Co-option of Dalit leaders has resulted in more atrocities on Dalits in universities and higher education institutes, says the lead actor of the Oscar-nominated film ‘Court’

Cultural activist and lead actor of the Oscar-nominated film ‘Court’ Vira Sathidar has a new found interest in motion pictures after the success of his first film, and wishes to make one on his own script if he can find a producer.

“I had no interest in films earlier. After ‘Court,’ I want to act and make a film if I can. But for my kind of script, it is hard to find a producer,” says the actor, who donned the role of Narayan Kamble, a cultural activist just like him, in ‘Court’.

Mr. Sathidar is currently shooting for his second film ‘Mritak,’ which is loosely based on the story of Lal Bihari ‘Mritak’ from Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh district. The script, in which he plays the lead, depicts the struggle of three generations to prove that a ‘dead’ man was actually alive.

‘Court’ is a pioneering film in the 113-year-old Indian film industry, in which a Dalit activist is portrayed a confident person who is fearless and questions the state, says Mr. Sathidar.

“Though the first film ‘Raja Harishchandra’ featured a Dalit man in a heroine’s role, the Dalits have not got their due from the industry. No film talks about the issue of caste. Even when Dalit characters are shown, they are depicted as helpless and vulnerable,” he notes.

A case in point was the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, which triggered nation-wide agitations, but could not become the script for any film.

Hailing from Parsodi village near Nagpur in Maharashtra, Mr. Sathidar’s parents worked with Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar. He could not pursue his academics owing to lack of resources, and began to work in a Nagpur factory, which brought him close to the Left ideology. Later, he was attracted to Dalit Panthers, born out of frustration with the then Dalit leadership moving closer to the ruling party.

He placed Rohith Vemula’s death in the post-Dalit Panthers conditions, wherein the radical Dalit voices were co-opted by the ruling class.

“The leadership which fought Shiv Sena in Bombay has now become its ‘ ghulam’ …. The leadership which fought BJP is now its ghulam … Kawade, Athawale, Udit Raj, or Ramvilas Paswan, they have all joined hands with those in power. Their parties are still together, not split. It has come to be accepted as normal,” says Mr. Sathidar.

The co-option of Dalit leaders has resulted in more atrocities on Dalits in universities and higher education institutes.

“Rohith Vemula was not an ordinary student. He was a true Ambedkarite. Armed with the Marxist analytical methods, which were and still are absent in Ambedkarite movement; he put up a trenchant fight against the state. This is why the state didn’t want him,” says Mr. Sathidar.