Ajay TG doesn’t want to be Kafka’s Joseph K. But there’s a reason why his story has started moving in that direction. As a filmmaker in Chhattisgarh, Ajay had lionised Binayak Sen in his 21-minute documentary Anjam and had evoked anti-establishment activists like Shankar Guha Niyogi of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, who was murdered by Big Industry goons in the 90s. He had also shown his state’s unprincipled land-grab in the interests of capital.
Niyogi was trying to build a new Left with grassroots mobilisation. Sen, who had joined Niyogi, was arrested in May 2007. And after his anti-Salwa Judum critique, ‘When a State Makes War on its Own People’, Sen became a marked man.
As a member of PUCL — the civil rights group of which Sen was, and is, general secretary — Ajay was witness to the raid at Sen’s house. After Sen’s arrest, he attended court hearings with Ilina, Sen’s wife. Through his other films such as New State-Old Problems and Aisa Kyon, Ajay had also begun talking of building alternative institutions. Not by force, but by community effort.
In a girls’ school he built, Ajay had taught children use of the camera. “In the beginning they would just shoot themselves. Later they started making films,” said Ajay. Letters and Learning is, for example, a ‘student film’ on a man who got a job at the Bhilai Steel plant by giving up his land. In a state where even traders are reportedly picked up for selling ‘green coloured cloth’ to so-called Maoists, Ajay’s attempts to engage the poor to question the status quo were looking increasingly ‘criminal’. He was jailed in May 2008, the 43rd person arrested under the draconian CSPSA, a year after Sen.
“After the CSPSA was passed, I knew it would be difficult to make films,” says Ajay, out on statutory bail in Delhi. Even after 93 days in custody, the police are yet to file a charge sheet. His ‘crime’? He’s believed to have ‘made contact’ with an unlawful organisation by having written a letter to a Maoist. He says he has not done so. He has also not been shown a copy of the ‘letter’. Sen is still in jail for having helped an exchange of letters. And in Chattisgarh, letter-writing is, of course, a very dangerous thing.