07 December 2017
On the occasion of the 62nd Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Mahaparinirvan Diwas (death anniversary), a public screening of the documentary series Project Heartland was organized on Thursday, 7th December, in the campus of Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg, Germany. Project Heartland captures the struggles of marginalized communities from India, mainly Dalits in Gujarat. At the end of the screening, an open discussion was held with the director of the film – Mr. Pratik Parmar – who joined from India over a video call. The movie presented stories of resistance of grassroots activists in India and managed to initiate conversations around the issues of caste and Dalit assertion in modern India. The event was attended by about 25 students from different countries and fields of study, of which more than half were women. Participants belonged to diverse countries like Germany, India, Nepal, Nigeria, Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine, China and Syria. Their fields of study included Sociology, Psychology, Engineering, Computer Science, Economics, Sports Science and Medicine.
Three episodes of Project Heartland were screened in the following order:
- When a Dalit woman leads
Caste-based discrimination is not just limited to the temple entry or restriction on using village wells, it also functions for example, through exclusion in administrative roles. This episode tells the story of Mrs. Shantuben – the Sarpanch (elected village head) of Hajipar village in Gujarat. Shantuben’s family is the only Dalit family in the entire village. Her struggle and fight against the system expose the caste-based discrimination in the Indian administration. Watch it online here.
- Milk and Caste
This episode follows the inspiring story of Mrs. Dinaben Parmar and her family from Madhughad village in Gujarat. Her family earns their livelihood by cattle keeping and farming. Over a small issue at the co-operative dairy, she and her husband were beaten up badly and their family was socially boycotted for 3 months. The story follows Dinaben’s courageous fight against this casteism despite all odds. She was awarded the Savitribai Phule Bravery Award by National Commission for Women, India. Watch it online here.
- Straight from the Tannery
On 11 July 2016, Dalit youth from the tanner sub-caste were beaten up by cow vigilantes publically when they were skinning a dead cow. Cow vigilantes are self-appointed radical Hindu people who in the name of ‘protecting cows’ take the law in their own hands and commit atrocities, extort money, and have killed people in the name of the religion. This erupted a huge protest by Dalits all over Gujarat. Portrayed as ‘Una Dalit uprising’ by mainstream media, most of the stories actually did not cover the backstory and the people behind the movement. This episode follows the stories of Natubhai and Heerabhai and attempts to dig deeper into the backstory of the protest and the current situation of tanners in Gujarat after the protest movement. Watch it online here.
Following the screening, the captivated audience asked several questions, not just about the documentary but also about the filmmaker himself. Many were curious about the challenges encountered by the filmmaker during the filming, editing and screening processes. They were especially intrigued to find out that his movies were mostly self-funded projects. They were amazed at Pratik’s and his friend Parth’s commitment and dedication towards presenting stories of resistance through their collaborative production Ahmedabad Talkies. For many, it was the first time that they had seen a film through Dalit’s own agency, which did not show them as helpless victims trapped in immovable situations, but rather as brave people who fight back and assert their rights.
Some of the feedback received from the participants at the event:
The audience was asked: Did ‘Project Heartland’ change anything about your views of India? Have you seen other films made on caste? If yes, did you find any difference in this one?
“Yes! Casteism is unknown in Germany. I think, films I saw so far on Dalits were done by Western people. I think it’s really good that Pratik is showing the situation of Dalits from an intrinsic perspective.“ — Student of Politics, 29, Germany
“I heard about caste system and that this is the obstacle for India’s development. But such real-life stories were very impactful. I think showing real people has more effect than common info.” — Student of Economics, 36, Kyrgyz Republic
“It showed me that there are mostly one-dimensional stories being told about Dalits and that it is important to let Dalits speak for themselves. Yes, I have seen films about caste, but it was almost always people who do not belong to the Dalit caste talking about Dalits, instead of Dalits speaking on their own behalf.” — Student of Psychology, 24, Germany
The event was organised by Sayali Zarekar and Anurag Misra, both PhD students at the University of Magdeburg, Germany. The event was financed in full by the Students’ Council (Studierendenrat) of the University.
Some more photos of the event: