Today is 8th anniversary of Kandhamal pogrom, one of the worst communal violences against Christians in India. On this occasion we are publishing an interview with renowned film maker K.P Sasi who has completed a documentary on the pogrom “Voices from the Ruins: Kandhamal in Search of Justice”
Voices from the Ruins: Kandhamal in Search of Justice, the latest documentary by the renowned activist and film maker K.P Sasi, based on gruesome anti-Christian riots that took place in Kandhamal, Odisha, was released on July 17th, 2016. In the occasion of the release of the much awaited film, the director shares his Kandhamal experiences and challenges that he faced during the making of the film.
It is rare when a film maker goes into a site of calamity with his camera only to forget film making and turn into a full time activist. This was the vortex into which K.P Sasi, the renowned film maker and activist found himself being sucked into.
Seven years had already passed when 130 hours of footage was shot for the making of the documentary on the Sangh Parivar orchestrated communal violence in Orissa. While he wrapped up another film (Fabricated: Documentary Film on the Fabricated Cases on Abdul Nasar Maudany & Others), the Kandhamal film kept getting delayed. Though financial difficulties were one reason for this, Sasi’s slip from documentary maker to activist in the course of film making was central to the delay. Sasi concedes that once he is attached to a particular issue it is difficult for him to convert it into a creative work.
When Indian society stayed indifference to the Sangh Parivar lead anti-Christian pogrom in Kandhamal, Sasi travelled an arduous path to interfere in the matter and document it. Later he played a pivotal role in initiating discussions on the tragedy at national and international spheres through various platforms including Countercurrents.org , a well known web magazine he has been associated with.
With his continuous interaction with Dalits and Adivasis, he motivated and emboldened them to speak out about the calamity that had befallen them. Though the quest for justice to the victims have reached nowhere, Sasi’s contribution in the observance of Kandhamal Day by the residents is significant.
Born to K. Damodaran, one of the founders of Indian communist movement and prominent theoretician, Sasi travelled a path away from the status quo life. While he has left his mark as an author and cartoonist, cinema remained his weapon of choice for social intervention.
He has made over 30 documentaries and feature films receiving national and international attention. Sasi has been an active critic of Sangh Parivar forces and has worked constantly on various issues of human rights violations. At a time when these forces are in power, Kandhamal issue acquires an even greater relevance. In this interview Sasi shares in detail his experiences of working in Kandhamal since 2008 and his social analysis.
Q: Ghastly communal riots that occurred in Kandhamal did not attract much media attention in the initial stages. When did you start taking note of the incident and in what ways did you begin your interventions?
A: Beyond being a documentary film maker I have raised my voice against fascist attacks occurring in various parts of the country as well as government backed “corporate development”. A sizable number of activists including me have intervened and protested against these incidents. Protests were organized when Christian missionary Graham Staines was burned to death along with his children in Odisha. This was the first time the Sangh Parivar program against the Christian community came to the spotlight. After this event the anti-minority attacks intensified in Odisha since 2008.
I took part in a protest organized in Bengaluru against the human rights violations in Kandhamal where I proposed the idea of a T-Shirt campaign to spread awareness about the attacks on religious minorities in Odisha. About four thousand T-Shirts designed by me were distributed widely.
Before involving in the issue of Kandhamal, I had taken part in Adivasi struggles in Odisha and the anti-Posco movement. When Adivasis protesting against bauxite mining were shot dead in Kashipur, protests were held in Bangalore and we made a documentary film after documenting the protest in Kashipur. The documentary played a crucial role in the attracting public attention to the incident and creation of a fact finding committee. That was one of the initial reports on Kashipur struggle in English. The documentary film was called `Development at Gunpoint’.
