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Hathras Case: Dalit Women Activists Call Out Bollywood's 'Hypocrisy' for Not Identifying Caste Violence in India

The Hathras victim's body was cremated in the dead of the night. (File photo)

The Hathras victim's body was cremated in the dead of the night. (File photo)

We spoke to Dalit women activists after they called Bollywood celebrities out for "not acknowledging" the role of caste in the alleged gang rapes and death of two Dalit women in Uttar Pradesh's Hathras and Balrampur districts.

On Thursday night, actress Sayani Gupta, on Twitter, likened the alleged gang-rape of a Dalit woman in Hathras to her film Article 15’s script after the Uttar Pradesh police official said that the forensic report of the victim did not confirm rape.

Many seemed to agree with Sayani by commenting on how the 2019 crime drama, in which the local police attempt to cover up a gangrape in Uttar Pradesh, is “eerily similar" to what is allegedly happening in Hathras. However, there was another section of the Internet that couldn’t help but point out the “hypocrisy" of Article 15’s leading man Ayushmann Khurrana, who played a Brahmin cop fighting caste-based atrocities in the movie.

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Srishty Ranjan, who is an influential Dalit voice on social media, called Ayushmann out over an Instagram Story in which the actor had condemned the alleged gangrape of the Hathras victim without stating that “she was a Dalit." Srishty wrote, “When your movie Article 15 was about to release you seemed to be the most caste-sensitive Savarna on this planet. @ayushmannk now that you don’t have a movie on release, you cannot even state that she was a Dalit woman?"

Ranjan, who also criticised Bollywood actresses Priyanka Chopra and Sonam Kapoor in a Twitter thread over not acknowledging the caste-based crimes and sexual violence in the country, spoke to News18 on why she thinks the film industry has failed her community.

“When upper-caste people make a movie about our trauma, it is nothing less than appropriation. Even when white people appropriate Indian culture, they are called out by people of our country, but the same people fail to see how the Savarna-dominated film industry has always made money out of the trauma of the oppressed-be it Gully Boy or Article 15. As an individual, it’s important for them to speak up for the community from which they benefited and which got them recognition and laurels," Srishty said.

“Ranveer Singh when asked about his political views because they had appropriated the ‘Azaadi’ slogan in Gully Boy, he said, in an interview, that he’s ‘apathetic to politics’. This is where the industry fails the people of India."

The death of two Dalit women after they were allegedly gang-raped in Hathras and Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh has caused nationwide fury, with hundreds and thousands of protestors taking to the streets to demonstrate against the “growing incidence" of caste-based crimes in the country.

“It’s completely unfair for all of these individuals to make a movie about us and then not speak when the Dalit community is going through a lot of pain," Srishty added.

The young Dalit activist, who hails from rural Bihar, said that Ayushmann was named among the 100 most influential people of 2020 in the world by TIME magazine for doing socially-engaged cinema but when his “influential" voice is needed the most, the actor is silent.

“Ayushmann was featured in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People 0f 2020 list alongside revolutionary people like Bilkis from Shaheen Bagh. During Article 15’s promotion, he would talk about the oppressed and appeared to be the most caste sensitive Savarna in India. He literally played the role of an upper-caste saviour in a movie about caste-based sexual violence, but when he put out his statement about the Hathras case, he did not even mention the caste of the victim. This is nothing but hypocrisy. You cannot make a movie about caste-based sexual violence and stay mum when your voice is actually needed."

Apart from Swara Bhasker, Richa Chadha, Zeeshan Ayyub, and Sayani Gupta, not many Bollywood celebrities have acknowledged the alleged role of caste in the Hathras and Balrampur cases while condemning them.

Another Dalit activist and aspiring actor Jyotsna Siddharth, who is also the founder of Dalit Feminism Archive, an intersectional and multidisciplinary community centre to document Dalit Feminism in India and South Asia, said that an actor’s job is not done after doing a social movie, he or she must go beyond it because otherwise, it would be just “a performance."

“I find this very appalling," she said, before adding, “When you look at Hollywood, there are celebrities who identify with a certain cause. And, when you look at our Bollywood industry, they have no commitment towards the society in any way. I’m not saying that they must raise voice against casteism, even though they should, but identify with some cause at least. Do they not have any social commitment or responsibility?

“It’s great that they are making socially-relevant films but they must go beyond acting in those movies and use their privilege. They just don’t feel accountable enough for society because why would they? They have comfortable homes and lives. They constantly talk about their personal journey and struggles of making it big as an actor, not understanding that struggle itself is rooted in the caste, class, and gender location."

Jyotsna said that it angers her to see Bollywood celebrities show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns against racism, discrimination, and violence toward black people, but fail to condemn the caste-based atrocities in their own country.

“When the Black Lives Matter movement was happening, how many Bollywood celebrities actually talked about caste-based violence in India. It’s infuriating to me because as an aspiring Dalit female actor, I feel how do I find my own space in this industry which refuses to understand the caste system and recognise that they are the equal perpetrators of this system and are feeding off this system because it is giving them certain privileges and benefits. Somebody has to die and go through this violence here for them to be against it."

Echoing a similar sentiment, Srishty said, “Priyanka Chopra Jonas who is also Global UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador has made a career in the West speaking about diversity and race. It would be quite hypocritical for her to identify structural discrimination in the West, but not in India. Hollywood stars and pop stars are the front runners in any kind of protest, but Bollywood stars will only copy their lifestyle and movies but not the things that they stand for."

Srishty said that even though she understands why some Bollywood stars choose not to speak on social or political issues, especially given the “witch-hunt" that is ongoing against the film industry, she thinks they still have “the power" to change narratives and shift the political discourse.

“Movie stars enjoy such a huge influence in the country. This makes it imperative for them to speak up for the people who adore them so much. And, in a tumultuous situation like what India has been going through in the past few years, how can they disengage themselves from the very audience that has helped them reach where they are?"