Film Review: Jai Bhim, Comrade

“Every day two Dalits are raped and three killed, in the world’s largest democracy”

Flim maker and radical activist Anand Patwardhan’s latest documentary – Jai Bhim, Comrade is a heart rending experience of caste atrocities against Daliths in Ramabai Colony, Mumbai (Maharashtra). It provides a glimpse into their conditions and the manner in which even today Daliths are looked down upon in the so called World’s largest democracy. The documentary runs for over 200 minutes and is one of the longest documentaries ever made in India. The film bagged the Best Film award at the ‘Film Southasia 2011’. It is also for the first time, the Censor Board of India gave a clearance to an Anand Patwardhan’s film, without any cuts that have usually dogged all his earlier films.

The film shot over a period of 14 years covering a series of events starting from 1997 till 2011. The main protagonist around whom the film revolves upon is Vilas Ghogre, a Dalith activist and a singer who’s songs still echo in the chawls of Mumbai and elsewhere. Daliths in Maharashtra are famous for their unique democratic protest style with their stirring poetry and music.

On 11th July, 1997 a statue of the iconic Dalith leader Dr. B R Ambedkar was desecrated with a garland of footwear. In response, many outraged Daliths peacefully organised themselves on the highway demanding a probe. But in contravention to all democratic norms, a police van was immediately deployed and one of the officers in charge – Manohar Kadam gave orders to fire. Around 10 unarmed protesters were killed and many others injured.

The film depicts the movement for justice against the police officer responsible for the atrocity. The police officer was not even arrested and was let off on bail by the High Court. This in itself speaks volumes on the biased criminal justice system in the country with all the loopholes safeguarding the interest of the upper class/ castes. The scope of the film is not limited just to Maharashtra (where the film is based) but India as a whole.

Vilas Ghogre, unable tolerate the pain and injustice heaped upon his community, ended his life. He tied a blue scarf on his forehead as an assertion of his Dalith identity (before he hung himself) with this realization that ‘this country is not worth fighting for any more’ as was witnessed by his friend, singer Sambhaji Bhagat.

Similar earlier events which had faded from the memories of the people are redrawn in the film such as killing of a young Dalith Panther activist – Bhagwat Jadhav, by Shiv Sena at a protest rally in 1974; killing of another Dalith Panther leader Bhai Sangare in 1999; the Khairlanji massacre and other atrocities that have continue unabated. All these events plus the misuse of the Indian Constitution by the ruling class, the appropriation of Dalith leaders into mainstream political parties and role of the left parties in dealing with caste issue is seriously examined.

Patwardhan had earlier met Ghogre during the making of his earlier film Bombay, Our City. When asked by the press, on why the film took 14 years to make? “I wanted to continue filming till all the false cases against the people in the colony were removed, or until the police officers who had ordered the firing were sent to jail,” explains Patwardhan.

Another aspect of the film was exploring the relationship between caste and class. Patwardhan says, “Vilas was a Dalith who became a Marxist, but then chose to reassert his Dalith identity, by tying a blue scarf as he hung himself. I wanted to understand this seeming clash of identities. As Vilas was no more, I began filming others from his musical tradition. A few were Leftists like Vilas, others celebrated Dr. Ambedkar’s life and message. I wanted to do justice to this whole spectrum.”

Azhar Khan

Bangalore