Sunny blue skies remain the only thing that’s uniform in Uttar Pradesh. Humanity is divided, majorly in the name of the Gods that reside above those skies. Maybe it’s the heat of the sun that blinds the Gods from seeing the blood-pool on the ground.
In “Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai,” director Nakul Singh Sawhney has looked into what had caused the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, in September 2013. The film traces the life and situation of the local people post-September 2013 riots. In several shots we see the saffron colour spread across the frame. As we move along with the filmmaker through this 136 minutes-long film, we realise that the spreading of the saffron is no coincidence.
The film moves majorly through the accounts of the victims (read Muslims) of the riots, most of them displaced from their village Lissad, into shelters and relief camps. Some fearlessly criticise the BJP, but a larger majority just recollects the memories of their lost homes. There is a conspicuous detachment on the faces of the people who are narrating the story of how they lost their loved ones. The emotionless faces are devoid of hope, but the passivity on their faces is not without suppressed emotions.
The film is divided into three parts. The first two parts look into the causes and political play in causing the riots. A large number of the victims believe that the riots were a pre-planned BJP strategy to win the 2014 general assembly elections. Midway through the film, we see the people at the grassroots-level trying to inform the locals about news headlines that purely instigated communal divide across Uttar Pradesh.
The film also touches upon topics like ‘Love Jihad’ and the responses of a group of women and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) members to the idea of inter-community marriages. While the latter addresses the idea with much aversion, the former group welcomes and accommodates it. Many efforts have been taken to film even the local meetings of BJP. However, very less footage of how the Muslims campaigned for the elections or how an upper-middle-class Muslim family was affected was seen to be missing in the film. Despite best efforts to keep the documentary balanced, it seemed to me as if the film largely blames the BJP for the communal riots and portrayed Jaats as the killers.
The third part starts with the title ‘Kis cheez se darte hein ve’ (What are they scared of?). We see Shandar Gufran, a social activist reminiscing the days when Hindus and Muslims used to eat sweets on Eid together and when Muslims used to celebrate Diwali. The tone of sweet nostalgia in his voice is clearly visible.
A journalist from Shamli district, Yameen makes the most striking comparison, saying Muslims are like aloos (potatoes) for the political parties, given that whoever they vote for, they will remain marginalised. He criticises the then-Samajwadi-led government for their lackadaisical efforts in stopping the 2013 riots.
Music is deployed strategically through the film, for example, as communities gather and start singing the songs of great martyrs. The filmmaker makes an all-rounded effort in capturing how every age group of Muslims was affected. The film begins with a child drawing the horrific incidents on the day of the riots.
Towards the end, we see children play pretending to be dead-bodies in the graves. As hard-hitting as these visuals are, one cannot but think of the children from affluent Muslim families of Muzaffarnagar, if they were affected the same way. As the film concludes, several questions remain unanswered. The displaced victims are still struggling for shelter. The film concludes, but the communal riots in Uttar Pradesh may ever not.