Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15 is a film made for the Brahmins on Brahmin supremacy. A ‘casteless’ Brahmin IPS officer, played by Ayushmann Khurrana, goes to a village in Uttar Pradesh and gets a shocking view of what caste looks life — naked and violent.
The film, predictably, becomes more about his internal contradictions and journey to fight a corrupt system, than about addressing the root of the problem — caste.
Anubhav Sinha’s film takes the easy route and offers no answers to uncomfortable questions on who created the caste system and how can it be destroyed. It would like you to believe that caste probably came from outer space.
No matter how many Ambedkar statues it shows, Article 15 refuses to pin the blame on anyone, and doesn’t call out the continued Brahmin hegemony in power circles.
So, why are Brahmin organisations protesting against Article 15? The film, as Sinha rightly said in his Facebook post a few days ago, has nothing that can be called disrespectful to Brahmins. If anything, it shows a Brahmin hero knocking sense into others and saving Dalits from caste oppression.
Why is everyone casteist
In India, you either are oppressed by caste or are ‘casteless’. The latter is a privilege only the ‘upper’ castes can choose to enjoy.
In Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer Article 15, caste system has no villains. It is as if caste system is an aberration caused by aliens, or by the British as articulated by Congress MP and author Shashi Tharoor. According to Tharoor, “We had castes, we did not have the caste system.” He blames the British for codifying and classifying the castes and, in the process, ossifying it. Author Amish Tripathi has a similar take on caste and argues that “the caste system was not based on birth. In ancient times, it was not rigid.”
In Article 15, everyone is casteist. Even the Dalit sub-inspector says: “We are Chamars and the victims are from the Pasi community and the Chamars are superior to the Pasis.” So, being casteist must be okay. In fact, at this point, some audience members in the theatre laugh — probably relieved that Dalits too are practicing untouchability.
B.R. Ambedkar, however, had a different take on this. In his paper Castes in India, presented during an anthropology seminar at Columbia University in 1916, he tried answering how the institution of caste spread among the rest of the non-Brahmin population of the country. He argues – “Endogamy or the closed-door system was a fashion in the Hindu society, and as it had originated from the Brahmin caste it was whole-heartedly imitated by all the non-Brahmin sub-divisions or classes, who, in their turn, became endogamous castes.” He adds, “Brahmin is a semi-god and very nearly a demi-god. He sets up a mode and moulds the rest.”
This explains why lower castes practice casteism too.
Gandhian way of engaging with caste system
Ayushmann Khurrana’s Article 15 is being hailed as an anti-caste movie, but in reality it robs Dalits of their agency. This is a very Gandhian idea of engaging with caste and Dalits. To fight untouchability among Hindus, Gandhi founded Harijan Sevak Sangh or Servants of Untouchables Society in 1932 and made industrialist Ghanshyam Das Birla its first president. To date, no one other than the Savarna Hindus have headed this organisation.
You cannot miss “Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye”, a bhajan that is now most associated with Gandhi, playing in the background in Article 15.
How to annihilate caste?
Let’s go back to B.R. Ambedkar, the doctor who has best diagnosed the disease called caste system, and his prescription for the annihilation of caste.
“It must be recognized that the Hindus observe Caste not because they are inhuman or wrong-headed. They observe Caste because they are deeply religious…The real remedy is to destroy the belief in the sanctity of the Shastras,” says Ambedkar.
“Caste has a divine basis… this means you must destroy the authority of the Shastras and the Vedas,” he argues.
This is one task we can’t expect a filmmaker, however progressive he or she might be, to perform. The movie Article 15 uses Ambedkar in its iconography and dialogues. The opening shot has a statue of Ambedkar in the backdrop. But the movie fails to foreground Ambedkar’s idea on annihilation of caste in India.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.
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