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. 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.