Glossary and cast of characters

Adivasis: heterogeneous tribes and aboriginal communities of India.

Ayodhya: City in the Southern part of Uttar Pradesh state in North India, notorious for the destruction by Hindutva factions in 1992 of the Babri Masjid mosque which was built on the foundations of a Hindu temple built on the claimed birthplace of Rama. This was followed by a wave of bloody riots across the country, including Mumbai.

Bhagavad Gita (Song of God): Section of the Mahabharata, a major Hindu epic telling the birth of the world and gods. The Gita scripture contains a conversation between prince Arjuna and his guide Lord Krishna on a variety of theological and philosophical issues.

Bhai Sangare: Former Republican Party of India leader and founder of the Dalit Panthers, the fiery speaker died in 1999 of his burns (still unresolved) that occurred when he was reenacting the immolation of the Manusmriti.

Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party): (Bharatiya comes from Bharat, referring to the mythological Hindu “India”.) Major political party at the national level, the BJP is a right-wing Hindu nationalist and socially conservative party. This party was in power from 1998 to 2004.

Bihar Movement : Started in the early 1970s as a student movement in the state of Bihar, led by the Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan, it called for nonviolent total revolution against the central government of Indira Gandhi.

Bombay (see Mumbai).

Brahma: The great Creator, he is a Hindu god and first member of the trinity with Visnu and Shiva and often represented having four heads. According to the Brahma Purana, he is the father of Manu, the ancestor of the humans.

Central Board of Film Certification: State body for classifying films and approving their exhibition in India.

Chitpavan: A brahmin sub-caste.

Dalits: see box

Doordarshan: Nationwide state-controlled public service broadcaster.

Emergency: The 21-month long (26 June 1975 – 21 March 1977) suspension of civil liberties and rule by decree, imposed by Indira Gandhi in the face of alleged threats to national security and the economy, in the context of a social climate of protest. At that time, the ruling Congress Party had lost the confidence of parliament and was accused of electoral fraud. Furthermore, the socialist movement in Bihar led by Jayaprakash Narayan was becoming more prominent. During this period of emergency, thousands of protesters and strikers were imprisoned in preventive detention and Patwardhan went into exile in North America.

Gadar: a Telegu-language poet-singer appearing in makeup on stage in the film, a friend of Vilas.

Gandhi, Indira (1917-1984): Nehru's daughter, the third Prime Minister of India (1966-1977, 1980-1984), and central figure in the Congress Party. She was assassinated in 1984 by her bodyguards.

Gandhi, Mohandas (Mahatma) (1869 – 1948): Famous protector of untouchables known for his non-violence and civil disobedience, he played a pivotal role in the independence movement of India. He was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a high-caste Hindu nationalist and member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (a right-wing Hindu national volunteer organization).

Ghogre, Vilas: Revolutionary poet-singer, featured in Bombay Our City, who hanged himself after the tragic Ramabai events.

Gundewar Commission: The commission set up by the Government of Maharashtra, pressured by human rights activists to investigate the Special Reserve Police Force who shot into a crowd of unarmed Dalits protesting against vandalism of the statue of Dr. Ambedkar. These events are commonly referred to as the Ramabai firing, event through which ten people died and twenty-six were injured.

Hindutva: Literally meaning 'Hindu-ness,' Hindutva is a socio-political ideology forged by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar which promotes the Hindu cultural identity in India. This ideology is often used as a platform for right-wing Hindu nationalism.

Kabir Kala Manch: Based in Pune, Maharashtra, and founded in 2002, KKM is a Dalit activist cultural troupe whose song and music performances raise awareness on caste discrimination and women’s liberation, mobilizing around equal social rights.

Mahar: a Maharashtrian community historically identified as Dalit.

Maharashtra: Prominently Marathi-speaking western state of India, historically ruled by Marathas, warrior caste of the state.

