Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Do You Know Filmmaker, Activist Ajay TG?

No? Neither did I until yesterday.

There I was sitting at Juhu's Prithvi Theatre watching a compilation of short documentary films, organized by an NGO called Vikalp (formed in 2003, a group of documentary film makers fighting against censorship) and all I could think of was Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag.

Though the film turned out to be the biggest box-office failure of 2007, to me the film's depiction — of modern day daaku raj (Babban Singh) vs. the Ex-Police Chief and his hired goons Heroo & Raj – seem perfectly in sync with the Naxalite situation in the State of Chhattisgarh. No laughing matter this, the reality is as dark and horrifying. However, unlike the movie, the Naxalite condition doesn't have as clear a hero-villain divide.

In order to free the state's people from the tortures of the rebellious Naxalities (dakku raj), the government put in action the Special Public Security Act (SPS, 2005), and have also created an army of villagers called the Salwa Judum giving them bows arrows and guns, under the pretext of self-protection against the bad guys. The Chhattisgarh government wants us to look up to them in the same way as the villagers regarded the Ex-Police Chief in the film. Their life-savior, their messiah.

According to the Planning Commission 2008 report, that is not only unconstitutional, but also a form of state sponsored terror. So, no happy ending in sight here, only a spiral result of violence and more of it.

And this is where filmmaker Ajay TG's story comes in.

Home-Text-Rasterized On 4th May 2008, Chhattisgarh police arrested Ajay, a filmmaker by profession and human rights activist working in Raipur. He also happens to be an active member of The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), a human rights organization aggressively protesting against the Salwa Judum and the SPS.

Ajay was detained under the Act, which is nothing more than a façade to brand human rights activists/organizations as "terrorists". Shockingly, until this date the State police have found no hard evidence against the filmmaker except what it claims to be a letter allegedly written to him to by a Maoist leader. This old letter was actually written to Ajay before the Naxalites were banned. And it only asked him the price of a piece of equipment that they had confiscated from him, wanting to pay him back.

A few days before he was arrested, Ajay was making a film on another activist Dr Binayak Sen (General Secretary, Chhattisgarh PUCL and like Ajay detained by the State Police since May 2007) and happened to enter, with a penknife, the courtroom in which Sen was being tried. Ajay didn't even remember he had in his rucksack. He of course issued a formal apology to the court, calling it a human error, and the court forgave him. Nonetheless, the next day, papers carried stories of the filmmaker having carried a 'modern and deadly weapon' into the court of law.

Those who have worked with Ajay think this is a tactic employed by the State government to suppress the efforts made by PUCL members and supporters of Dr. Sen.

Last night along with 20 or so other people, I watched a couple of documentaries on the people of Chhatisgarh – some directed by Ajay himself and others where he assisted as an editor and/or cameraman – Safar, Anjam, Aisa Kyun? being the most discomforting of the lot. Oddly enough only a handful of mainstream media publications have bothered to put across Ajay and PUCL's struggle to the masses; after all where is there any time or space left to report about selfless human efforts when the nation prefers to lap up gossips involving Bollywood starlets.

Anyway, if anything mentioned here interests or manages to pinch the humanity within you, even to the slightest – I request you to visit Release Ajay TG and show your support.

No comments: