You may have met some seemingly secular people of our republic. You may have even seen some of them walking around listless since May last year, to perhaps the end of the world which they say is nigh.
They would have us believe that we live in terrible times. If you have a word with them, they’ll tell you that one appointment at a time, one riot and one ban at a time, one censored or bullied film at a time, India is inching closer to becoming a majoritarian Hindu Rashtra. They’d have us believe that the Swachchh Bharat under construction, those smartly turned out cities with bullet trains, may mean more than just clean streets with walls that don’t reek of urine. That the achche din we are living in are actually corrosive from within.
They’d also have us believe that two documentaries — En Dino Muzaffarnagar, which the government didn’t want us to see till last year, but has now allowed “restricted” viewing for adults only after three cuts and a no objection certificate from the Animal Welfare Board, and Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai, whose screenings are being physically stopped by activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad — tell the truth about how one political party, beginning early in 2013, planned, stoked and engineered communal tensions in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district which culminated in riots in September 2013.
That the Bharatiya Janata Party, through its overt actions, and the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party through their conspicuous absence, are guilty — of 100 murders, 80,000 people displaced, and 100 women raped. I have seen these two documentaries. And I can tell you that directors Shubhradeep Chakravorty, Meera Chaudhary and Nakul Singh Sawhney are very strange people. We, on the other hand, are very simple people. We often can’t sift truth from lies. That’s why our honourable leaders think that we shouldn’t watch these two films.
If we did, we could very well believe the story these two films tell. A strange and very disturbing story of communal hatred incited by our respected leaders, by revered men and women in saffron clothes with long, holy red tilaks. We could even start wondering if there’s another side to Bharatiya sabhyata, to Indian sanskriti and parampara. We could even start believing that the law-abiding, calm, peace-loving Hindu could be manipulated to chop and burn neighbours, and rape women. This same canard was spread about Gujarat in 2002.
Shubhradeep Chakravorty died of brain haemorrhage on August 25 last year, while he was, according to filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, “enduring the numbing CBFC bureaucracy and the pain of cynical rejection, perhaps becoming the first human casualty of India’s rotten censorship regime.” The censor board had said that En Dino Muzaffarnagar was “highly critical of one political party and its top leadership by name” and gave the “impression of the said party’s involvement in communal disturbances”. Chakravorty was a repeat offender. Unlike our honourable courts, he issued no clean chits. His first film, Godhra Tak, was also highly critical of one political party.
Both Sawhney and Chakravorty-Chaudhary's films purportedly present a 360-degree view of months of meticulous work that led to the violence on September 7 and 8, 2013. If you were to watch these films you’d think that they’ve been shot in Muzaffarnagar, and capture and convey the birthing of a riot rather meticulously. You’d think that the many people interviewed — in their homes, on the streets, in tiny huts manipulated out of poles and plastic sheets in relief camps, village heads who say they saw nothing sitting next door to burnt homes of Muslim families and village heads who say they didn’t allow the mobs to enter their village, and women and girls who talk of all men behaving badly with them all the time, everywhere, Hindu men and Muslim men, and dalits and labourers, children, mothers, wives — were all real.
Sawhney’s film even begins with a child drawing — on a blank sheet, with a pencil and a ruler — the scene of alleged rioters outside her house, of her scared family held hostage inside. Clearly, she’s been taking art classes. Then there’s an old woman telling the story of her house, a haveli with 52 doors that was burnt down, along with her daughter’s jewels, of one chopped body, another burnt one, even a burnt horse. A certificate from the Animal Welfare Board would be the real test of truth. Both documentaries tell the same story, but slightly differently. En Dino Muzaffarnagar is a better shot, better edited, better conceptualised film. It seems to tell its fabricated story organically.
Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai, which is almost entirely in TV reportage style and is fearless in its fabrication, at times looks like the first draft that needed some editing. But both are devious dossiers, fake chargesheets even. Both, in fact, seem to be in some sort of conspiracy for they both tell the story of how, the BJP, which had won just 10 seats in the last two Lok Sabha elections, won 71 seats in 2014. They show footage of the alleged systematic, multi-pronged execution of the plan — polarise before polls — which began with the BJP turning every commonplace eve-teasing incident into a communal attack on girls of one community.
They show how, allegedly with the compliance of the sensation-seeking local media, communal speeches were made and disseminated, fake videos circulated, that there was, at election rallies, rousing talk of beti-bahuon ki izzat being under attack, of Mian Mulayam and Mughals, of this election being all about taking “apman ke badla” and “sabak sikhana”, of love jihad, of kriya and pratikriya. They show, after the murder of one Shahnawaz, followed by mob lynching of Sachin and Gaurav, alleged footage of a Mahapanchayat and its armed participants who, in two days flat, turned the city once known as Mohabbat Nagar into Nafrat Nagar.
Both films weave this hoax cunningly, even casting Amit Shah, two local leaders who were felicitated two months after the riots at Narendra Modi’s rally in Agra, Sadhvi Prachi and others. Both films expect us to believe that all this happened just 100 km from Delhi. That it happened under our watch, and that of Dr Manmohan Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sonia Gandhi. Come on, Muzaffarnagar! Thankfully, the directors have interviewed the few people who tell the truth to the camera.
The accused and family members of the accused tell the real story of how many families belonging to one community burnt their own homes, and some of their family members — old and young men and children — and voluntarily moved what was left of their families to relief camps where some of their children died, and some went silent out of shock. They tell us how these people even manipulated the administration to drive them out of these relief camps overnight, in biting winter, and are now living wherever they could find a patch of land, whereas they could, you know, return to the homes they burnt down, to live next to neighbours who saw nothing and did nothing.
The directors also spoke to the women and girls of Muzaffarnagar. Many studying, some working, a few slogging in the fields. All seem tutored. The working women and students speak against their families, against their community. They talk of the riots, how they do not want to carry the burden of their families’ izzat because it’s in these very families where they have no rights, and this is where they are often abused. The Jat women working in their fields talk of their Muslim friends, i.e. farm workers, who are now gone. Forever.
These moments are powerful and you and I, the gullible, would think that these female voices are telling the truth. We’d even think that the farmers and union leaders are telling the truth when they say that the riots have been successful in breaking the farmers’ union and benefitting sugar mill owners. The price of sugarcane, that used to be set earlier by the powerful, united union, is now being decided by the mill owners. I should have a word with Meera Chaudhary, about the lies she tells in her film, about her own people. She’s a Jat from Muzaffarnagar and she lost her husband to these lies....