India,
Synopsis: Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was a hero of India's oppressed Dalit ('untouchable') community. When his statue in Mumbai's Ramabai colony was desecrated in 1997, angry crowds gathered. The police opened fire, killing 10 unarmed Dalits. Vilas Ghogre, an activist, poet and singer, hung himself in despair. Anand Patwardhan – the acclaimed director of In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy War and War and Peace – traces the protest through the poetry and music of Ghogre and others.
A scathing expose of India’s forgotten people.
The public damnation of the downtrodden by some politicians is appalling.
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: On July 11, 1997, Mumbai police opened fire on a group of Dalits, as members of India’s ‘Untouchables’ prefer to be known, as they were protesting the desecration of a statue of their inspirational leader Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar.
Ten people were killed. Four days later, amid the grief and outrage, Dalit poet and singer Vilas Ghogre committed suicide in a futile protest. That’s the starting point of Anand Patwardhan's documentary, Jai Bhim Comrade, a searing, disturbing portrayal of the centuries-old cultural and religious conflict, persecution and injustice typified by the 1997 massacre.
The doco makes some powerful statements about political and police corruption and the vilification of the lower castes at the hands of those above them. But the impact is diluted to a degree by the lumbering running time, a tick over three hours; an overly detailed chronicle of the entrenched social system since India gained independence in 1947; repetitious scenes of people working and living in abject poverty; and a plethora of songs with lyrics that may sound banal to a Western audience.
Patwardhan laboured for 14 years to complete the production, interviewing countless politicians, officials, police, caste leaders and citizens across a wide social spectrum. One statistic he produces is chilling: On average, two Dalits are killed and three are raped every day of the year in India. A word of caution: several shots of corpses are gruesome.
Collectively, the Dalits and the Adivasi, an indigenous group who are similarly landless or land poor, comprise 25 per cent of the 1.2 billion population.
The director traces the rise of Ambedka from his humble origins as an Untouchable to become a PhD, a successful lawyer and political leader who helped draft India’s Constitution.
The doco alleges the powerful Marathas (warriors) and Brahmins (priests) castes actively oppose the government’s reservations policy which enables the lower orders to get an education and take public sector jobs.
The public damnation of the downtrodden by some politicians is appalling. Bal Thackeray, the founder of Shiv Sena, a right-wing Hindu nationalist party, is shown addressing a meeting where he asks, “Who the hell are these human rights activists? They should all be shot with Sten guns. It’s the species that must be exterminated.”
Similarly sickening is the outright disdain and hostility towards the downtrodden expressed by middle-class Indians who have no qualms about voicing their bigoted opinions to Patwardhan.
The officer who ordered his men to shoot the innocent protesters in the Rambai Colony slum in 1997 eventually was sentenced to life in prison but was interned in a hospital, appealed and was granted bail.
A widow describes how her husband was attacked by upper caste men and bled to death while the police refused to take her statement.
The soundtrack is crammed with songs; some are eloquent protests or cries for freedom while others seemingly have little or no point.
The doco won a national award and Rs 51,000 (about $A950) in prize money from the Maharashtra government, which the filmmaker donated to the cultural troupe Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). He had filmed the group performing and interviewed its lead singer but its members subsequently were forced underground after being branded Maoists.
According to local media reports, it was the first of Patwardhan's works to be approved by India’s Central Board of Film Certification without any cuts, a small victory, perhaps, for artistic expression.
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