By Nikhil Walde and Vicky Nandgaye
Article 15 is a Bollywood movie directed by Mr. Anubhav Sinha who is a native of Allahbad of Uttarpradesh, India, the same State where the Badaun gang rape happened, which he venture to highlight in his movie Article 15. Indeed, it is a great initiative to venture for such sort of movie to be based on a social theme. Prior to this movie he directed Mulk which was based on the communal issue and prejudices against Muslims in India. In the contemporary era, where we have seen everyday violation of fundamental rights of lower strata of society, it is a tremendous task to locate the direction of community towards the issue of caste based on discrimination. In this context, the movie is positively appealing to masses to adhere to the very important “Article 15” of the Indian Constitution which says:
“Prohibition of discrimination against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.”Article 15 of the Indian Constitution
The project is allegedly stirred by real life incidents of caste discrimination against Dalits in general and the Badaun gang rape case of 2014 in particular. Nevertheless, in order to cover multiple incidents in a single film, the director failed to give justice to several Dalit characters in it. The first subtle critic to endeavour of the Director is that Mr. Sinha failed to project Dalit characters in its real Ambedkarite spirit that is more democratic and believing in the constitutional way of geting justice, rather than using violece or unconstitutional methods to attain the same. There somewhere he mixed up Marxist, Ambedkarite and Gandhian modes of assertion in some characters in the movie. Take an example of Nishad, who is an Ambedkarite, shown as underground Dalit leader playing the character of Chandrashekhar Azad in the movie, who uses the violence against some police official by putting fire on the police van. This kind of depiction of an Ambedkarite character as a vidrohi (विद्रोही, revolutionary) is kind of projecting him as a radical Marxist who largely believes in this kind of revolutionary or vidrohi ways to attain justice against the dominant structure. This depiction of Dalit(1) character is somewhere contradictory to the very idea of Ambedkarism whose very base is to adher with the values of the constitution.
Nishad has been shown as Ambedkarite but at the same time he is depicted as a Marxist “who read Bhagat Singh so much” according to Gaura’s narrative and has left his home for vidroh against the dominant community and thus remain underground hiding from the police. But this is not the case in real Ambedkarite spaces, a space which is more democratic, non-violent and believes in constitutional morality. In this Ambedkarite space no one subscribes to the idea of violence as a means of getting social justice. Similarly, in a sense we can say that there is some kind of mismatch or unclear understanding of the director about Marxist philosophy which predominantly talks about class struggle and Ambedkarite philosophy which talks about caste and caste based inequality resulting from the exploitative social structure. Here, the latter is more important in the context of the social issue which has shown in the movie.
In another scene, where a manual scavenger is shown cleaning the sewer in the movie, interestingly, in his real life too he belongs to the manual scavenging community. It is very strange and shocking where, one can ask why Mr. Sinha chose this scene to be performed only by the person from that community? Why didn’t he choose the actor from any other upper castes to clean the sewer? Thus, we can argue here, for playing the privileged characters, the Brahmins can become a Dalit but they cannot become a manual scavenger, because it would degrades their social status. This kind of dual treatment towards Dalit communities is a big flaw of the movie.
Further, definitely the movie evidenced some of the incidents with Gandhian influence. For instance, one scene in the police station where the lead actor Ayan, who is playing a police officer, is very clearly shown moving his chair and looking towards the portrait of Mr. Gandhi, on the other hand Ambedkar’s portrait was also shown to his right which has not given any visibility and attention. This selective symbolic representation of the icons where Gandhi is more visible, despite the fact that the subject of the movie centers around the philosophy of Ambedkar. Giving more visibility to Gandhi than Ambedkar is contradicting and unjust with the very topic of the movie which centers around the issue of caste violence in which Gandhi did not have much work to fight against caste violence and did not lead any anti-caste movements as Ambedkar had. Similarly in another plot, there is a famous hymn “Vaisnava Jana to tene kahiye je pir parayi jane re” (A Vaishnava individual can be said as the one who knows the suffering of the others) shown in the movie. As we know, Mr. Gandhi used to sing it in his daily prayers. So, we believe that, the symbolic presence of Gandhi in different forms in the movie was very political and that the love of the director towards the ‘Father of Nation’ where as the presence of Ambedkar who is known as the ‘Chief Architect of the Indian Constitution’ was just the necessity of the subject of the movie. Putting both of the ideologies together or adjusting Gandhi in Ambedkar’s world is contradictory and not easy to digest. We hardly find any Ambedkarites who accept Gandhian philosophy in their work.