Activists have used various methods of struggle to expose the real agenda of the Hindutva forces and the aggression of globalisation and development. It was during a padayatra march against POSCO in Odisha in January, 2009 that I happened to meet Father Ajaya Kumar Singh who headed an organization called Janavikas at that time in Kandhamal. He is an important human rights activist from Kandhamal. He belongs to a de-notified tribal community in Odisha and is currently a Dalit priest. He is one of the main persons to take the news of the incidents in Kandhamal to the outside world. Fr. Ajaya Kumar Singh lived near the pastoral house which was targeted by the rioters. His office was one of the first targets of destruction. Since he and his team were away in Bhubaneshwar attending an event, they escaped a major physical violence. However, they burnt down the pastoral house and his office. He had a keen interest in documentaries and his CDs of documentaries including Ram Ke Naam was destroyed in the fire. He told me that the victims of the attacks in Kandhamal were living under constant fear and anxiety, and asked me what could be done to uplift their morale.
Ajaya already had an idea about me and my work, and I assured him that a workshop could be conducted in the area. The idea was to show documentaries on relevant subjects in order to rebuild their courage and self-confidence. This was an intervention that we had tried in other areas with much success. Representatives from various struggles were trained to be shoot films through workshops conducted as a part of these programs. Father Ajaya was quite happy when I explained these to him and he invited me to Kandhamal.
Q: Even though the large scale violence had ended, people were still living in fear when outsiders went to the area to organize the workshop. What was the reaction of the Kandhamal residents to this? What was different about this workshop? Who were the participants of the workshop?
A: After speaking with Father Ajaya Kumar Singh, I contacted my friend and renowned documentary maker C. Saratchandran . Saarat is deep memory for many activists including me today. He was quite competent in activities of this kind. I decided to organize the workshop with his help. It was imperative that Kandhamal residents be made aware of the fact that anti-minority communal riots have been occurring at other places also and details regarding the resistance movements emerging against these riots in other areas be made available to them. A five day program that screens films that serve this purpose and facilitates discussions. This was the plan. 45 films were decided to be screened. I also decided to document the program.
It was at midnight when Sharat and I reached the pastoral house after the journey through the forest. Throughout the journey we were welcomed by the scorched sights of the violence. A jeep that the rioters burnt down seven months before and ravaged buildings lying abandond were before us. Feelings of mild fear and acute indignation were surging through me while my eyes absorbed the charred scenes like the panning of a camera.
It was with fear that the residents of the pastoral house opened the door for us but it soon gave way to joy as they recognised us. Two clergymen were present at the time there. Fr. Ajay was due to reach on the next day. Their eyes betrayed their feelings of hope at the arrival of outsiders in solidarity with them. Even while having meals at the pastoral house my eyes wandered to parts of the ceiling scorched in the arson.
While going through the first visual experience of Kandhamal I was resolved to make a serious documentary about the issue. Sarat, understanding this, had started to record the sights on camera. The next days we travelled through the remains of the calamity that was unleashed on the people there. What we witnessed were helpless people who were withdrawn into a shell due to fear. Those who would silently retreat into their homes when asked something. Women and children whose distressed looks were fixed somewhere unknown. I have seen similar sights in Gujarat too in the wake of the riots. But somehow, I felt as if there were more anxieties in the eyes of the people here.
The workshop started on the next day. 77 representatives including victims who had lost their loved ones and property and civil society activists from the area attended the event. Fr. Ajaya had already made all the arrangements for the workshop. Many prominent activists and film makers like Debaranjan Sarangi, Prafulla Samant Roy, Meghnad and Dhirendra Pandey reached the venue on various days to assist Sarat and me.
First film to be shown was against communalism. This was followed by one that introduced the various people’s struggles for survival. Such assorted films were shown at the workshop. No one spoke on the first day. The ice started to melt on the second day with a few participants starting to speak out. The discussions picked up on the third day with representatives actively engaging in discussions. Fourth day was even better with people bravely speaking out about the ghastly experiences they faced which they had so far concealed and participating in the discussions.
By the last day of the workshop they started to display more strength and were ready to propose that actions need to be taken on the issue. I proposed the creation of people’s tribunal in Delhi, a network of survivors’ organization and the formation of separate women’s groups and resistance forums. When discussion as to how to take the matter forward was initiated, they responded that people like me with previous experience in activism should come up with the plan of action. My mind kept telling me that I should keep the documentary aside and actively involve myself in the struggles for their survival. When suggestions from various people turned into requests, I decided to join in the efforts to formulate the future action plans like many others.
