The Hour of Lynching: New documentary looks at lives shattered in the wake of vigilante violence, fear mongering

Anupam Kant Verma

May 25, 2019 14:46:11 IST

Death as fact. Death as murder. Death as tragedy. Death as symbol. And death as warning. Shirley Abraham and Amit Madhesiya’s new short, like all worthy documentaries, presents a consolidated and cogent picture of the past, present and future of the lynching of a Muslim man suspected of cow slaughter. Which of the three is more harrowing, it leaves to the imagination and inclination of the viewer. By not disclosing the location of the event, The Hour of Lynching, despite its occasional, annoying missteps, creates a microcosm for the heat map of a hatred spreading across our land like wildfire.

'27.01.2018. Rakbar.' announces the tombstone for the slain man at the beginning of the film. Statistics informing the viewer that 47 people have been killed in cow-related hate crimes since 2014 appear before we first hear of Rakbar. We glimpse him only in passport size photos kept by his family and digital images on the local VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) leader aka cow protector’s smartphone. He already belongs to the past. But we do meet his wife and children, the former relegated to four months of mourning within the walls of the house and the eldest of the latter now forced into discontinuing school in order to feed the cows and everyone else. Their present is haunted by the absence of a father and the ominous shadow of a virulently extremist local leader’s hate-fueled politics.

The Hour of Lynching: New documentary looks at lives shattered in the wake of vigilante violence, fear mongering

A still from the documentary.

Hopelessness, fear mongering, vengeance, anger and revenge course through the veins of the film. The ease with which hate has percolated into the souls of the villagers — some of whom casually, near matter-of-factly extol violence and blood-letting — is more dismaying than horrifying. Frankly, violence and hate start to appear normative by the time the 18-minute film comes to an end. More than the hour of lynching, a never-ending hour of hate seems to be upon them, all the more vivified owing to the free rein promised by the present dispensation.

The gloves go off during a local VHP rally. The leader of the cow protection gang peddles the familiar narrative of victimhood, sacrifice and impotence before the villagers. He promises to sacrifice his life if required for the protection of the sacred cow. Then he charges towards his main agenda by exhorting them to behead the ‘heathens’, before calling for genocide in order to cleanse the land. Meanwhile, Rakbar’s family waits for justice, his wife ready to throw her child before the magistrate and ask him to kill the boy if he can’t deliver justice.

This mini-portrait of a thoroughly poisoned land full of hate, anger and helplessness serves as a reminder of the enormity of the task before us. One can be forgiven for lapsing into hopelessness when confronted by the emotional toll the new politics is taking on the people. Perhaps nothing’s more haunting than the thin, already wizened face of Sahila, Rakbar’s teenage daughter. She is usually shown mechanically undertaking the chores of the house. But when she turns her gaze towards us, her piercing eyes teeming with a resolve hastily put together, she appears to look through the camera, the cinematographer, her extended family that visits only when someone arrives with a promise of financial aid to her mother, and further beyond through you and me, her eyes betraying the emptiness engendered by hopelessness and submission to what we call fate.

Nothing, not even the frustrating colour correction and high saturation that upsets the balance of Abraham and Madhesiya’s film, can remove the memory of her gaze from the viewer’s mind. She is willing herself into surviving against the odds; despite the hate, the anger, vengeance, despite poverty and the vice-like grip of patriarchy. Because she knows she must. There’s no alternative. So she looks towards the future while digging her way through the present. Like all able filmmakers, the duo end their film with images of Sahila going about her day, resolutely trying to make do with the hand dealt to her.

Actions have consequences. The future will be full of them. You glimpse it in the rising anger within the men of the community, at least one of whom advocates an eye for an eye. These events may be taking place in a faraway village we will never visit, perhaps never hear from again. It may be buried under the weight of fudged economic statistics and ever bigger promises. But The Hour of Lynching warns us that it might not be long before the cows come home.

The documentary can be viewed here.

Updated Date: May 27, 2019 10:12:36 IST