Recently, I attended a five-day long workshop-cum-training on Emerging Leadership Programme at Bangalore. During the workshop, I reflected on the word, “Power”. According to the discussion in that workshop, I understood that “Power” is the ability to achieve the desired/intended goal. It has a positive connotation attached to it. But the word “power” in the real world has a very different connotation attached to it. It is generally understood and seen by people as a mean to oppress and marginalise other fellow human being. It is used to eliminate others’ existence for the sake of their own existence.
Power needs to be shown to empower others, is what we reflected in the workshop. But in the real world, power is used to dis-empower others and push them into fear, and ultimately leads to a culture of silence. In the Hindi film Article 15, two lines, “Unhe aukaat dikhana jaroori tha” and “Aukaat wahi hai jo hum dete hain” clearly shows how we want power to be shown and understood/perceived by others.
In the film, three girls were raped and among them, two were hanged on a tree just to show the power (negative connotation) of the upper caste and create fear among the lower-caste people. It depicts centuries-old class, caste and gender privileges that exist even today, in modern India. Every time the police officer used “in log” and “un log” to say something about the lower caste, I was left feeling uncomfortable to see that how many of us, through such words, exclude and divide people on the basis of the identity.
On the one side are the upper castes and the untrammelled power that comes with their caste position; on the other, are the lowest of the low, the invisible, the Dalits; and in between, is the heartbreaking divide which shapes our destiny in this country even today. Right wing politicians are in power now. They talk about nationalism and Akhand Bharat… but what type of nationalism do we want? What type of Akhand Bharat is there where the people of my country hate each other on the basis of some abstract thing like caste?
Another important word that is often used by the police officer in the film to subtly warn the protagonist, PS officer Ayan Ranjan (Khurrana), is “Santulan” (Balance). It is exactly what we are taught in our family and schools very diplomatically and politically. We are always motivated to keep the status-quo. People who disturb the status quo, like the Dalit leader in the film, who mobilised Dalits to question the definition of power construed by the so-called powerful, are killed mercilessly without any guilt.
State-sponsored terrorism is not against the people who want to show the “Aukaat” but against those people who want to empower Dalits and other marginalised community. It happened with Bhagat Singh, and it continues today. At least in the English language, when we say lower caste, it doesn’t sound so bad, but when we say lower caste in Hindi, the name of each of the lower caste is an abusive word.
Caste discrimination is very much present all over India. It has slipped into all our other religions, which actually had started due to caste-based violence (What an irony!). The film depicts very well the civil war based on caste that has existed in our country for centurie.
I really liked that the film began with a song by Bob Dylan (one of my favourite singers) playing in the background: “…how many years can some people exist before they are allowed to be free?” when Ayaan, the main protagonist, enters the village. He compares the air pollution of Delhi with his experience of fresh air full of oxygen in the village, ignorant of the violent environment that he will experience which has taken many more lives than the pollution of cities.
The first song in the film, “Kahab to lagi jaaye dhak se”, is a really good song to make us understand the differences between the rich and the poor on the basis of the privilege and hardship they enjoy and face respectively. Like Ayan, many of our young Indians are not aware of caste-based discrimination. They are very bookish and naive.
But, are we so blind to this discrimination? Do we need a film to say that? We have become so insensitive that zero tolerance of caste-based discrimination is a distant dream in our country.
One of the very important thing that the film tried to show was how the government institution, the police force, which has the power (in positive connotation) to eliminate the caste-based discrimination is actually preserving and practising it shamelessly. The two police officer in the film, Solanki and Sinha, have internalised the discrimination so well that they find it normal not to offer pakoras from their plate to the upper-caste officers or refuse to drink water from a glass at their place.
I am waiting for a hero to come and change the status quo. Do I have the courage to be a hero? Has our education system, family system and professional space failed us? Are we all suffering from an acute syndrome of ‘culture of silence’?
In the film, at one point, Ayan calls to his lover and says, “…I will un-mess it“. To which his lover questioned whether there was any word called ‘un-mess’ in the English language. Then, Ayan replied that we need to frame new words. This metaphor is a strong message that calls all of us ‘to learn, unlearn and relearn’ many things that we learnt during the process of our socialization. We, Indians, really need to go deeper and understand our value system.
The review was first published here.