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aaLAWchak: Article 15

Movie: Article 15

Starring: Ayushmann Khurrana, Nassar, Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra, Isha Talwar, Sayani Gupta, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub

Director: Anubhav Sinha

Year of release: 2019

Introduction

Article 15 is an uncomfortable and unpleasant watch. It makes you aware about the horrors in the society. The film draws its title from Article 15[1] of the Constitution of India which forbids discrimination against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Ayan Ranjan (Ayushmann Khurrana), a graduate and an IPS officer, is assigned to Laalgaon as the Additional Superintendent of Police. Ayan encounters various forms of caste discrimination as soon as he arrives in the village. He periodically shares what he observes over the phone to his wife Aditi (Isha Talwar).

Premise

At the beginning of the movie, in the village of Laalgaon, two Dalit girls are seen trapped in a school bus by some men. On the other hand, officers Brahmadatt Singh (Manoj Pahwa) and Kisan Jatav (Kumud Mishra) warmly welcome Ayan by throwing him a small party the night before his first day of work. Local villagers come to Ayan’s party asking the officers to find three missing girls, but are turned down.

The next morning, the girls are found hanged from a tree, while a third girl, Pooja, is reported missing.

Ayan orders Brahmadatt to file a FIR and to obtain the postmortem report for the deceased girls. The girls’ autopsy yields evidence that they were gang raped, but Brahmadatt prevents the release of this information and pushes a narrative suggesting honor killing.

Meanwhile, Jatav and a junior officer are threatened and their vehicle is set on fire by followers of Nishaad (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), the leader of a group of activists within the village who seek speedy justice for the crime. Ayan questions Jatav about this the next day and becomes determined to solve the case.

Investigation

Gaura (Sayani Gupta), Pooja’s sister, informs Ayan that the girls used to work for a local builder who slapped Pooja after the girls asked for a raise in their daily wage of 3 rupees. Ayan decides to call the builder for inquiry. During his interrogation the builder reveals that he slapped the girls to remind their entire caste of their place in society.

Ayan, disgusted by the moral corruption of the village and its police force, posts on the police bulletin board a copy of Article 15 of the Constitution of India , which prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, caste or birthplace.

Ayan meets the assistant coroner[2] who performed the autopsy and finds out that contrary to her official report, the girls were raped and then murdered. Meanwhile, as Ayan continues to look for Pooja, he soon gets a call from the assistant coroner who confirms that the builder was the one who gang-raped and murdered the two girls.

Ayan gets an arrest warrant for Anshu and raids his house, but Anshu is not found at his house. Anshu is staying somewhere else under protection from Brahmadatt, who is revealed to be one of the rapists. Brahmadatt kills Anshu to save himself.

Finale

Panikar, a high-ranking CBI officer, arrives in Laalgaon and suspends Ayan from the case. Ayan refuses to give up his efforts and tracks down a key witness who admits that he was at a party hosted by Anshu on the the night of the crime, and that he witnessed the builder, Brahmadatt, along with another police officer.

Jatav arrests Brahmadatt on Ayan’s command. Panikar attempts to threaten Ayan into dropping the case, but Ayan reveals he has already submitted all his evidence to the Home Minister. At this stage, Ayan sharply criticizes the bigotry and injustice against people of lower castes among Indian law enforcement.

Ayan then leads other officers through a large swamp in search of Pooja. They find a severely dehydrated Pooja hiding inside a pipe on the opposite side. They rescue her and with her statement, Brahmadutt gets eleven years of imprisonment as punishment.

Legal Angle

Article 15 of the Constitution of India , prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, caste or birthplace. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the head of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution belonged to the Mahar caste (an untouchable/Dalit caste). In his personal life he went through a great deal of humiliation due to his caste and felt very strongly towards eradicating the same. Hence, this Article has been given extreme importance since the drafting of the Constitution began.

The constitution came into force in 1950 i.e. 70 years ago. Since then it has been amended many times as and when the need arises but Article 15 has been present since its inception and yet a movie like this is a bitter reminder of the harsh reality of today.

The movie is based on the 2014 Badaun rape case[3] which gained a lot of national and international attention due to its controversial nature. Protests took place in the states of Kerala and Uttar Pradesh and a PIL was also filed by an NGO in Allahabad. 

Conclusion

During the Later Vedic Period (c. 800–c. 500 BC) the Indian subcontinent went through some major changes and the caste system[4] was one of them. This system segregated people into four different castes according to the family they were born in. Brahmins were the most superior class and Shudras were the lowest untouchable class. This caste system was rigid and could not be changed under any circumstances.

From the later vedic period to the 21st century, not much has changed. Manual scavenging[5] is still so prevalent at the grass root levels and as grotesque it sounds, it’s true. The feel and setting of the film is grim, gritty and grey often bringing a chill to the bone with palpable tension in the air. The uncomfortable images stand out, like the one where a man goes deep into a drain to unclog it and emerges soaked in the filth or the top shot of a group of policemen conducting a search in a swamp with their torchlights.

Image from here. Image Credit: CJP.org

There are various scenes that show how casteism is so deeply rooted. Right from a constable refusing to buy water from a shop because the owner is from Pasi community to a local politician pretending to promote inter-caste harmony to get more votes but refusing to eat the same food as them, the scenes reek of bigotry and hypocrisy. The dialogues leave a lasting impact which makes you question the times we’re living in, the law enforcement system and the sanity of humans, in general.

Ayushmann plays the role of a cop with great restraint and control. He doesn’t want to be a hero or a vigilante, he wants to find Pooja, the criminals and get justice. He describes the village as ‘wild, wild west’ as an outsider who has studied abroad and finds himself in an alien setting. His unawareness of his own caste, surroundings and the mentality of the people frustrates him, which is inevitable throughout the film.

Article 15 is a relevant, uncomfortable and harsh reminder of the superstitions still residing in the heartland of the country. The film strives to make the invisible, visible. It compels one to think, to question, to rebel. More than being didactic, it’s an eye-opener that pushes us as a generation to be the change we want to see.

Author: Ms. Pragati Pachisia, JCCLC


[1] Article 15 (1) and (2). Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth

(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them

(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to

(a) access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and palaces of public entertainment; or

(b) the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.

[2] An official who holds inquests into violent, sudden, or suspicious deaths

[3] 2014 Badaun gang rape allegations, available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Badaun_gang_rape_allegations, last visited on 14th September, 2020

[4] Varna (Hinduism), available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varna_(Hinduism), last visited on 14th September, 2020

[5] Manual Scavenging, available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manual_scavenging#:~:text=The%20occupation%20of%20sanitation%20work,collectors%20and%20sweepers%20of%20roads, last visited on 14th September, 2020

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