Vikrant Kishore, a documentary filmmaker has been actively involved in raising awareness about social issues through his films. In recent times, the issue of caste discrimination has been a topic of discussion and uproar across the globe. With the recent recognition of caste discrimination as a form of discrimination by the Toronto District School Board and the Seattle city Council outlawing caste-based discrimination, the conversation around caste discrimination has gained momentum.
Vikrant Kishore, who has been instrumental in highlighting social issues through his films, has recently been involved in the Australian Human Rights Commission's scoping framework on caste discrimination. The Mooknayak spoke to this genius filmmaker to know his views on the upcoming South Asian Film Festival in Sydney and his involvement in the recent recognition of caste discrimination as a form of discrimination.
Vikrant tell us something about yourself.
I am actually an academic first and foremost, currently teaching filmmaking as an Associate Professor in the University of Nottingham, Ningbo, which is near Shanghai. As a filmmaker, I specialize in documentary filmmaking, which I am very passionate about. Currently, I am serving as the Festival Director for an upcoming Film Festival, and I also hold the position of President of the Film Committee. The festival will be held from 17th to 19th March, and it's an exciting opportunity for me to showcase some amazing films. In the past, I have organized four festivals in Australia, all of which were held within universities. However, this will be the first independent film festival I am organizing with professionals from Sydney and Melbourne. I'm very excited about the event and can't wait to see it come to life!
How can Bahujans leverage technology to promote the Bahujan Movement through short films?
Short films are a cost-effective way to make a statement, and with the accessibility of quality mobile phones, it's becoming easier than ever to produce them. In fact, mobile film festivals are taking place all over the world, and a university in Australia even organized a conference on mobile filmmaking.
The most important element of any film is the story, which can be either fiction or non-fiction. Bahujans are often underrepresented in the film industry, especially in non-fiction genres like documentaries. By sharing stories of their struggles and challenges, Bahujans can make a significant impact on the industry.
During the South Asian Film Festival, which I am organizing, I observed that out of the 2000 films we received, only 2-4 films related to Bahujans were submitted, and their quality was subpar, with issues such as poor sound quality, editing, and picture quality. Therefore, it is crucial to focus on producing high-quality films that can showcase the Bahujan Movement in the best possible light.
With the Advent of New Technology has the cinema become more affordable?
Despite the technological developments, the cinema industry has not become significantly more affordable. As someone who is currently working on establishing a Virtual Studio in China, he stated that it is an expensive medium. However, once the studio is set up, it can facilitate filming by generating various elements through an LED screen. The emergence of AI-generated characters and virtual celebrities is on the rise, particularly in countries such as China and Korea.
You played an instrumental role in getting NHRC in Australia include caste discrimination in its scoping framework. Tell us how different it is from other recent breakthroughs in Seattle and the most recent one in Toronto School Board of Canada?
In Toronto a School Board has recognised caste as a form of discrimination. In Seattle it was in a Council. So these are small small kind of wins for us and wherever such kind of work happens it becomes and artefact for us. These are important in understanding that Caste Discrimination exists and is a real thing and we need to understand this. In 2021, the Australian Human Rights Commission called for a broader ambit of the National Anti-Racism Framework and sought public submissions. Thus, we formed a group of academics and activists based in Australia to put a submission to include caste discrimination within the National Anti Racism Framework. We were supported by other academics and activists from US and UK. The NHRC of Australia not only incorporated their suggestions, but also quoted them. People like Haroon Kashif, Nisha Thapaliyal, Mudit Vyas, Professor Hari Bapuji, Meena Dhanda from the UK, and Thenmozhi Soundarrajan from Equality Labs, who is also facing hate as people fighting against caste typically do, all contributed significantly. From online hatred to personal threats and even being debarred from the community, these types of attacks are unfortunately nothing new. As with what happens in India, people are often hit or slapped with impunity. We should raise our voice against these issues.
We can't just assume that because we've moved to another country and have a good lifestyle, we have nothing to do. The cultural baggage that comes with us from India is also increasing as the diaspora grows. One aspect of this is that some call themselves minorities in Caucasian countries ruled by whites, and they also reap the benefits of affirmative action while simultaneously deploring the reservation system in India. We should support brown representation and minority rights, but we should also understand that if the prejudices that some have are equal to racism, we need to challenge them. It's not about direct physical violence or suppression, but rather about the indirect suppression that is occurring. We need to conduct research without questioning it.
