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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

On casteism, films may work where media has failed

Recent incidents have shown that we’ve become accomplished at turning a blind eye to the consequences of how dominant groups treat the marginalised

mumbai Updated: Jun 04, 2019 19:09 IST
Deepanjana Pal
Deepanjana Pal
Hindustan Times
Dr Payal Tadvi, a trainee doctor who committed suicide on May 22 due to alleged caste-based harassment by other doctors.
Dr Payal Tadvi, a trainee doctor who committed suicide on May 22 due to alleged caste-based harassment by other doctors.(HT FILE)

The trailer for director Anubhav Sinha’s upcoming film, Article 15, has one particularly crackling scene. In it, a group of police officers cordially explain the caste hierarchies to a clueless colleague. They speak of caste as though it is that old family friend who has been a fixture in everyone’s lives. Some are perplexed by the freak of an officer who doesn’t know he’s a Brahmin and there’s a sense of superiority in those who do know their caste identity. It gives them a sense of belonging and power that this superior but ignorant Brahmin doesn’t have.

Dark as it is, this scene is viciously funny. It’s also most likely to convince someone to watch Article 15 because let’s face it, Sinha describing it as “an investigative drama where the audience too is an accused party” is not precisely inviting. If all the trailer had were righteous police officers and scenes recreating horrific hate crimes, you might have applauded Sinha in public even as you vowed in private to go nowhere near Article 15 when it releases. Who needs to be confronted with their complicity in crimes they haven’t directly committed and are helpless to prevent?

But with that one scene in the trailer, Sinha offers hope that Article 15 will not just be an earnestly necessary film, but an entertaining one as well. We desperately need it to be both because as recent incidents have shown, we’ve become accomplished at turning a blind eye to the consequences of how dominant groups treat the marginalised. Maybe entertainment will have better luck than news media at prodding India’s collective conscience.

For the past week, discrimination has been a conversation topic with multiple investigations being instituted to probe what Dr Payal Tadvi faced as an adivasi resident doctor at BYL Nair Hospital before she was driven to commit suicide on May 22. As the findings emerge, the interpretation of facts will be of critical importance. For instance, the doctors accused of harassing Dr Tadvi have said they were only critiquing her for the benefit of patients, alleging the deceased doctor’s practice was not up to the mark. You could believe them or note that the odds were stacked against Dr Tadvi if her colleagues are bigoted casteists and the general assumption was that she was unworthy by virtue of being a quota candidate.

Also, the Maharashtra State Commission for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe found the Agripada police had initially registered a case under the 1989 Act of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities), instead of the amended Act of 2018.

Whether this is simply inefficiency or a calculated decision to invoke sections that impose less serious punishments, we don’t know. However, there are many examples of social prejudices impacting police investigations. Take, for example, the handling of the gang-rape-turned-suicide in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, which is the starting point for Article 15.

In 2014, the brutalised bodies of two sisters, aged 14 and 15, were found hanging from a mango tree. Both the girls and the the accused belonged to other backward castes (OBCs), and the accused were Yadavs, a politically powerful community in Uttar Pradesh politics.

From the police initially refusing to file a first information report to burying the post-mortem that said the girls had been gang-raped; politicians dismissing the crime because, as Mulayam Singh Yadav put it, “boys will be boys” and the Central Bureau of Investigation concluding there were no rapes, only suicides, the Badaun case is a master class in how not to respond to a crime. In 2014, it felt as though we’d be haunted by the image of those girls’ dangling dead bodies forever. Five years later, they are a faint memory, obscured by newer atrocities.

Let’s hope that by the time Article 15 speaks up about how caste worms its way into so many aspects of everyday life, Dr Tadvi’s case and the experiences of the marginalised will still be a source of outrage.