Undoubtedly, in order to serve the larger idea of caste discriminations, Mr. Sinha strived to incorporate them in the movie. However, we see that, he failed to do justice to true Dalit identity. For example, talking about Rohit Vemula and Chandrashekhar Azad cases, these two have a very different personality with a very different social and political context. But, in the movie it is baffling about the character Nishad, who is similar to the real character Chandrashekhar Azad. He is shown in such a way that he contradicts himself. At the first place, he is shown as an Ambedkarite, then as a communist who does Vidrohi (illegal and unconstitutional) activities influenced by Bhagat Singh and at last, he becomes Rohit Vemula reading his suicide note. The director made a sandwich of putting multiple characters in one, which is confusing and not acceptable to the larger Dalit masses who are so conscious and critical about their issues and problems.
Indeed, the movie has done well while touching the aspects of caste discrimination and appeals larger audiance about the scenario in the country, where still Dalit women are raped and harassed at every corner of society. Although it has failed explicitly to portray the Ambedkarite discourse, the director has done well in a way to make the larger audience aware, those who have least understanding about real life incidents of caste atrocities and discriminatory practices. Very importantly the significance of “Article 15” of the constitution which has been brought out from the textbook to the silver screen to reach to the larger public.
Some Positive Aspects of the Movie: What can Dalits and the larger audience get from it?
Some very significant and relevant scenes of the movie that directly deal with the larger Dalit movement are, when Nishad is caught by the police who takes him to do his encounter, he talked with himself and says, “we should not use violence in our movement, the movement we use violence and take weapons in our hands it become easy for the state to kill us.” This is an appealing statement made by him in the movie which is the core and central principle of Ambedkarites and their movements who believe in the legal and democratic way of achieving social justice.
Second incident in the movie, which has nicely been portrayed and can be considered as conventional to the Dalit politics today is how the upper caste political leaders make use of Dalits for the vote bank merely to serve their political interests. This reality is shown in the movie in the form of fake “Dalit-Brahmin” political unity, where the Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from the Hindu upper caste uses local Dalit leader as a means to influence Dalit votes. To serve this purpose the MLA goes to the village to inter-dine and exchange food with Dalits as a mark of affection and concern for them. Nevertheless, the movie has nicely captured the real face of the Brahmins and the uncomfortable expression of the MLA while eating with Dalits. In real life situations also this discomfort is deeply rooted in the Brahmins when it comes to sharing an equal platform with Dalits. Brahmins do not want Dalits to be at their level. The movie clearly shows the greedy and hypocrite approach of the Brahmins, as it is revealed by Gaury when she said; “netaji khana aur khane ki plate bahar se laye the” (the leader brought his food and plates from outside). This movie undoubtedly depicts the Dalit-Brahmin political unity in the hands of Brahmin as fake. It is there merely to make Dalits as Hindu majority voters to use them for their own political benefits.
Another important incident where one Jatav (Dalit) police officer shown slapping a Brahmin (A character playing as Bhramadatt ) upper caste senior officer who is one of the culprits in the gang rape. It is very symbolic that Dalit is asserting his identity and giving a slap to the Brahmin who has been exploiting them since history. This slap is not limited to this single character in the movie, it is a slap to the entire dominant structure which is shown by the director Mr. Anubhav Sinha. For Dalits it is hard work and encounters so many odd situations in their life they reach a respectable position. However, because of their caste location, they have to face discrimination and humiliation by upper castes. Through this movie we can say, it is an attempt to show this caste cruelty and discrimination by upper castes where Dalits are not merely put as a subject but challenging the exploitative structure.
Though there is misrepresentation of Dalit characters and appropriation of Ambedkarite Dalit movement by putting Ambedkarite, Gandhian and Marxist together, yet, this movie over all challenges the Brahmin supremacy over Dalits. It is an attempt to socialise Brahmins by the Brahmin character. There have been some debates from the marginalised sections on how can the privileged Brahmin hero be investigating the Dalit issues and becomes the saviour for Dalits as these privileged Brahmins themselves are the main oppressors who exploit them. Nevertheless, if we see from the other angle, we can argue that it is also equally important to allow a privileged Brahmin who should come forward and socialise his Brahmin community and question their supremacy. Similarly in this movie, Mr. Anubhav Sinsha tried to make the Brahmins accountable for their caste atrocities against Dalits. He deliberately chose a Brahmin hero that too of a top rank investigation officer to “set him free to go either way, but he chose the right path” said by Anubhav Sinha. The main crux of having the Brahmin hero is to focus on “It is the privileged who should challenge the privileged, because the privileged have created this system of caste”. It is true that we have been fighting against the caste system throughout history, there were times in which we won but most of the time we lost, and were unable to eradicate it. Therefore, it is equally important for Brahmins also, who created this mess of a caste system, to question it and challenge the caste organisations themselves.
Of course perhaps, a little effort should have been made by the director to stick with one particular issue of the brutal gang rape of the two Dalit girls in Badaun(2) rather picking up some other incidents like lynching of seven Dalit youths in Una, Gujrat and suicide of Rohit Vemula. These incidents are equally important and as a subject of the movie, Article 15 of the constitution, they are also relevant. However, the movie gives very little space to explore them in detail.
- The word Dalits Implies those “who have been broken, reduced to pieces and ground downed by those above them in a deliberate and active way” (Zelliot, 1996). Although the term Dalit has some time been extended to other oppressed groups such as Tribal, Woman, Minorities and other oppressed groups, but here in this article the word Dalits is exclusively used for the ‘ex-untouchables’ that is for ‘Scheduled Castes’. The constitution of India recognized ‘ex-untouchables as a Scheduled Castes. (See Thorat, S. (2009). Dalits in India: Search for a Common Destiny. New Delhi: SAGE Publications Pvt. Ltd.
- The Badaun gang rape is an incident that happened in Badaun district of the Indian state of Uttarpradesh where two teenage girls from the Dalit community were brutaly gang raped and murdered by some upper caste people.
About the Authors
Nikhil Walde, from Nagpur, Maharashtra (India), is currently working on a theme “Navayana Buddhism and Education” for his PhD research in Social Sciences from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. His previous (M.Phil.) research was on “Decentralization and Dalits: Analyzing Marginality and Access to Welfare” under the School of Research Methodology, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He has worked in Tata Motors as a Fellow in their CSR activities and conducted a baseline study to identify the needs and problems of the two tribal villages in Palghar district Maharashtra. He was associated with an organization called Youth for Self and Social Change at Nagpur, where he contributed his work as a volunteer to work on the educational development of the slum students. My research areas include Caste, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj System, Education and Navayana Buddhism.
Vicky Nandgaye, from Nagpur, Maharashtra (India), is currently working on a Ph.D. research entitled, “Adoption of Information Technology by Small Shops to Manage the Influence of E-commerce based Retail.”. His previous (M.Phil.) research was on “Precarious Employment of Construction Workers and Mapping Decent Work Deficits” under the school of Management and Labour Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He has also been engaged with a Nagpur based organisation namely, Youth for Self and Social Change, which is working on promotion of higher education and personality development of students who are residing in slums of Nagpur. His research areas include unorganised labour, migration, labour laws, decent work, e-commerce, and retailing.