The All India People’s Forum (AIPF) on 19 March screened Kakkoos, (Toilet) a powerful Tamil documentary film on manual scavenging in Tamil Nadu, directed by Divya. The screening took place in Chennai at the Madras Reporters Guild.
Though the film was released on 26 February 2017, and immediately received much acclaim and positive reviews as a courageous film, the TN police and Government, disturbed by the theme and content of the film, have stopped the screening of the film in Coimbatore, Madurai and Kanyakumari claiming it poses a threat to law and order. Organizations and groups attempting to screen the film were questioned and in some cases even threatened. The AIPF screening was organized to protest against and highlight such draconian attempts to curb free speech and prevent the dirty secret of manual scavenging from being revealed.
Divya, the film’s director and editor, is a CPI(ML) activist from Madurai. She and her team covered many towns and cities in Tamil Nadu on foot to be able to locate manual scavengers – whose work is usually done ‘out of sight.’ The sights and scenes the film covers – men and women cleaning overflowing toilets, toilets clogged with sanitary napkins: cleaning human faeces with their bare hands – are difficult to watch and must have been extremely difficult to film. But it forces the viewer to face facts about the sheer crime of allowing millions of human beings to do such work in India. It shows the unspeakable – and asks hard-hitting questions about caste and class in the process. It is not a film designed to elicit sympathy for manual scavengers: as Divya herself has said many times, she wants people to feel guilt and anger and an urgency to eradicate manual scavenging without a moment’s delay.
The screening was followed by a discussion in which Bezwada Wilson, founder of the Safai Karamchari Andolan and Magsaysay Award Winner, Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna who won the Magsaysay along with Wilson, and Bhasha Singh, activist and author of The Unseen: Manual Scavengers of India participated. The discussion was presided over by R Vidyasagar, convener of AIPF’s Tamil Nadu chapter.
Bezwada Wilson pointed out that Modi who speaks of Swacch Bharat and overnight imposed the disastrous demonetization without a qualm, lacks the political will to abolish manual scavenging. He praised the film for showing a ‘360 degrees’ look at all angles of the question of manual scavenging.
Bhasha Singh commended the film for showing the issues of class, caste and gender as they come together in the lives of the manual scavengers. She said that the Swacch Bharat slogan and campaign and its silence on caste and manual scavenging mocked at the lives of the Dalits condemned to do such demeaning labour.
TM Krishna said he was very much moved by the film and warmly thanked the director Divya and its crew. In the name of culture, he said, there was a tremendous mass movement for Jallikattu and an ordinance was passed with urgency. But what kind of culture sleeps easy while allowing such inhuman manual scavenging, he asked? Caste is not in the shit but in the mindset, he said and that should be eradicated. We need an urgent, powerful people’s movement to annihilating caste and eradicate manual scavenging, he said. He said we saw criminal acts repeatedly done all throughout the film – we also must take responsibility for these criminal acts.
Divya on behalf of the film’s crew thanked everybody who supported the film and AIPF for screening it. She expressed gratitude to Bhasha Singh’s book for inspiring her own work.
A large number of people – young students, intellectuals, artists, journalists, social media activists, professionals, left activists – participated in the screening and discussion, bought the film’s DVD, and contributed to the expense of the event. Noted environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman, noted Carnatic vocalist Sangeetha Sivakumar, AICCTU All India Secretary Bhuvaneswari, and State President A S Kumar were also present.
The guests were presented with the DVD copy of the film. Divya, the film’s director presented Bhasha Singh with a copy; journalist, social activist and theatre personality Gnani presented TM Krishna with a copy while Comrade Balasundaram, CPIML Central Committee member, presented Bezwada Wilson with a copy.