Dissent against irrationality
This week a significant film titled ‘Court’ was released in Hyderabad, in just one screen at one multiplex, for one show a day.
The family and friends have been appealing for bail for Prof Saibaba even as his health is deteriorating in jail where even minimum facilities do not exist for keeping disabled persons. In fact, CrPC Section 437 Amendment (2013) mandates that physically challenged persons may be tried, but cannot be arrested and kept in prison
This week a significant film titled ‘Court’ was released in Hyderabad, in just one screen at one multiplex, for one show a day. One is not sure for how long it will enjoy this privilege, despite the fact that many cinephiles trooped all the way to the theatre to catch the show. The ingenious modes of stifling of dissent that happens in our country under the often collusive irrationality of the investigating officers and the courts is the core of the film.
Briefly, the film traces the judicial process in a case where the police slap charges of abetment to suicide on a singer of radical songs because a manual sewer cleaner dies while he is cleaning a manhole. The police label the death of the worker as suicide and charge the radical singer for abetment and then proceed to cook up evidence to buttress their case. As we watch the legal process in the film unfold, we are confronted with the complexities of class and caste packaged in a sharp humour. We also come up against the might of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
While watching the film, one is reminded of the real life case of the Delhi University English Professor G N Saibaba. He was kidnapped by the police nearly a year back from Delhi without any information to the next of kin and taken to Nagpur. Prof Saibaba is wheel chair-bound and 90% disabled. He cannot function without constant assistance and keeps poor health. But he is a man of conscience and felt it was his duty as a citizen of this country to build public opinion about state violence against adivasis in the name of “Operation Green Hunt.”
The Maharashtra police initially searched his home in Delhi without a search warrant, according to reports, claiming that he was in possession of stolen property from a theft in Ahir police station at Gadchiroli. The reports also allege that the police took away all his academic work on hard disks and computers without bothering to seal any of the materials as per procedure required for confiscation.
The family and friends have been appealing for bail for Prof Saibaba even as his health is deteriorating in jail where even minimum facilities do not exist for keeping disabled persons. In fact, CrPC Section 437 Amendment (2013) mandates that physically challenged persons may be tried but cannot be arrested and kept in prison.
The courts have been repeatedly rejecting the bail pleas of Prof Saibaba. The realistic, tragic-comic portrayal of the court proceedings in the film show how easy it is to rig the legal process through the rule books when the system wants to crush dissent. The fabrication of evidence, the stock witnesses, the straight-faced and mechanical ‘job’ that the public prosecutors do is all an indictment of the system.
On repeated complaints of Prof Saibaba’s family that the prison authorities are not providing suitable diet and care for him, a week before the last hearing the authorities provided whatever the family requested and produced the record for the court. The judge rejected the bail plea once again since improved care is being provided now. But according to the family, the facilities have been withdrawn immediately after the rejection of the bail petition. It will be a year by early May since Prof Saibaba has been arrested.
It is unclear what evidence has been collected, what the crime was or where this case will go. The only thing that is quite evident is that the system will not tolerate any dissent. If an intellectual has the courage of his convictions and peacefully propagates an alternative vision of society, such an intellectual will be made an example out of to intimidate others. If Prof Saibaba, who is wheel chair-bound, can be treated as a grave threat to the unity and integrity of a highly militarised, nuclear-armed mighty nation, others would do well to back off.
The film also depicts this invisible state, whose instrument in the shape of a policeman is before us, but the larger forces that are working through him are hidden from our view. Who would want to silence a radical singer who is awakening the people to recognise their real enemies, and who would want to silence a professor who is fulfilling his mandate to educate the society around him about the need for human values?
The film has picked up 15 international awards before its release in India, but the film found no wider release in the predatory film market that leaves little room for alternative cinema. It is a film that needs to be seen by a much larger audience. The market does the job of limiting audience for such films even as movie halls are flooded with ‘Kaasko,’ ‘Thimmiri’ and such others.
By Padmaja Shaw