In God’s Land’, a short film, was screened recently at the Alternative Law Forum. It was followed by an interactive session, where the audience and film-maker — Mumbai-based Pankaj Rishi Kumar — discussed the film at length.
Pankaj accidently chanced upon the subject for the movie, which is to do with special economic zones, while travelling to Tirunelveli. He went on to document the subject extensively over a couple of years — and from that came ‘In God’s Land’, a moving film which highlights the exploitation of tenant farmers who have been rendered homeless and landless by the temple.
“I was passing Nanguneri, in the Tirunelveli district, and saw a board which read SEZ (special economic zone) placed in front of a massive piece of land. I talked to a few people, who told me that the land was arid. I started probing further and found out that the land actually belonged to a temple. In the past, the peasants had actually sued the temple for taking the land away from them. But somehow, the temple managed to win the case and these farmers were left landless. On the next trip, I noticed a lot of conflict — it was a caste issue more than anything else,” he says, adding, “I felt that the past in this case was more interesting than the present. It was a conflict between two gods— Sudalai Swami, the keeper of the farmers, and the temple deity.”
The film looks at the land in a larger perspective. As it progresses, it almost immediately brings the dictatorial attitude of the temple to the fore. However, what is interesting is the people and the myths that exist in the village.
The film also has its fair share of animation — the historical angle of the film has been depicted extensively through this. Pankaj explains that the film is not anti-SEZ; it only shows the struggle of the peasants.
“The film is based on a real issue and deals with a very sensitive problem. This is a story of just one of the areas which has been converted into an SEZ, rendering villagers homeless and snatching agricultural land away from people,” says Anand, who had come to watch the film.
The fact that the villagers have silently accepted that their land has been taken away from them — by justifying it as God’s will — transports one back to reality towards the end of the film.