Loose cannons

When the army and the government team up to form an assault team against villagers protesting against a firing range, all hell can break loose

By Ratnakar Tripathy
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

KISKI Suraksha is a film made by Shree Prakash, who spent several months watching and documenting a movement in progress.

Netarhat is a small but pretty hill station in the Palamau district of Bihar. In and around Netarhat, there are several tribes that have long been declared close to extinction by the Anthropological Survey of India. This desperate news, however, has not stopped the government from planning to operate on this plateau a massive training camp and firing range for the armed forces.

Netarhat has had to plug its ears to extensive firing practice for over 3 decades. As the film shows at various points, the villagers tell you episodes from the history of the inevitable mishaps and even pull out dud shells to stress the point that the boom of the shells is part of life. But what shocks the viewer is learning how village after village was vacated during the practice periods, with men, women and children crouching out days and nights in the woods. What shocks even more is the measly monetary compensation -- Rs 1.50 per adult.

Kiski Suraksha deals not with this long-drawn out history, but only with its sequel. The tribal ppulation around Netarhat is no longer mum: it's earlier silence had only served to encourage the government to try to make the site permanent, elbowing out the original inhabitants. It is amazing how the tribal leaders, ordinary men and women, unanimously declare that they would rather die than move to another place.

A long interview with a lawyer from one of these tribes makes it clear that between the various arms and the brain-lobes of the state and the central government, the rehabilitation promises are really a maze of white lies. When the army spokesman claims that only 30,000 people will be displaced, the fact pegs them closer to 2,50,000.

The documentary makes quite a few things clear. First, that even in the most impassioned of speeches the leaders of the movement emphasised a kind of Gandhian pacifist idiom that seems to have leaked out of our politics elsewhere. What one constantly sees in the faces of old, impoverished men and women is the pain of prolonged betrayal, and hope.

Towards the end of the film, there is a long spontaneous sequence, when a huge demonstration by women stands like a dam in front of the incoming army trucks. The filmmaker's decision to dwell over this episode must be a result of his grasp of the political culture that this movement has succeeded in creating. It is one of those rare opportunities in this country to see mob anger in its most controlled and benign form.
And the meek shall inherit... The Jan Sangharsh Samiti spokespersons who appear in this film keep repeating a fact that deserves repeating: it seems that according to an earlier plan, the firing range was meant to be sited in Gaya district, in the non-tribal part of Bihar. What is not difficult to guess is the reason the government changed its mind and shifted its eyes towards the hills of Chhotanagpur: it was obviously to let loose a broadside at the defenseless, the meek and the gullible, and not at the notoriously quarrelsome communities of the Bihar plains.

Members of the Jan Sangharsh Samiti keep asking the question: why us and not them? The viewer ends up asking the same question. Why bully the meek, those you are supposed to protect? One reason why people in this area refuse to budge is that they will most probably wither away in any other terrain, amidst alien climate, flora and fauna.

But that is not all. Over several decades of displacement and absolutely spurious talk of compensations, the tribal people are in no mood to be taken for a ride. They have, for example, seen their neighbours ply cyclerickshaws over the land they once tilled.

Kiski Suraksha brings out the poignancy of a situation where the tribal is made to forgo his own security for, presumably, the security of the nation -- an ironic fact that makes nonsense of the very idea of security.

A major drawback of the film is that it has no introductory or even intervening commentary. Even a familiar subject needs a statement from the filmmaker. Written handouts before a show ought not to be necessary, and a film must make its appeal without using external crutches. This came out as a lazy aspect of an otherwise keen communicator.

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