Best film documentary ‘India Untouched’
Untouchability is a subject best brushed under the carpet. Stalin K., one of the country’s best known documentary filmmakers, obviously had no such intention when he embarked on a four-year journey to probe, push and pick on issues related to casteism. The result has been a poignantly mesmerising, and sometimes debatable, film titled ‘India Untouched — Stories Of A People Apart’ that has won the Best Documentary Film Award at the recently concluded 10th Mumbai International Film Festival For Documentary & Short Films. Stalin’s objective was simple: He wanted to expose the continued oppression of the ‘Dalits’, the ‘broken people’ for whom the suffering caused at the hands of a 4000-year-old religious system does not cease to exist. This despite all the legalities in place.
Stalin K.’s interest in the subject stems from the fact that he is also a human rights activist who has become known for his ‘participatory media’ work with urban and rural communities, in which local people produce their own videos and radio programs as an empowerment tool. He is the co-founder of Drishti and the India director of Video Volunteers.
Ask him about what prompted him to undertake such a project and this is what he has to say: “We are all made to believe that untouchability is no longer practised in India. The truth is vastly different. And my film captures that truth. It shows leading Benares scholars who interpret Hindu scriptures to mean that Dalits have no right to education; Rajput farmers who proudly proclaim that no Dalit may sit in their presence; Dalits being forced to dismount from their cycles and remove their shoes when passing through the upper caste part of the village; a Harijan boy refusing to drink water offered by a Valmiki boy, and so on. And what is surprising is that this is not just in rural areas but is an urban phenomenon too.”
Stalin has on film the case of a Brahmin youngster in the Jawaharlal Nehru University hostel who has built a partition in his room so as not to look upon his Dalit roommate in the early morning.
“Look at the matrimonial columns in any newspaper and you will realise how we haven’t been able to rid ourselves of the caste factor. Essentially, I became sick
and tired of people denying the existence of caste or caste-based prejudices though it has been staring at us all the time. The current public discourse on caste, heightened during anti-reservation stirs, suggests that we are not any more a castebased society, which, unfortunately, is not true. The middle-classes are more prone to this denial and they are the ones who are most vocal — the writers, journalists, the policy pushers. My film, therefore, makes a clear statement: Our lives continue to be governed by age-old caste practices which create room for discrimination and hatred,” he elaborates.
The message that ‘India Untouched’ underlines is that even though we are stepping into the 21st century, our social and political relationships with others continue to be governed by stupid and illogical notions and traditions of purity, pollution, inferiority and superiority.
“And what is more disturbing is that it is not being practised by just one particular religion. Every religion has its own prejudices about casteism, including Christians, Muslims and Sikhs. What I am trying to say here is that subtle casteism can be very dangerous. You can’t let even the Dalits off the hook because within them too there are layers of castebased prejudices,” he says.
The process of making this film was, undoubtedly, very difficult. As Stalin puts it, “It called for a lot of patience because it isn’t easy to get people to start talking in front of a camera about a subject which they know is frowned upon by the legal system. For instance, we had a hard time trying to convince men from the Rajput community to admit that they use violence and subjugation to perpetuate caste hierarchy. Similarly, in order to prove that casteism is very much prevalent in our country, we had to travel to remote corners to shoot specific instances of how it is practised. As for example, the shot of Dalits having to drink from different cups in a tea stall.”
Stalin would now like to make a film on the role of the media.
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