Saturday, November 06, 2004

Padhom Onnu: Oru Vilapam

Today I watched Padhom Onnu: Oru Vilapam, a movie by the well-known Malayalam director T.V. Chandran. A movie very well crafted. Here is an old review. The film was screened on a private television network. The central theme of this movie is the plight of young Muslim girls in Kerala. Girls are married off at an early age, many are raped by their husbands, most of them are also talaqed as soon as they become mothers.

The movie assumes significance in the present day political context of Kerala. For the past couple of weeks, one main issue in Kerala is a sex scandal that took place eight years ago involving a political heavyweight, a minister in the current government, and a then minor muslim girl. Regina, the girl involved, had complained against this minister, but she withdrew her complaint a little later. This October she appeared again in the news, claiming that she was threatened to withdraw her complaint earlier. Several organisations supported her, including Ajita's Anveshi, a feminist group. Within weeks Regina changed the tune again. This time she said that Ajita forced her to speak against the minister. Interestingly this turnaround took place after the police arrested her based on a case registered some six years ago. Also some members of her family have witnessed her being bribed by the minister's confidantes. Many media personnel were manhandled by the minister's party workers for reporting these events. See Joshua Newton's blog for more details. It was indeed apt that T.V. Chandran's movie was screened in this background.

Readers of this post who have an eye on Indian politics will not miss the close parallels beween the above case and the Best Bakery case. The Best Bakery episode was one of the worst crimes committed during the Gujarat pogrom in 2002. Zahira Sheikh, a key witness, whose father was one of those who was charred to death in that event, has changed her stand so many times by now. Right now she says that she was forced to take a stand against the rioteers by Teesta Setalvad, a human rights activist, also an editor of the journal Communalism Combat. It is possible that Zahira was also bribed heavily and that there were threats to her life from the BJP workers.

"Fear can either paralyse you or galvanise you into action", said Teesta Setalvad yesterday. Unfortunately right now both Regina and Zahira are paralysed, paralysed by fear and/or money. In Ajita's words, they are also victims of our system -- inordinate delays in settling court cases, fragility of the victims increased by the lack of any governmental security to their lives, and sufficient opportunities for the powerful culprits to influence the victims.


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