The other side: The screening of Ajay T.G.’s short films

The screening of Ajay T.G.’s short films and the accompanying talks raised uncomfortable questions on terrorism

Terrorism is a buzzword these days but how much attention do we pay to the concept of “state terror”? This was the discomfiting question raised during a screening of Ajay T.G.’s short films at Centre for Film and Drama (CFD) organised by Pedestrian Pictures. The Chhattisgarh government’s arrest of film-maker and human rights worker Ajay T.G. on the basis of alleged Maoist links has been creating a mini-storm in the country. The audience at CFD was sizeable—it spilled out of the seats and onto the stage—and the mood was, expectedly, solemn.

The screening began with some of Ajay’s earlier films on socio-political issues in Bhilai and Jharkhand and was rounded off by “Anjam”, the contentious film on Binayak Sen. It was interspersed with a talk by historian Ramachandra Guha and Arvind Narrain of the Alternative Law Forum.

Ajay was arrested under the Chhattisgarh State Public Security (CSPC) Act 2005 and released earlier this week for lack of evidence after four months of imprisonment. Terming the Chhatisgarh government’s vigilante army, Salwa Judum, a form of “state terror”, Narrain went on to assert that “the other more dangerous aspect of State terror is when the State uses the law to quell its opponents because this has a sheen of legitimacy.”

Narrain drew a parallel between the CSPS and the recently introduced Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Act (KCOCA)—both of which relax conditions under which arrests can be made, confessions recorded and guilt assigned. “The key is to keep the accused in jail for as long as possible and the person is refused bail. This means he is being judged guilty before the trial begins,” he said.

Speaking about the “criminalisation of human relationship” that occurs because such acts ascribe “guilt by association”, Narrain explained that ‘association’ is a broad term that covers a vast number of acts—from talking to someone to having their number on your SIM card. “Such acts hollow out the meaning of democracy.”

Ramachandra Guha spoke briefly about Ajay T.G. as a “quiet, sober man” as likely to be a Naxalite as he himself is to be part of Al Qaeda. He went on to provide the larger historical context for both arrests. Clarifying that he “detests Naxalism”, he pointed to the complex set of social, economic and geographical reasons that have led to the movement flourishing in central India. “Those who live in central India have gained least and lost most in 60 years of Indian independence.”

Also, a majority of the population in these parts is adivasi or ‘tribal’ people, who languish even lower on the scale than other minorities. They are continually displaced in the wake of rampant progress and severely under-represented in politics and the judiciary. “An adivasi is five times as likely as you or me to be displaced,” Guha said.

His predictions about the region were dire. Comparing Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh to Kashmir of the 1990s, he said, “In the next 15-20 years, we are going to see terrible civil war in which the ordinary citizen is going to be trapped.”