Q: What about the next initiatives aimed at spreading the awareness about the issue to the Indian capital and also the international sphere by way of activities such as organizing the people’s tribunal in Delhi with the participation of victims?
A: The primary goal of the tribunal was to bring to light the intensity and nature of the communal violence that was perpetrated on the minority community in the remote hilly area of Odisha. It was a platform organized to document the experiences of the victims.
It was also required that outside world realised that Kandhamal issue was not a question of any particular religious group but a human rights issue. Hence it was essential to garner the support and participation of activists who were not Christians also.
The idea was that people who had a proven track record in a particular field document the issues relating to that field. I had prior experience in forming a people’s tribunal during the 2004 tsunami. To coordinate the organization of the tribunal a National Soidarity Forum was formed with Ram Puniyani as the convenor and Dhirendra Panda as the coordinator. 54 groups working in various fields participated in the forum called National Solidarity Forum and many follow up meetings were organized. Paticipation by such prominent personalities including Justice Shah, Brinda Karat, Annie Raja, Javed Akhtar and Mahesh Bhatt made the tribunal which was held at the Delhi Constitution Club a grand success. Following the event a protest march was also held which attracted a huge mass participation.
Many from Kandhamal travelled to Delhi for the event. A large scale exhibition was also organized as a part of the event which showcased creations influenced by the riots by various artists like Sasi Memuri. My plan was to exhibit burnt vehicles and other such artefacts from the site of the riots but it was later dropped due to the massive expenses involved. Despite this, the media paid sufficient attention to the covering of the issues raised in the tribunal.
Q: Sangh Parivar forces have orchestrated many communal riots before they ascended to power. Gujarat genocide is generally discussed as their laboratory to unify the Hindu minds along communal lines. But there were other experiments prior to that which have seldom been discussed adequately. Is it correct to count Kandhamal as one such experiment? Can you analyse Kandhamal riots based on your experience?
A: While live news coverage of Gujarat riots spread like wildfire across India, incidents in Odisha never generated much discussion outside Orissa initially. Communal violence in 2008 in Kandhamal had the same fate. Due to this, we were much late in grasping the depth of the wounds that were inflicted on the region.
It was the hate campaign against Christmas celebrations in 2007 that deteriorated the situations in Kandhamal. Later in 2008, the hate campaign turned more organized and brutal. At least 93 people were killed. Over 6500 houses, and 350 churches and worship centres were destroyed. Many institutions of medical care, education and social service were set upon fire. More than 40 women were raped. Abused or molested and many people disappeared.
Kandhamal is a hilly region in Odisha, 80% of the residents of which are Adivasis and Dalits. Hindus who are migrants to the area account for only 20% of the population and they form the base for trade activities. These upper caste traders form the core support group of Sangh Parivar. The rest are members of indigenous communities.
Q: Riots in Gujarat and many other places were planned and executed by Swami Aseemananda who served prison term for multiple cases. It has been claimed that the communal agenda in Kandhamal was spearheaded by another swami named Lakshmanananda. Could you elaborate on this?
A: Sangh Parivar has a history of appointing various swamis at different stages to make a fertile social ground for the growth of BJP an area. These swamis have been at the forefronts of attempts to spread animosity among religious groups, conversion of people to Hindu religion and at times orchestrating full scale riots. Aseemanda, who is currently serving term in jail is one of them.
He has converted several Adivasis into Hindutva. Lakshmanananda was another such operative who was appointed in Kandhamal for similar activities. It was after 1967, when his activities in the tribal areas started that incidents of communal violence began in Kandhamal. Lakshmanananada was guided by the ideas of M.S Golwalkar who viewed Christians, Muslims and Communists as the prime enemies. He dreamt of an India without Christians and Muslims and to this end, he set up ‘Vanvasi Ashrams’ and strengthened the activities. Lakshmananda has categorically claimed that he was sent from the Himalayas by God to expel the Christians from Kandhamal.
From the outset, his campaign focused on hate campaigns against other religions. It has to be noted that hate campaign by people like Sasikala teacher in Kerala is also a continuation of these activities. Campaigns were launched against beef and Christmas celebrations. Separate schools were started for Adivasi children in the pretext of “civilizing” them. Swami had also developed a big influence among the local political groups and media. His interventions were in the role of a politician.
