Missing in Gujarat

Print edition : March 09, 2007

"Parzania", a movie based on events relating to the communal pogrom, has been released throughout the country but not in Gujarat.

DARA MODY has worked as a theatre projectionist in Ahmedabad for decades, but ironically, the only film he cannot screen is the one that tells his life story - Parzania. The movie has been released throughout the country but has been blacked out in Gujarat.

Parzania tells the story of Rupa and Dara Mody, a Parsi couple who lost their son Azhar when a mob attacked their home in Gulbarg Society during Gujarat's communal pogrom of 2002. Azhar is one of the many who went "missing" in the gruesome attacks. His parents are still searching for him. The last frame of the movie shows a photograph of Azhar holding the Indian flag and carries an appeal: "Azhar has been missing since 28th February 2002. If anyone has seen him or has any information about him, please contact us." The Modys still hope that their son will return.

"We are very sad that they are not releasing the film in Gujarat," said Dara Mody. "The film has only shown reality, that's all. What's wrong with that? If the Censor Board has cleared it, why not screen it?" Mody hopes that the film will move people to demand justice. "You cannot imagine how much we are still suffering. We hope that people will see it and promise not to do this again and put families like ours through so much pain. People who watch the movie will demand that there is justice and the criminals should be punished," he said.

Stills from "Parzania". (Inset) Azhar Mody, who has been missing since February 28, 2002.-PICTURES BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The film is also a portrait, on a larger level, of the trauma that people are suffering years after the carnage, the silent, unspoken violence against people who are marginalised by the powerful. This terror continues in Gujarat - the police refuse to register cases, powerful forces intimidate witnesses, fear creates rifts among people, justice is subverted, and the truth is suppressed.

It is not surprising that Parzania is not screened in the one place where it is most relevant - Gujarat. Theatre owners are scared to screen the film. In the past too, films such as Fanaa and Rang De Basanti were banned because Aamir Khan, the main actor in both films, took a position against the government on the Narmada dam issue. This displeased the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its supporters in the Sangh Parivar. They called Khan an "enemy of Gujarat", and the Bajrang Dal threatened violence if any theatre dared to screen his films. Parzania is a realistic film, and there is a great risk that it may displease the ruling powers. Gujarat's film exhibitors prefer to be safe rather than sorry.

"This film is about a communal issue, and there has been a lot of media publicity so we will have to think before screening it," a nervous Manubhai Patel, from the Gujarat Multiplex Owners Association, told Frontline. "We have heard that the film has shown how the lower community has suffered at the hands of the higher community, so we decided to let it screen in the rest of India and then we will decide." Without even seeing the film, Manubhai and other exhibitors decided they would not screen it since Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi had threatened violence. "Initially, the cinema owners didn't give any clear reasons why it is not being screened in Gujarat. There was just silence," says Rahul Dholakia, director of Parzania, who is also distributing the film. "Later, they insisted on a joint meeting with Bajrangi and asked me to get his approval. Why should I ask his permission? Who is he to decide? I have assured the exhibitors that I will arrange for police protection. If they are worried that the police may not be able to protect them, I am willing to provide them with private security." The theatre owners do not even trust the police to protect them - a telling comment on the current situation in Gujarat.

Rahul Dholakia, The movie's director.-

Babu Bajrangi is one of the main accused in the Naroda Patiya massacre in Ahmedabad in which more than 100 people were killed. He continues his reign of terror by kidnapping girls, more than 700 to date, from the Patel community who marry outside their caste (Frontline, December 29, 2006, "A serial kidnapper and his `mission'"). When contacted by Frontline, Bajrangi said: "The theatre owners will see the film and decide whether to screen. Let's see it and if it is bad, we will stop it." "A State wanting to project itself as a place that welcomes free enterprise should not give the impression that it is encouraging lawlessness and intolerance," said Rohit Prajapati from the People's Union for Civil Liberties, Vadodara. "Instead of tacitly supporting the unlawful `ban', the Gujarat government should encourage the screening of this film and ensure total protection to cinema owners, distributors and viewers. It should take stern legal action against those who have gone on record saying that they will not allow this film to be screened," he added. But, there is little faith in a police force that allowed the carnage of 2002. The police let the mobs take over, and when victims pleaded for help, the response was: "We have no orders to save you." Those who orchestrated the attacks are still free and are powerful political leaders. Many continue their reign of terror. Even Patel businessmen like Manubhai are frightened.

Gujarat's recent history is one of intolerance. Any dissent is squelched. "It's not just those questioning the Narmada dam or asking for justice after communal violence, fascist forces will attack anyone they don't agree with and get away with it," says Prajapati. "There is an atmosphere of intolerance. And it affects everyone in the State, even those within the ruling party who disagree."

With State elections scheduled this year, Chief Minister Narendra Modi is trying to push the `Vibrant Gujarat' propaganda to deflect attention from the real issues facing Gujarat - water shortage, pollution and growing unemployment. To woo investors and please the large Gujarati non-resident Indian community, Modi has also tried to patch up with the United States after he was denied a visa a few years ago. In this atmosphere of denial, Parzania is an apt reminder that the ghosts of 2002 still haunt Gujarat and will not be exorcised as long as the perpetrators of the carnage remain in power. Five years after the massacres, fear and intimidation still overshadow Gujarat.

Besides missing persons such as Azhar, democracy and free speech are also missing in Gujarat.

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