'Some of my secular friends disgust me'
by Mohammed Wajihuddin, 13 September 2009
Hindutva hardliners have attacked Shubhradeep Chakravorty for his documentary Encountered on Saffron Agenda, a sharp rebuttal of the Gujarat government's claims that four people accused of `terrorist' motives were killed in police encounters. They were Sameer Khan Pathan (2002), Sadik Jamal (2003), young Ishrat Jahan-Javed Sheikh (2004) and Sohrabuddin Sheikh (2005). When magistrate S P Tamang recently pronounced that the encounters of Mumbra girl Ishrat and her friend Javed were `fake', the Delhi-based former journalist and now independent documentary film-maker, felt vindicated. Excerpts from an interview:
Q. Were you scared to screen your film in Mumbai?
A. When I reached the Press Club, I saw police posted there. From my past experiences, I guessed that perhaps it was the saffron brigade who had informed the cops about the screening. They did it in Bhopal too. There, the VHP mistook the local organiser for me and thrashed him. I quietly slipped away as the poor organiser bore the brunt. I thought there would be trouble in Mumbai too. But it went off peacefully. I later found out that the police were there for VHP leader Ashok Singhal who was holding a press conference at the Marathi Patrakar Sangh next door at about the same time.
Q: What were your first thoughts when you heard of magistrate Tamang's report on the way Ishrat Jahan and Javed Sheikh had died?
A: I felt that my story had been given a stamp of approval by at least a section of the judiciary. I was not surprised when the Narendra Modi government rejected the report and appealed against it. But I was disgusted at the rejoicing among some of my secular activist friends.
Q. Why were you disgusted?
A. Because these are the same people who would not entertain me after the VHP members attacked screenings of my film in Bhopal (February 8, 2008) and Jaipur (March 14, 2008). Since then, there has not been a single public screening of my film across the country. A few people saw it at the Prithvi Theatre a couple of months ago, but they saw it behind closed doors, and I was not invited as they feared my presence would create trouble. Buckling to fascist pressure is no solution. We have to stand up to the communalists' agenda which is to subvert the constitution and hold the country to ransom.
Q. Rights activists question encounters. But the police say they are necessary to deal with armed killers and terrorists.
A. The urgency of the police to kill the alleged terrorists raises questions. Did the cops try to catch Ishrat Jahan and her friends who were on a supposed suicide mission? Why do all the encounters in Gujarat since 2002 have an identical tagline? All the victims were out to `kill' chief minister Narendra Modi. Javed was an electrician who had worked in Dubai before he set up a business in Pune. Sadiq Jamal was a domestic help and had worked in Dubai. Sohrabuddin was a petty criminal. Sameer Khan Pathan was accused of killing a cop and was absconding. They all were bumped off in cold blood. Perhaps the cops didn't want to kill Ishrat Jahan initially but she could have spilled the beans later. Nobody supports terrorists, but selective targeting and demonising of a community will create more terrorists.
Q. Your first documentary Godhra Tak: The Terror Trail was labelled a pro-Muslim account of the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach.
A. When I held a screening in Ahmedabad in October 2003, a mob attacked me. I tried to explain to them that they should first see it, but they would not listen. The police rescued me. I am branded a Marxist and anti-Hindu. My being a Hindu Brahmin is the fascists' biggest problem. They cannot reconcile to my being a Hindu Brahmin and yet make films which don't side with Hindus. For that matter, I am not siding with anyone. I am just against injustice. My documentaries don't have masala, they are very boring. When I showed the encounter documentary to senior cops in Jaipur, they were aghast at the VHP's hungama over it. "Bus isi pe hungama hai,'' they said. I don't exaggerate the facts.
Q. Why did you quit journalism?
A. Journalism doesn't allow you time to reflect. It took me eight months to complete my documentary. No editor would have allowed me to sit on a story so long.