Attacks were launched against the minorities under his leadership at various stages. He had over 25 cases against him but influence among power corridors meant that no action was ever initiated. An argument while he was travelling in a car was wrongly propagated as Christians attacking him. Following this, his followers ordered the Christmas to be banned which led to widespread violence in the area in 2007.
Q: Many questions were raised regarding the assassination of the Swami as to whether it was the Maoists or Christians and who were behind the act. The riots following his death was aimed at annihilation of Christians. Did you learn the truth behind the incident during your journeys there?
A: It was the Maoists who killed the Swami and his followers after giving prior notice. However after the murder, his Sangh Parivar followers took to killing Christians instead of going after the Maoists. This contradiction has caused the entire events surrounding his death to be shrouded in mystery.
Gujarat pogrom is claimed to be the natural reaction to the death of Hindutva Kar Sevaks in the Godhra train fire. This is an explanation that satisfies the common sense. Many details including the manner in which the fire spread in the train came out later but they did not get the deserved attention. There was no comprehensive investigation into the incident. Sangh Parivar used the Godhra incident for an organized extermination of Muslims. Just as one can wonder if Godhra was orchestrated to create a justification to unleash violence on Muslims, it is not farfetched to doubt if Swami was killed for similar reasons to attack the Christians. Swami had multiple complaints against him including sexual abuse. Moreover, Kandhamal is a Maoist stronghold.
When allegations against Swami started to surface, the Maoists declared that he would be killed and they had put up posters informing this. Following this, police protection was extended to the Swami. Despite this, the armed attackers jumped the Ashram wall and managed to kill the Swami. Many have expressed their suspicion on the fact that protection by police and Sangh Parivar goons did not manage to stop the assassination.
Circumstantial evidences increase the mystery surrounding Swami’s death. Instead of channelling their wrath towards the Maoists, Sangh Parivar used Swami’s dead body to unleash violence on the Christians. Swami was killed on 23rd, August 2008. His followers took out a mourning procession where his body was carried for about 200 kilometres. Many prominent leaders including Pravin Togadia took part in the procession. All along the route of the procession murders, rapes, arson and other atrocities were unleashed. How did such widespread attacks occur within so few days? Without prior planning, it is not possible to launch attacks on such a large scale in a remote place like Kandhamal.
The attackers were armed with weapons like axe, swords and guns. Violence against Muslims in Gujarat started after it was called for during the procession carrying the dead bodies of the victims of Godhra train fire. The pattern of Gujarat riots were also repeated here. Subsequently riots spread unabated for days in the area.
Q: News had spread that Sangh Parivar had secretly sought help from Maoists to eliminate Swami. What happened later?
A: One of Swami’s attendants tells me in the documentary that Christians paid Maoists to kill Swami. If thugs can be mobilized during the mourning procession, it raises the question why they did not protect Swami before he was killed. Also, Maoist leader Sabyasachi has claimed that RSS had approached him to assassinate Swami. This revelation after he was arrested had come out in Times of India then. Though I do not know the extent of truth in all of this, the violence that occurred in Kandhamal cannot be seen as a natural reaction. Everything was meticulously planned. This leads one to suspect that Swami’s murder was also planned.
Q: I have heard that many were butchered in front of women and children. Women were not only raped but were dragged out of their houses and paraded through the streets. Echoes of the heart-breaking acts of violence sleeps there. As a person who has interacted closely with the victims, can you elaborate on these briefly?
A: I do not believe in approaching these calamities too emotionally and portraying it in the film in a sensational manner. Because, if we do that the perpetrators wins. They will gain pleasure from knowing that their acts have been successful in hurting their victims. My intervention there is to ensure the indefatigable spirit of the victims despite the horrific violence inflicted on them. Nonetheless, some unavoidable experiences of the calamity still echoes in my ears.
The attackers targeted Christian institutions including churches and educational institutions. They also targeted priests and believers of the Christian community and mercilessly butchered them. Many who are witness to the killings are silent now. The mental trauma that the violence inflicted on them runs deep. I am unable to forget the words of Safeera Naik who was witness to the brutal murder of her father Pastor Samuel Naik. Pastor was trying to protect the villages while the rioters were on the rampage. When the mob reached his house the women and children managed to hide in the bushes nearby. The mob demanded the Pastor to convert to Hinduism and when he refused he was asked to be prepared to die. When he said that he wanted some time to pray before they killed him, he was taken out of the house. The mob with sarcastic laughter chopped him down while he was reciting the bible.
The dead body lying abandoned in a field nearby was later burnt by the attackers. Pastor’s sick mother who was lying inside the house was doused in kerosene but the assailants fled before setting her on fire. When Safeera was narrating this incident to me her kids were silently standing nearby. All my attempts at getting them to talk turned fruitless. I have seen so many children in Kandhamal who have not yet recovered from the shock and trauma of the violence and require compulsory counselling.
What would be the future of these kids like? Ones whose education have been disrupted. Mentally damaged ones. I have tried to interview many kids there. They told me stories about how they had to survive without food for days after their families fled to the forests to escape the rioters. There was a kid who witnessed his father being tied up and burnt using kerosene. These children are mentally damaged. Father Chalan from Kerala was also attacked. Sister Meena from the Adivasi community was abducted, raped and later paraded naked through the streets.
Q: What was the condition of the state machinery during the riots? Have the perpetrators been punished? What is the current status of the cases?
A: BJD-BJP coalition government was in power in Odisha during the incident. Congress was in the centre. Police intervention was ineffective. There were 3,232 cases related to the riots of which only 828 were registered, according to government records. FIRs were submitted in 500 of these cases but proceedings were never completed. 248 cases were rejected for lack of evidence. Verdict was given in only about 178 cases and very few people were punished.
Nobody was convicted for destruction of churches. A large section of the population have not become normal yet. The survivors are constantly reminded that they are Christians and live in fear for it. Criminal justice delivery system was very weak. Police and other state agencies assisted the rioters. Gross inefficiency of the administration, political interference, failure of judiciary, media bias… All this contributed to the denial of justice. Add to this the fraudulent propaganda. On the one side it was propagated that religious conversions were the reason for the violence. On the other side it was also spread that the riots were due to the conflicts between Dalits and Adivasis. None of these were correct. People believed these misinformation campaigns. There was no forceful conversion in the area. There is no evidence for this. Has anyone seen conversions happen because children studied in Christian schools? Schools were destroyed claiming exactly this. Remember that children of many BJP leaders studied in Christian schools.
Q: Is there a historical reason for the development of violence against Christianity in Odisha? Since when did Adivasis and Dalits start converting into Christianity?
A: The first church in Kandhamal was set up in the 1850s. The first Hindu temple was built many years later in the 1950s with a gap of a century. When Christianity came to the region there already existed here a different community which was immersed in indigenous spirituality. There could be multitude of reasons for why the ancestors of the present Christians in Kandhamal converted themselves to Christianity. Economic, personal, social status… There is a lot of complexity behind the process. Adivasis and Dalits do not enjoy any significant status in the traditional Hindu society. They are treated as inferior communities. But they get some recognition in Christian communities.
The work of missionaries in the area had been service oriented. They undertook voluntary social work in the fields of education, health etc. There is no evidence for forced conversions around the time the riots occurred.
I have not heard of a history of Christian missionaries coming in the way of Adivasis worshipping their gods. There is no point approaching Sangh Parivar for proof. The riots are not a continuation of such cases. Despite this, the myth of forced religious conversion was spread by Sangh Parivar.
When it is claimed that religious conversion was at the crux of the issue, it is conveniently forgotten that the person regarded as the Father of Odisha, Madhusudhan Das, was somebody who converted himself into Christianity. Can the Sangh Parivar deny the person who was responsible for the creation of Orissa State?
When I approach this question a lot of historical contradictions come to my mind. This is because Odisha is the part of the historically important Kalinga. I have spoken with Adivasis of the region about the memories of their ancestors on this matter.
Adivasi people of the region look at emperor Ashoka with resentment for causing the Kalinga war. They regard him as an invader who massacred about 200,000 of their people. Most of the people who were killed were Adivasis and Dravidians. Though he came to power after the war, he did not enjoy significant acceptance among the masses. It was Buddhism that was accepted at the time. This is the reason why Ashoka converted to Buddhism. Later historians interpreted it as resulting from his remorse and reformation. In truth this was the strategic move of a ruler to gain acceptance and respect from the people.
I have recorded instances where people were forced to convert to Hinduism at the tip of a sword during the Kandhamal violence. The people who were converted in such fashion secretly visit churches even when they carry Hindu symbols on their body. Some people who converted out of fear speaks in our documentary film. The faith of the people cannot be changed under threat or force. Hence, people who were forcefully converted live a dual life here. There is no case against the people engaged in forceful conversions into Hinduism.
The victims of these forced conversions do not have the courage to step forward and complain. Though the news came in some national media like Tehelka, nothing much happened about it. It was the Sangh Parivar forces who were instrumental in bringing about the law that restricted conversions. It is they who blatantly violate the same law, applying forced conversions. Our secular forces have not been able to expose any of these. In the present context, it is for the preservation of religious freedom and not against religion itself that atheists including communists need to fight for. That is the Indian context. When violation of the constitution and Ghar Wapsi occurs, secularists should talk about religious freedom.
Q: Like in Gujarat, the Sangh Parivar used Dalits and Adivasis to unleash violence here as well. Did such a degree of division between members of different religions exist here? Did neighbours belonging to different religions remain peaceful during the riots?
A: Rioters employed the same method that Sangh Parivar swamis like Aseemananda used in Gujarat. There, the Dalits and Adivasis were trained for the riots and despatched to massacre Muslims. Here Dalits and Adivasis were mobilized to conduct violence on Dalit Christians and Adivasi Christians respectively. The fact that Sangh Parivar shrewdly and successfully exploited not only religious differences but also internal contradictions among castes and diversity within families to design the communal riot is a rarity in Indian history.
There are instances where a younger brother, influenced by the Hindutva ideology killed his elder Christian brother during the riots. Unable to face his mother, he became mentally ill. Many who took part in the attacks later fell prey to mental disorders. Majority of the people arrested for the riots were Dalits and Adivasis. Sangh Parivar purposefully exacerbated the minor insignificant issues between Dalits and Adivasis and claimed them to be the cause of the riots. That meticulous and precise was their interference.
I have not felt that there was any distance between a normal Hindu family and Christians. Hindus respected the Christian missionaries in the area. Some Hindu women sheltered many nuns during the riots. Satyabhama tells the story of how she arranged shelter for nuns and later had to accompany the rioters for the fear of being suspected by them.
It was into such an area where adherents of different religions peacefully coexisted, that some nefarious elements infiltrated with the intension of spreading criminal thoughts and religious bigotry. Real believers of Hinduism could not accept the programs of Sangh Parivar. Such was the anti-human and abhorrent nature of methods deployed by them during the riots.
Sister Meena who hid in the forest was given shelter by a Hindu women after she returned days later. Unfortunately, rioters found her there and dragged her out to be raped. Police did nothing even when help was requested. This incident led to much hue and cry later.
Two Hindu women who provided safety to victims during the riot were felicitated the women’s wing of CPI during an event in Delhi. The criminal logic of fascism did not just destroy families belonging to one particular religion. A local Adivasi BJP leader also was attacked and killed for trying to protect the Christians in his area. A Hindu girl who was raped because her uncle was a Christian.
Fascism is not related to religion. It is a political movement. The people who orchestrated riots in Gujarat and Kandhamal have no relationship with real religions or spirituality. Fascists are forces who politically exploit religious diversities.
Q: What is the condition of the people who fled Kandhamal following the riots. What is the current situation there? Could you shed light on this in the context of your interventions?
A: Over 56,000 people fled the region in 2008. Even though some of them have gone back, the flow of people out of here still continues. Thousands are living as refugees in many parts of the country. While some hid out in the forests for days and came out later, many are still missing. Many families continue to wait for the return of their near and dear.
Thousands of people who fled Kandhamal live in Kerala as well. People who are scared of revealing the name of their native place and living as daily wage labourers. These are Adivasis who speak Kui language. It needs to be remembered that they are not migrant labourers but refugees of communal genocide. Records of them do not exist with the governments of Odisha or Kerala. I do not know what position the Kerala society, especially activists would take regarding them. Interventions are required to rehabilitate them or re-establish the links with their families.
25th August, 2015 was observed as Kandhamal Day in the RSS stronghold of Raikia in Kandhamal district. The rally in which slogans demanding justice for victims were raised included people like Brinda Karat and Mani Shankar Iyer. The confidence that this day gave to the people of Kandhamal was enormous.
Through such interventions the issue attracted much national attention, due to which the groups responsible for the riots have become relatively inactive. The probability of a similar wide spread riot in the future is quite slim in Kandhamal, though many minor incidents are still taking place. In 2007 Hindutva groups led by Swami Lakxmananda had stopped Christmas celebrations of Christmas in area causing widespread attacks and church demolitions. Though these groups had tried again to stop Christmas celebrations last year, they were not able to foment any significant trouble.
Some of the ther documentaries made on the same topic focused solely on the pain of the survivors. I have tried to show the resistance of the people against the violence and the fact that there are people to speak for them. My investigation delves into aspects such as the historical context, complicity of the police, problems with the legal system, rehabilitation etc. Many emotional documentaries on communal issues have come out but that alone cannot take the anti-communal process forward.
An analytical approach is what is required. Without that, the activities will simply descend into being acts of charity. This film is not just about Kandhamal. It is also an analysis of how we approach ourselves within our democratic system and governance structure. Some documentaries tend to celebrations of victimhood. Some of such attempts document only the sensationalist elements. That does not mean that our film has abandoned the human and emotional areas. That was not my path. Even if it took a considerable amount of time, I had the space to do the documentary my way.
Q: Who all were with you in the making of the Kandhamal documentary? Especially those who were together artistically and technically.
A: The film is the product of efforts by various people who joined me in it without any expectation of economic gains. Cinematography was done by many like Neetu Saji, Vikram Nayak, Pankaj, Bhabanishankar Biliar and Kritika Agarwal. Initial editing was done by many like Nikhil Titus, Aditya, Bharat Ahire, Vikaram Nayak and Shiva Thorat. Finaal editing and background score was by Advocate P. Sajeev. Vini Varghese and Achu Sheela and Kritika became assistant directors at different stages. There are many others who worked for a larger purpose in the midst of severe economic hardships.
Q: I am aware that activism is in your blood. Do you think that in the case of Khandhamal, the documentary film maker was taken over by the activist in you to some extent?
A: I do not know about that. I was never just a documentary maker. That is also one of the reason why the film took so long to complete. I had many mediums in front of me. Music, writing, cartoons. I now feel I want to take up one of them. Reacting to things I see is in my nature. But documentary film making has landed me in debt and have caused other difficulties. I want to subdue myself creatively.
It is quite hard to sustain one self. Sometimes I have to beg to live. Living expenses are not what it used to be earlier. So film making becomes a risk. Activism itself is turning more expensive. Documentaries are becoming more costly technically and otherwise. I am unable to bear those. I cannot go ahead in this manner and I am unable to decide which one to stop. But I cannot let go of all this because so many people place their expectations on me and my own expectations on myself.
During the release of our film `Fabricated’, there were around 6 or 7 screenings in Delhi, some in Mumbai and some at Hyderabad, Chennai and other places. Local expenses are borne by the organizers during the screenings. Some cover the travel expenses also. Not everyone may be willing to do that. All of these become a burden.
Earlier I used to raise funds by selling cassettes. That was how I repaid the debts. I also had a team to assist me in also. Also the energy. I lack that today. What I learned from the film on Maudani was that more people view the films if you sell it cheap.
The films like Fabricated, America America, Gaon Chodab Nahi are on YouTube now. Money required for film making was arranged through various friends and organizations so far. Such sources do not have a perpetual existence. So I am rowing into deeper financial troubles in the future.
Interviewed by senior journalist P.M. Jayan of Chandrika weekly.
Translated from Malayalam by Goutham Radhakrishnan, researcher based in Mumbai.