'Education is what will save us'

'Education is what  will save us'
Even the most opinionated person is wary when it comes to discussing caste in India. But there are some who believe that the only way of getting rid of the abhorrent social practice is to talk about it, no matter how uncomfortable it makes the receiver and how much they squirm.

Director Naganatha Madhava Rao Joshi is one such person who firmly opposes the caste system and uses cinema to explore certain delicacies that otherwise go unsaid.

His film ‘Chiguru’, which was screened at the eighth annual Bengaluru International Film Festival recently, doesn’t hesitate to talk of the centuries worth of oppression that has been in place. The story revolves around Chenna, a Dalit cobbler and his determination to educate his son Ranga and make him a Regional Deputy Commissioner.

But, as Naganatha explains, the villagers (predominantly the upper-caste) will not stand by as someone tries to break out of the societal shackles. “Ranga is a really smart child and the villagers can’t stand this. They even visit the school teacher and ask him not to promote a Dalit student over their kids as it will look bad. Eventually, when the teacher doesn’t comply with them, they hatch a plan to cheat Chenna out of his ancestral land (and hence, deprive them of the only source of income that can fuel Ranga’s education),” he says.

It’s this misuse of power and privilege that prompted Naganatha make the film in the first place. He says that such incidents are still common in villages and urban areas. He is a bit optimistic when he adds, “Yes, it’s definitely possible to abolish the caste system.”

However, it isn’t just the privileged who have to make an effort to change, he elaborates. “The ones who have to make up their minds first are the Dalits. If they do that, it’s very possible. Unless I say I am a Brahmin, people won’t get to know. The same applies for Dalits; why should they call themselves Dalits?”

Through his movie, Naganatha also asks questions like ‘what role does society play’ and ‘is one section of society, in particular, making them the ‘lower caste’’. He also makes a clear distinction between ‘jaathi’ (caste) and ‘varna’ (profession). “Most people don’t know this but just because a Brahmin has a child, it doesn’t make it a Brahmin as well. The four sections — Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra — were just ways to distinguish a person based on their profession.” However, over time, these categories have become justifications for various horrific crimes, and this is something the director doesn’t approve of.

According to him, less importance should be laid on such labels, and more on uplifting oneself. Citing Ranna and Ambedkar as examples, he says that only education can uplift a person and bring them out of this drudgery. “We are the ones who have given these terms such connotations.” More of a humanist, Naganatha mentions that even after 68 years of Independence, Dalits still remain Dalits. “Why should we call them Dalits?” he asks, implying the same for the other castes.

He emphasises on the importance of education. “I have Dalit friends who know the Ramayana better than their Brahmin counterparts. Talk to an educated person and he will never talk about caste. He’ll be more interested in academics. Education is what will save us.”

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