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A film festival on the tribes erasing the ‘born criminals’ tag

art-and-culture Updated: Sep 03, 2016 10:06 IST
Danish Raza
Danish Raza
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

A still from the film Lost Behrupiya. (Courtesy Festival Organisers)

You might have seen a banjara, a madaari, a sapera, or a behrupiya. You would have childhood memories of being entertained by them on the roadside, at traffic signals. But do you know them? Where do they live? And why do we see so little of them around us now?

The 1st Nomad Film Festival is an attempt to raise awareness about the Denotified Tribes (DNTs) and change our perceptions about them. In 1871, the British introduced the Criminal Tribes Act, which gradually notified around 200 tribes as criminals or born criminals. The notification covered communities which had no criminal record. In 1952, the Act was repealed and these tribes were termed as Denotified Tribes. But they continue to suffer the stigma of being “born criminals”.

The Festival, a first of its kind, will showcase seven short films, a mix of documentaries and features, on the lives of DNTs.

Read more: Educational level dismal among tribals

One of the films, The Widow Home, is made by Abhishek Indrekar (19), Kushal Batunge (19) and Karan Pawar (22), aspiring filmmakers from the Chhara community, a denotified tribe in Ahmedabad. Indrekar and his fellow filmmakers are students who work to create awareness about the Chhara community.

The Widow Home documents the lives of Chhara women in Ahmedabad’s Chharanagar, notorious for making country liquor. Alkaban Chhara, the film’s protagonist, is a widow, one of the many women in the locality who lost her husband to alcoholism. “Men here consume alcohol like water. When they die, women take charge. They run families, trade in liquor and deal with the police,” said Inderekar.

The festival also features Sriram Dalton’s Lost Behrupiya, an award-winning silent film on the lives of behrupiyas, people who practice the art of dressing up as characters and then enacting scenes on the streets. The characters could be from history, folklore, mythology or everyday life.

“I have memories of seeing many behrupiyas in Jharkhand’s Daltonganj district where I grew up. There were not many sources of entertainment then,” said Dalton, who worked as an assistant cinematographer for Subhash Ghai’s film Kisna, in 2005. “During my film’s shoot in Varanasi, I met many people from this profession. The current generation is determined to take forward this art form,” he added.

‘Bahurupi’, made by three students of Visva Bharati University is a documentary on the same subject.

Dakxinkumar Bajrange’s acclaimed film, Fight for Survival, is based on the madaari community’s struggle. The movie explores the relationship of an animal with its master and the effect of the animal right groups and forest department on their livelihood.

The struggle of the DNTs is as much for dignity as it is for livelihood. “Society’s perception about them has not changed much. When their kids go to study or look for jobs or want to rent a house, they are seen with suspicion. Even then there is no guarantee of getting acceptance in the mainstream,” said Gautam Agarwal, chairperson of the Nomad Film Festival Board, which selected the films.

1st Nomad Film Festival , 3.30 pm onwards, September 4, India Islamic Cultural Centre, Lodhi estate. Call: 9810279810, Entry free.