“The assertion by the individual of his own opinions and beliefs, his own independence and interest as over against group standards, group authority and group interests is the beginning of all reform. But whether the reform will continue depends upon what scope the group affords for such individual assertion. If the group is tolerant and fair-minded in dealing with such individuals they will continue to assert and in the end succeed in converting their fellows. On the other hand if the group is intolerant and does not bother about the means it adopts to stifle such individuals they will perish and the reform will die out.”
~ Dr BR Ambedkar in Annihilation of Caste
Cinema is an interesting art form. It juxtaposes the fictional with the real and offers an insight into the society in which we live. If the society is largely regressive, it will be reflected in the cinema it produces, most of it will be regressive. Similarly, as always there might be some progressive elements in any society and that might also be reflected in some films.
TJ Gnanavel’s Jai Bhim starring Suriya is a remarkable adaptation of the real life events of a particular case of police brutality on tribals in Tamil Nadu. The movie is a commendable feat which has set a new high for the regional as well as national cinema (I despise the usage of the term regional cinema, but for the sake of identification let’s keep it that way).
The movie is being praised among the liberal progressive fraternity for its heart wrenching portrayal of injustice and torture meted out to the tribals by the police. It gives hope that as long as there are men of good heart in our society, there is always a possibility of fighting for a just cause.
Now to keep aside the appreciation of the movie, it should be pointed out that it will be a folly to overemphasize on the fact that the film is a beacon of hope for the oppressed.
A system designed to fail many can never be praised for the success of a few. Justice for an individual cannot be a benchmark in the system, assuming that everyone should get justice.
Justice is best served on a collective level and not an individual level. Exceptions are not the rules. The real life incident on which Jai Bhim is based is one such exception in a system which is rigged against the oppressed. The protagonist of the movie Sengani gets justice delivered, but what about thousands of other Senganis who lose out before they get to see the justice delivered to them?
If we talk only about police brutality, then in last three years 5221 people died in judicial custody in India. Was justice served to them?
As Martin Luther King Jr. said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. We can interpret that injustice to even an individual is a threat to justice for the entire society.
Caste is a like a meandering river. A river never stops flowing. It only dries up and a river never dries if the source of its water is perennial.
The source of this river that is caste are the scriptures as Ambedkar observed in Annihilation of Caste. The individual has limitations and he cannot go beyond a certain limit against the caste order. The order strikes back.
When the source of the trouble of the oppressed in India is a collective effort of the Hindu society, how can individuals be seen as beacons of hope?
Ambedkar has pointed out in his works that the individual is non-existent in Hindu society. He is bound by customs of the society, if he transgresses them he is bound to be punished. Anything that is a collective effort to disrobe human dignity can only be fought collectively.
So to conclude, when the entire collective conscience of the society is against you, you can not seek salvage in an individual.
Anshul Kumar is currently pursuing MA in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, JNU.