A quest for human rights

Dakxin Chhara’s ‘The Last Man’ explores the lives and struggles of manual scavengers
A quest for human rights

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Though his official name is Dakxinkumar Bajrange he loves to address himself as Dakxin Chhara. The award-winning filmmaker, playwright, director and activist has no qualms to explain the surname Chhara, a De-notified Tribes (DNTs) in Ahmedabad in Gujarat. The nomadic community was defined as ‘criminal tribes’ by the British colonial government in 1871. They are still considered the same even now, says the celebrated filmmaker.

An alumnus of the University of Leeds in the UK, Dakxin’s new documentary film on the struggles of Valmiki community has bagged an award at the 13th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK). The Last Man won the second best long documentary award.

Dakxin, with 120 films, documentaries and TV shows under his belt, made his debut at the IDSFFK with ‘The Last Man’. The one-hour documentary talks about the people who work as manual scavengers. It was screened at the Competition Long Documentary section at the fest. 

The self-taught filmmaker opens up about his works and ideologies a the sidelines of the fest. What triggered the making of ‘The Last Man’ was the autobiography of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “In the book, PM says manual scavenging is a spiritual experience. I wanted to know how it is a spiritual experience and meet the community and the spaces that they work, a way to show the reality faced by the community. How can cleaning human waste and decayed carcasses and other stingy debris be considered a spiritual practice? The people who are doing it are being deprived of their human rights. The PM, being the representative of the 130 crore people, made such statements that force others label them as the only people to do scavenging activities. For the community, it is not a spiritual affair,” says the filmmaker.

The film features testimonies from workers. The challenges they face while entering manholes, cleaning toilets, disposing of human wastes and animal carcasses, and burning human dead bodies are brought to the forefront in the documentary. Dakxin has added footage of workers from Rajasthan, UP, Gujarat and Maharasthra in his film. Their helplessness to find other jobs to live are evident in the film. 

“Even when we are talking about technologies including sending a man on the moon, we continue this inhuman practice of forcing people to do scavenging jobs. Why do we need to categorise a particular community as people destined to do scavenging? They also have the right to choose their life in this independent country,” he says. 

For Dakxin, life experiences are subjects for films. Birth 1871 which talks about his community is a prime example. “My forefathers and parents were forced to become thieves due to lack of jobs and abandonment from society. My siblings and I got food and education from the money my father ‘earned’ from thefts. We were never taught to steal anything by our parents,” he says. 

He understood the real plight of his community from childhood. “We studied in an English medium school. My sister Koina was falsely accused of stealing marbles from another student. She was called at the school assembly and defamed as a thief in front of the whole school. She quit her schooling. But even after years, things have not changed. 

In 2018, a gang of Gujarat cops raided our neighbourhood Charrranagar and beat up all of us in the community for no reason. Society still views us as lowly creatures who can be abused anytime even if we try to empower ourselves with a new life,” says Dakxin.

To resist the social stigma, Dakxin started a collective called Budhan Theatre in 1998. The community theatre group holds street plays and theatre productions by including youngsters and children from the community. “If we didn’t have the theatre, the world would have still tagged us as born criminals and abused our women. Art is our lifeline. Though our community hails from the hometown of PM, we still don’t have basic human rights,” he signs off.  

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The New Indian Express