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The deaf state depletes trust, and the people must respond

Red Ant Dream, Sanjay Kak’s latest film, studies the possibilities of people’s revolt in India. It joins an impressive body of work looking at how the state and the powerful have colluded across the nation to silence peaceful protest, writes Tanushree Bhasin

Tanushree Bhasin  4th May 2013

Sanjay Kak

few years ago, as a part of the college film society, a few friends and I organised a screening of Sanjay Kak's documentary about Kashmir — Jashn-e-Azadi (How We Celebrate Freedom). It had created quite a stir wherever it was screened for its controversial stance against the Indian army's occupation of Kashmir and it seemed like the kind of film that was important to watch, whether you agreed with the director's views or not. After the film's screening at other South Delhi campuses were disrupted by right wing groups, the college decided to call off the screening and instead invited Kak to come and speak to the students about cinema and censorship. Almost six years later, his film continues to face just as much censure with Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce, Pune, cancelling a screening of the film last year under pressure from ABVP.

As I wait at Kak's house to collect a copy of his latest film — Red Ant Dream (Maati Ke Laal), I wonder if this one too is likely to face similar problems. "Let's see how Red Ant Dream is received. One can never say for certain how people might react," he says casually. Third in a series of films that question and problemetise the idea and workings of Indian democracy, following Jashn-e-Azadi (2007) and Words on Water (2003), Red Ant Dream explores the possibility of a peoples' revolution in India. Turning his lens towards the struggles of adivasis in the mineral-rich hills of Odisha, the armed insurrection in Bastar, and peasants' rebellions in Punjab, he looks at the lives of those who keep the revolutionary ideal alive despite adverse circumstances. "Will the Maoists succeed with their revolution? Will the adivasis of Niyamgiri manage to hold on to their hills? Will the small farmers and peasants of Punjab manage to rally around older symbols of revolt and extricate themselves from the crisis that agriculture is in? We don't know. But we know that there is such a thing as a fair and honourable fight, and that's the Red Ant Dream in some ways," he explains.

I recently watched Kak's older film Words on Water about the peaceful struggle of the people against the Sardar Sarovar Dam, again. The film's end was marked by a strange sense of foreboding, dwelling on the imminent death of peaceful protests in India, a reality that Red Ant Dream seems to articulate. The last words spoken in Words on Water were — "When reasoned, non-violent protest is ignored, time after time, for years, decades ... when a society does not honour peaceful resistance, then by default, it privileges violence." Given how militant the state's repression tactics have become lately, one might argue that the state has no intention of listening to the voices of its own people. "I think the Supreme Court judgement in the Sardar Sarovar case marked a major point of departure, when that mode of protest, that carefully argued, reasonable, peaceful satyagraha began to look as if it had run aground. I think that lessons have been learnt over these last few decades, people's movements are less trusting of the State, more suspicious of the intentions of capital. There is more militancy in the air and it's been curbed with a very harsh hand. Armed resistance has found an increasing number of adherents," he says.

It’s ironic isn’t it — with literally hundreds of 24X7 news channels and an equal number of newspapers, we are still never able to breach the borders that the powerful set up for us... — Sanjay Kak

In a sense Red Ant Dream gives a face to what the state calls the 'greatest internal security threat' to the country. With these lines by revolutionary socialist Bhagat Singh, 'Let us declare that the state of war does exist and shall exist' it also lays bare the mechanics of the undeclared war that the state wages with its own people. "It's ironic isn't it — with literally hundreds of 24X7 news channels and an equal number of newspapers, we are still never able to breach the borders that the powerful set up for us. It is important to give a face: at the end of the day, to be confronted with the direct speech — and the face — of an adivasi from Niyamgiri, or an activist from Punjab, or an armed guerrilla from Bastar: there is only so much denial that you can get into finally," he adds.

ike his other films, Red Ant Dream too makes it abundantly clear where the director's sympathies lie. His cinema of resistance reflects his interests in ecology, alternative life practices and resistance politics as encountered in films like In The Forest Hangs a Bridge (1999), One Weapon (1997), Harvest of Rain (1995) etc. Over the last few years ,Kak, along with Arundhati Roy, has been a vocal critic of the Indian state's oppressive practices in Kashmir as well as Chattisgarh. In print and video interviews, both have often critiqued the state's dodgy affair with capitalism and foreign investment. It makes one wonder if it is possible for India to fulfil her neo-liberal aspirations without colonising a part of her population, the way it already seems to have. "Capitalism and colonialism, the two are conjoined twins; one just won't happen without the other. Western capitalism was built on the extraction of wealth from the colonies. Holland, Belgium, Spain, France, all of them have horrendous histories of colonisation. Now, if India and China want to walk the same path, well, they'll have to colonise their own. Chattisgarh for cheap iron ore, Odisha for Bauxite, and Kashmir for energy," he explains.

Walking alongside revolutionaries in all these regions, the film also traces the counter struggle launched by the army and the local police forces. What come under the scanner particularly are the activities of the Salwa Judum, an armed militia of locals in Chattisgarh, sponsored and supported by the state. Despite the Supreme Court declaring the outfit illegal and unconstitutional, it seems that the reality on the ground is quite different. "The arming of civilians has an old history in India, triggering off a frightening scenario of fratricidal violence that is designed to break communities from within. For a brief period the Salwa Judum seemed to be on the back foot. I think the case in the Supreme Court and the enormous outrage triggered by civil society groups did have an effect. But we also saw the Chattisgarh government blatantly turn around and absorb the cadres into the police force. So the cadres are there, only in better uniforms," he suggests.

All of this is done in the name of internal security. As if in answer, the film quotes Punjabi poet Pash's haunting lines — "If the security of the land calls for a life without conscience... then the security of the land is a threat to us". Fighting this threat, one film at a time, Kak emerges a different person at the end of the filmmaking process, he says. "That's what is so exciting about the documentary form. You begin with a hunch, and an urge to explore it, and then you throw yourself into this fast-flowing stream of events and facts and histories. Then you slowly learn to negotiate those currents till you find your stroke. That's when you get a sense of what the story is, and find a language to tell your story," he says, winding up.

Film Screening

Film: Red Ant Dream

Date: May 7, 2013 

Time: 7.00 pm

Venue: Stein Auditorium, IHC


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