Tell us something about your encounter with caste in Australia.
My encounter with caste is at a very different level. Like, "What is your last name? Kishore." "Ok, Kishore what?" "And what is your caste?" Because from the title Kishore, you cannot guess the caste. Once someone said about me, "You walk like a Rajput... Are you a Rajput?" So, is it customary for someone to walk like a Rajput, or should a Dalit walk with slippers on their head? This is a narrow mentality.
Once, in 2006, I was teaching when an Australian colleague introduced me to an Indian. She said, "We have one Indian staff with us." When she asked my name, I told her, "Vikrant." To which she said, "Vikrant what?" To which my colleague said, "Vikrant Kishore." And then she said, "Kishore what?" Then, after she left, my colleague asked me if this was the first instance of casteism that I witnessed. I said yes, and this is how casteism operates: by your name, by your identity, and by putting a question mark on your identity. People don't understand this; they think it is easy. But if you come from Bahujan Samaj, you know that you will be abused for your caste and mentally tortured for it. They believe that if you cannot beat them, then torture them mentally. They believe that if you cannot beat them, then torture them.
Can you touch upon your experiences with discrimination in DPS and Delhi University?
In St. Stephens, while I was studying, I had a fracas with a friend who tried to beat me. In frustration, he used to call me "Chura" and whenever I used to go anywhere, he would use this word "Chura Chura". Since I belong to Ranchi, for me "Chura" is something we eat. Then someone told me that they are using caste slurs for me because in Rajasthan Scheduled Castes are called "Chura". Sometimes they used to scribble this word "Chura" outside my hostel room and by the time I confronted them about it, it had done its damage.
The same friends are in my friend list and Whatsapp group, and I want to ask them to apologize for their mistake. When I was in class 8 at a boys' residential school, a book called "Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens was in our syllabus, which included a chapter called "Shoemaker of 1776." Whenever I sat down to eat or went anywhere, some boys would whisper behind me, "Shoemaker of 1776." At the time, I thought they were discussing the chapter. But one day, someone from amongst them came and told me that these students were indirectly calling me "Chamar." This created mental trauma, particularly because it was done by people from the middle and upper-middle classes.
Some people claim that there is no casteism in cities today, but even the elite people from educated backgrounds use casteist slurs. For example, when I went to an IAS officer's house for dinner, who was also a friend of my father and was in Administrative Services, while chatting, he suddenly said, "Achcha, who Bhangi? Usko pata nahi kaise IAS bana diya." For these upper castes, the achievement of Scheduled Castes is through reservation, which they believe they do not deserve. We are now raising these issues through social media, and those people are getting unnerved and wondering why we are speaking. But we have to speak out against it, or else they will suppress us, and we will have cases like Hathras. And it is not just about our caste; it is also about people from other castes who are humanist-minded and understand the basics of humanity. Humanity is a common thread that can connect people of all types. I have met Australians who understand my issues of caste, and we also have people who are Brahmins, Muslims, and from different communities and castes, and they have all come together.
What advice would you like to give to the people, particularly the Bahujans who want to come to Australia for studies and for work?
Australia is a great place to come for studies or work, but it requires planning. If you plan to come for studies, you need to find the right courses and universities or colleges. To do this, you should speak to the right people and target countries and courses where scholarships and sponsorships are available. In Australia, there are scholarships available, and Bahujans who do not have the financial capacity can take advantage of these opportunities. You can apply for scholarships offered by the Australian government and Australian universities if you have a good academic record.
If you plan to work, there is a skilled occupation list that comes out every year. This list shows the requirements in different sectors, and if your work is on the list, you can apply for permanent residency. There are many good agents that you can speak to, and when it comes to academics, you can also speak to academics who can provide consultancy services. As an academic, I am happy to offer my consultancy services to anyone who needs it. I do this out of my own interest, as no one was there to help me, and I want to make the process easier for anyone and save the cost of consultancy.