For thousands of years, India’s Dalits were abhorred as “untouchables,” denied education and treated as bonded labor. By 1923, Bhimrao Ambedkar broke the taboo, won doctorates abroad, and fought for the emancipation of his people. He drafted India’s Constitution and led his followers to discard Hinduism for Buddhism. His legend still spreads through poetry and song. In 1997, a statue of Dr. Ambedkar in a Dalit colony in Mumbai was desecrated with footwear. As angry residents gathered for a peaceful protest, police opened fire, killing 10. Vilas Ghogre, a leftist poet, hung himself in protest. Shot over 14 years, Jhai Bhim Comrade delves into the history of the caste system, the police killings, and the aftermath, following the poetry and music of people like Vilas and marking a subaltern tradition of reason that, from the days of the Buddha, has fought superstition and religious bigotry. (Anand Patwardhan, India, 169 min., digital video)
Anand Patwardhan has been making political documentaries for over four decades, pursuing diverse and controversial issues that are at the crux of social and political life in India. Many of his films were at one time or another banned by state television channels in India, rulings that Anand successfully challenged in court. Anand has been an activist ever since he was a student, having participated in the anti-Vietnam War movement, Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers Union, and the civil liberties and democratic rights movement during and after the 1975-77 Emergency. Since then he has been active in movements for housing rights of the urban poor, for communal harmony and participated in movements against unjust, unsustainable development, militarism and nuclear nationalism.
Ritika Kaushik is a film historian and video essayist with a focus on the study of documentary cinema and South Asian cinema. She received her PhD in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Chicago. Her academic and videographic research focuses on the history, aesthetics, infrastructures, archives, and afterlives of state sponsored documentaries in India.
Co-sponsored by the Film Studies Center, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, and the Committee on Southern Asian Studies.