Chaitanya Tamhane’s multilingual film “Court” confronts us with some of the most relevant societal concerns with utmost subtlety and genuineness. Debates and discussions over casteism are still persistent. The themes highlighted in the film are:
The existence of caste and caste-based discrimination are not as inconspicuous as the urban progressive classes assume it to be. Thrashing a Dalit over owning a piece of land or even drawing water from the same public source can be a common practice in a village or in small towns even today.
Casteism can be traced back to Vedic texts and the varna system it created – Brahmin , Kshatriya , Vaishya and Shudra (Untouchables were outside chaturvarna system). Today, it’s still practiced through rituals and one’s occupation is often tied to the status of one’s caste.
Manual scavenging, for instance, remains a filthy and polluting job. Studies have found that it is mostly people from lower caste backgrounds who have to take up manual scavenging. Be it their historical deprivation, poor access to resources presently, lack of opportunities to move up the social ladder or the adamantly persistent forms of discrimination, lower castes in India have had to face it all.
“Court”, in an important sequence involving the trial of a Dalit folk singer, puts this point across very sharply. The victim’s wife narrates her poor husband’s pathetic working conditions candidly – how he had lost his eye while working in a manhole, how he had to use alcohol as ‘support’ to stand the stench.
The film reminds us of Gandhiji’s insistence to give dignity to each and everyone‘s occupation and their existence, irrelevant of their position in society.
On the other side, we have our protagonist who passionately raises his voice against powerful forces. One who peacefully and unintentionally forges bonds of solidarity. One who is picked up from his stage without being informed of his alleged ‘crime’.
The film provides another insight – the prosecutor, her traditional views, the routine parochial mindset of the region, the hurt sentiments, all this has to be seen in the light of the concept of socialisation . It’s what makes the other lawyer appear more rational or logical. The class divide between the two lawyers is also significant.
We all have our own values. These values have been imbibed or learnt consciously. Education and the people around us also undoubtedly play a role in creating our values. But as human beings, we possess our own minds and thus we can change and modify a previously held belief.
On one side, we are spoon fed culture, history and mythology and on the other side, we have our own cognitive capabilities. Therefore we must first reform our minds and then reform society. Reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and their compatriots followed the same process. Karl Marx too visualizes change as the inherent phenomenon in any society. One needs to reject the so called norms.
Thus , the film brings to attention the current concerns of regarding unjustified forms of deprivation, denial of justice and marginalisation in a country driven by rule of law. We have to awaken our hibernating conscience and tap into our rational sensibilities whenever we find such obnoxious obstacles in our path of progress . In our quest for an egalitarian society, we have to reinvent and redefine our selves.
The ultimate dreams of fraternity and integrity can only be achieved when the most oppressed sections, the victims of institutional inequities, enjoy the liberty of life and dignity. Otherwise, articles 14, 15 and 17 in our Constitution would just remain text on paper and never be experienced by those who need it most.