Fireworks glared from 80 screens on Tuesday as thousands watched Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai... (Muzaffarnagar eventually…) under the skies, inside university rooms, close neighbourhoods and other makeshift spaces where people watched the 136-minute documentary unfold. It takes you through the streets of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of western Uttar Pradesh in the aftermath of the 2013 riots. Divided into three parts, the movie documents the deep fissures created by a complex interplay of forces in the run up to the 2014 general election.
Directed by FTII alumnus Nakul Singh Sawhney, the screenings of the film were halted by the ABVP in Delhi University earlier this month. Attempts were made to halt its screening in JNU too.
The scars of the wounded city are revealed in the testimonies of the displaced and the ones who witnessed the horror from behind the closed doors. Some of them once coexisted in various villages, but their lives changed forever after the widespread violence that broke out on September 7 and 8. Early parts of the film highlight the build-up — how the seemingly sporadic incidents turned the Muslim-dominated Muzaffarnagar into a tinderbox once an alleged incident of eve-teasing led to the deaths of two Hindus and a Muslim boy.
Tempers ran high after incendiary speeches filled the air after the evening prayers at a mosque and at a jat mahapanchayat organised by Bharatiya Kisan Union leaders on September 7 at Kawal. Rumours of mobs on the prowl started doing rounds in the Hindu and Muslim quarters and for many their neighbour became the new ‘other’.
Honour when fused with the communal ardour brought forth a seemingly favourable ground for opportunist politics and what the movie quotes in the words of the revolutionary Hindi poet Gorakh Pandey, “Iss baar danga bohot bada tha/khoob hui thee khoon ki baarish/agle saal acchi hogi fasal matdaan ki… ( This year the riot was very big/ There were heavy rains of blood/ Next year the harvest of votes will be abundant)
Joining the dots, the movie shows the footage of an April 2014 ‘private meeting’ in which Amit Shah accompanied who was BJP’s campaign-in-charge in UP, addressed the Jat community wherein he declared that the election in the region is “an election of honour and revenge” and called for the withdrawal of all cases against Jats in the communal riots.
Incidentally, he was accompanied by BJP legislator Suresh Rana, who was jailed for 12 days for his role in the Muzaffarnagar and Shamli riots.
In a comic, yet chilling interview, the secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Muzaffarnagar, refers to the idea of ‘love jihad’ and argues that “a child will be happy in his/her own community” and the laws that allow inter-faith and inter-caste marriage need to be changed.
On the other hand, a group of young and old women admit how they carry a collective ‘burden of honour’, and when it comes to molestation or harassing, men from their own community are often to be blamed.
On his visit to Muzaffarnagar in 2010, Sawhney noticed “a revivalism of Jat identity politics and that, sooner or later, the anti-Dalit, Khap diktats and terms like love jihad will all fall into a larger Hindutva fold”.
According to the film, some 60 people died, mostly Muslims; 80,000 were displaced. The NHRC report mentions that 51,000 people took refuge in the 58 camps set in various villages of the state. Kalampura was the only Hindu camp with some 500 people.
The violence divided people right at the bottom of the pyramid and the issues of unemployment, farmer union and lack of education, somewhat faded in the moment. With many who left behind everything, even their voting cards, a severe identity crisis coupled with a complete lack of redress left them in the middle of nowhere.
Some testimonies acknowledge the change and what led to it, but for most, it was too late to return to their homes, too late to be friends with the good old neighbours and too late to celebrate Eid and Holi with the same vigour.
The gross failure of the Samajwadi Party-ruled state government, which was later held guilty of negligence by the Supreme Court, in controlling the violence and taking care of the displaced stares at all points in the movie. The deplorable condition of life in the camps, the deaths of about 40 children in the 2013 winter that followed and the many reported and unreported cases of rape further highlight the despair of the displaced.
As the camera pans through a plundered haveli with 52 doors in Muzaffarnagar, its inhabitants rue its loss many kilometres away in a camp; as the loudspeakers of temples and mosques compete, playing dead in a grave becomes the new game for kids, as fireworks mark the BJP celebrating its massive win (71 of the 80 seats) in the elections, Sawhney leaves us with many questions about what the riot has eventually left behind for Muzaffarnagar.
The movie connects and weaves many strands, highlighting the depth of the political and communal chasm, the propaganda that directs a bulk of violence against a particular community, in this case primarily Muslims. The voices and silences and their variety are equally daunting in portraying how a massacre, cloaked as a riot, can shake the fabric of a society.
In a country still awaiting legislation on communal violence and the frequent silencing or fading of the voices of dissent, the August 25 screenings were a mark of resistance. In the coming days, more screenings of the film are being planned in various parts of the country; clearly, there’s plenty more to Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai.