Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I'm no Maoist: Filmmaker Ajay TG

Incarcerated for 93 days on charges of being a Maoist, independent documentary filmmaker Ajay TG has vehemently denied the label, saying he will fight for repealing the draconian law under which he was arrested.
"I am no Naxalite (Maoist). I have never been associated with any acts of insurgency or terror. I don't know what I am being charged with," Ajay, who was held under the notorious Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA) and accused of sedition, said.

He was released on conditional bail after the police failed to file a chargesheet against him in court within the stipulated 90 days. The case against him has not been closed and he has to report to the police in Bhillai town every alternate Monday. He has also been barred from leaving the country.

"There is no FIR (first information report), no charge sheet. How do I defend myself?" asked Ajay, who is a member of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). He was in the capital to attend a meeting convened by the Committee for the Release of Ajay TG, to celebrate his release.

Ajay was released on August 5 but another prominent rights activist, Binayak Sen, who was arrested under the same act on May 14, 2007, is still in jail. Sen is the PUCL's general secretary.

The cause of Ajay's arrest seems to be a letter recovered from a Maoist leader earlier this year that asked for the return of a camera that had been confiscated while he was on a fact finding mission in Chhattisgarh in 2004.

The police, he said, threatened and intimidated him and asked him to maintain a low profile - away from the media and activism. The consequences of breaking his silence, he said, would be apparent in the days to come.

"But the resolve to fight (for repealing the act) is still strong." said the overwhelmed Ajay.

When Ajay was released, the headlines of Raipur newspapers read: "Naxali ko riha kar diya bail par (Naxalite released on bail)".

Not surprisingly, he expressed his angst over the happenings of the past few months.

"Everyone associated with me, the caretakers of the school that I run for 25 slum girls, the children there, the other PUCL activists are all being targeted under the (anti-terror) act.

"The police even went to the extent of asking the children: "Are you taught to meow like cats and bark like dogs to communicate at the school?" implying the way Maoists communicate in forested areas," Ajay added.

He also wondered how he would restart his life "in such a hostile environment. All my equipment and master copies of my films - my means of livelihood - are still with the police. My wife Shobha is denied groceries, my friends and neighbours shy away from me.

"My 20-month-old son is so insecure that he never leaves my side. When I was in jail, I could only see him and my wife from a metre's distance through the bars," Ajay said.

"When I was in jail, I learned that my brother had passed away in an accident. That time was particularly hard on me and my family."

Little wonder, then, that he maintained: "I don't feel free. It is not so much the individual concern; to me this is the failure of our democracy. In light of widespread globalisation, such atrocities against human rights are bound to happen across the world. The only way to tackle this is for all voices of human rights to stand unified."

Over the last 15 years, Ajay has been a director, cameraman, editor and graphic artist - and also a prominent human rights activist.

His recent films have been on the March 8 Women's day celebrations and the lives of working women in Chhattisgarh, and the police attack on the workers of a motorcycle plant in Gurgaon. He has also made a film on the work and arrest of Binayak Sen.

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