Nakul Singh Sawhney is back with his latest - a short documentary titled, rather tellingly Kairana, Surkhiyon Ke Baad... (Kariana, After the Headlines), on the alleged exodus of Hindu families that took place in Kairana, Uttar Pradesh recently. The director\'s last film, Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai, a searing look at the reality of the riot-affected UP city, ran into controversy and a lot of right wing disruptions. But, as Sawhney says, it has become a bit of a habit to have screenings disrupted.
Sawhney\'s latest film trains its lens on the inhabitants of Kairana to glean out the truth behind the allegations of mass migration of Hindus - as alleged by Kairana BJP MP Hukum Singh. It puts perspective on the element of fear by getting on camera the people who live out their daily struggles in Kairana. It also traces those who are forced to "migrate" to other places - not because of any morbid fear of the "majority" Muslims of the area. But because of poverty, acute unemployment and general deprivation.
Sawhney\'s film assumes importance in the light of an NHRC report that was released on 21 September which, in almost as direct a manner as possible, supported the claims that the migrations from Kairana might have happened because of one community\'s heightened fear of another community.
In this interview with Catch, Sawhney talks about the basic difference between Muzaffarnagar and Kairana, how the situation in Kairana is far from what\'s being peddled by the BJP, and how women are subjected to patriarchal pressures within the communal violence narrative.
As a director, what similarities and/or differences did you notice in the on-ground narrative while shooting Muzaffarnagar vis-a-vis Kairana?
Many similarities. Questions of caste and communal discord for example - how the dominant caste is at work, vilification of the minority community, which is the Muslims - and which happens to be the majority community in this particular case! The question of women's honour and the playing up of that angle to stir communal disharmony, how the Pasmanda Muslims and Dalits have both been at the receiving end of aggressive politics.
In terms of difference, one of course is here the dominance is of the Gujjars and there it was of the Jats. Another difference I feel is, one saw a lot of response to the communal rhetoric of the Sangh parivar in Muzaffarnagar, Shamli at that time. In this case, I don't feel people have responded as much to the vitriol being spread. Of course in Kairana it's Muslim dominated so it wouldn't be a huge factor but even when I was travelling through Muzaffarnagar, Shamli while working on this documentary, I felt that people are a lot less receptive to the Sangh's rhetoric this time around and they won't just buy anything that's being peddled to them.
Even among the Jat community I realised that such hate speeches/ conspiracies hadn't really struck a chord and they were quite critical of Hukum Singh, the BJP MP for raking up non-issues and communalising it. There aren't many takers this time of the communal politics the Sangh has to offer, is what I felt.
Do you feel that the mainstream media or political parties views these films through a stereotypical left-liberal prism?
Not sure about the politicians but mainstream media is also very varied to begin with. The broader nature of mainstream media is of course problematic as it's heavily corporatised but within that also you'll have some journalists striving to give you relevant stories, not necessarily through a left-liberal angle. But yeah, over all, I don't know how they're looking at such works. Yes, it could be true that in their mind they look at these films through a typical left-liberal prism.
The kind of political films you do, is there a noticeable difference in how audiences in cities and rural belts perceive your work?
For my films, which have been extensively screened at small venues, I've noticed a big change in how the audience reacts vis-a-vis reactions from the urban upper middle class audience. The former, I've felt are more perceptive and they have a more nuanced understanding of the film, bringing up points I didn't notice about my own film.
How much footage did you originally have and can you talk about some of the editorial decisions you took to produce a compact 27-min feature? What's the reason for keeping it short?
Kairana block is much bigger than Kairana town with close to 45 villages. While travelling we interviewed a number of peasants and other people from the block as well who voiced their dissatisfaction with the politics at play there. But since the core issues and complaints revolved specifically around the town, we decided to stick only to it. Otherwise the film would've gone in a lot of directions.
What problems did you face while shooting for the film?
No not really. I did face during the shooting of Muzaffarnagar but not for this one.
The NHRC report said that at least 4 families mentioned in the displaced list migrated to Dehradun (Uttarakhand) and Surat (Gujarat) from Kairana, and women were molested as well, forcing some to migrate. Since you've travelled on the ground for the film, what's your take on this observation?
I don't know about Surat but I might've heard about someone migrating to Dehradun. But here's my point - it's such a preposterous thing to say that Muslim men are selectively singling out Hindu women and molesting them. All the women I spoke to, Hindus and Muslims, said that everybody is vulnerable to sexual harassment - not just in Kairana but other places in western UP as well.
In fact, one of the women in the film says on camera that Kairana might have 80% Muslims and 20% Hindus, but it's not like that 20% is any better than the others in their attitude towards women. It's because Kairana is a Muslim-majority town that the actions become more evident.
Just yesterday in a local paper, there was news of a Muslim family migrating because of growing crime in the region. Both Hindus and Muslims have migrated because of lack of opportunities, poverty and infrastructure. People have left because of bad law and order situation - but the law situation is bad for everybody.
Any other instance where you felt any one community was wrongly painted as the culprit?
In 2014 several traders, including Muslims had got extortion threats. Two of the traders, who happened to be Hindus, got killed by the Mukeem-Kala gang. There was a protest in Kairana against those murders, pressurising the police to take action. The market was shut for over a week - and this is a known fact which you can verify with records, that Muslims participated in a much bigger way in that protest than the Hindu traders did. Everyone knows this in Kairana.
Even Hukum Singh had to back out and later retract his statement saying that it wasn't communalism but a break down of law and order. But he still added a caveat, saying the victims are Hindus and the perpetrators are Muslims, and that's not true. The perpetrators maybe Muslims as of now but there have been many Hindu gangs as well in the past. And Kairana Muslims have also been victims of violence. In a Muslim-majority area you will have Muslim criminals and in a Hindu-majority area, you'll have Hindu criminals - it's common sense!
One of the women in the film talks about how the men who harass don't check if they're Muslim/ Hindu. It's because they are men and hence a need to assert. How do you explain this strand of patriarchy and how do you counter it at that level?
In my opinion what's happening is that a large section of younger women, specially from slightly more economically stable background, they're entering the public domain more now. And a lot of growing crime that's happening against women - religious violence, moral policing - it's because they are much more in the public space than before. So there needs to be a strong progressive intervention on this front.
Unfortunately, what's happening now is that the BJP & RSS are using this phenomenon in places like western UP to communalise the situation. Even 'love jihad' was reminiscent of the Khap panchayat brand of moral policing. At the heart of both, the point is you don't want to let women marry outside the community. In both cases the parties feel women can't marry out of their own choice, like women are stupid and can easily be duped. So all this violence also is a form of patriarchal backlash - a way of curbing a woman's sexuality and independence.
In fact, this entire brand of violence - communal tension, what it does is it pushes women back into their homes and restricts their movement, makes them more vulnerable. This is a consistent struggle that must be done. My only deal is you can't address the issue of communalism in India at least, without addressing caste and patriarchy as well. These problems don't exist in isolation.
Do you expect disruptions for this film's screening as well?
Ab toh aadat ho gayi hai!
Are you planning on screenings/discussions anywhere else anytime soon?
A premier public screening will happen at Cinema of Resistance's Udaipur edition.
Online media has become the only viable platform for artists it seems...
No, everything is viable. Online media is very important and great. But dissemination technology has become so much more accessible and cheap... now you have so many screenings at small makeshift venues and open-air spaces, much more than before.
But this exposes it to more random disruptions...
You have to see that the disruptions are happening because of greater penetration. One disruption happened for my film on Muzaffarnagar and there were so many screenings all across the country. I've been told by so many that they've seen my film screening and I wasn't even aware of where it was getting screened. Now what's happening is that films are acquiring a life of their own, and though disruptions are unfortunate, it just means the films are getting more effective - enough to merit such backlash!