Manusmriti: see Dalit box

Modi, Narendra (1950- ): Chief Minister of Gujarat since 2001, known for the economic growth of the state under his ruling, is member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (a right-wing Hindu national volunteer organization) and a key strategist of the BJP national party. He is a controversial political figure, notably due to widespread accusations of his involvement in the 2002 anti-muslim pogroms that killed thousands of people under his regime.

Mumbai: the entertainment capital and financial center of India, Bombay was renamed Mumbai after the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi in 1995 by the newly elected Shiv Sena government, getting rid of the name inherited from British colonial rule and promoting Maharastrian Hindu identity.

Naxalites: Far-left Maoists who have been declared a terrorist organization under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The term comes from Naxalbari, the West Bengal village from which the movement originated at the end of the 1960s.

Phule, Jyotirao (1827 – 1890) and Savitribai (1831 – 1897): married inter-caste couple, these 19th century pro-Dalit activists were major figures of the Social Reform Movement and pioneers of women’s education, opening one of the first schools for girls in India.

Qawali: Rooted in Persian tradition and often in the Urdu language, devotional sufi music that uses poetic structures and is usually performed by a group of men.

Shiv Sena (Literally meaning “army of Shiva”): Founded by Bal Thackeray in 1966, Shiv Sena is a Marathi-oriented right-wing Hindu nationalist political party in Maharashtra state that won the 1995 elections in alliance with the BJP. The name alludes to the 17th-century Maratha ruler, Shivaji.

Thackeray, Bal (1926-2012): Former cartoonist for The Free Press Journal in Mumbai, the founder of Shiv Sena and a politician advocating a separate Marathi state. The Srikrishna Commission, whose mission was to inquire into the post-Ayodhya Bombay riots of 1992-1993, blamed him for inciting violence against Muslims.


Anand Patwardhan

Patwardhan’s is an impressive career of filmmaking and activism based on the denunciation of injustice, always closely following movements of resistance. His documentary ethics, strategies and motives emerged in tandem with the guerilla cinema movement of the global South around the time of Espinosa's notion of “imperfect cinema” was first developed. Patwardhan thus paved the way for committed documentary in India since the 1970s. Known originally for his work on the J.P. Bihar Movement, a student-led movement from the mid-70s that advocated a variety of radical social demands, his films included Waves of a Revolution / Kranti Ki Tarangein (1974, 30 min.), shot in secret and smuggled abroad, and Prisoners of Conscience / Zameer ke bandi (1978, 45 min.), which gathered testimonies of the Bihar movement prisoners. This latter film emerged in the aftermath of The Emergency (see glossary). The dangerous work of revealing the reality of repression hiding under official rhetoric has driven Patwardhan’s ethical determination and filmmaking practice for four decades.

Censorship issues, sensibilities and Patwardhan's ethics

Patwardhan's films have a long history of censorship disputes in India as well as of considerable success in international and national film festivals. Since his films have received festival awards and state honors thanks to independent juries, the national television network Doordarshan is mandated to screen nationally awarded films, even if it tries not to. This is the first obstacle he regularly faces in order to ensure his films are screened in India. The other obstacle Patwardhan routinely faces is the Central Board of Film Certification (see glossary). He has always resisted their demands for cuts in his films and has regularly fought through the courts. Yet even beyond this, Patwardhan’s films face opposition from a variety of political interests and groups. All of these difficulties are documented on his website (http://www.patwardhan.com), which is part of his project to detail the expansive nature of struggles for free speech as well as these struggles’ difficult and often irritating relationship to the public sphere. The website is thus a necessary extension of these groups’ struggles for visibility. Further, the resistance he faces includes more than just institutional power. Teachers, for example, sometimes censor his films because they perceive them as hostile to Hinduism. It is thus also a fight against the ingrained sensibilities of certain people in India, their fear of dissenting voices and the discomfort that might be created.


Waves of Revolution / Kranti Ki Tarangein (1974, 30 min.)
Prisoners of Conscience / Zameer ke bandi (1978, 45 min.)
A Time to Rise / Uthan da Vela (Canada, 1981, 40 mins)
Bombay our City / Hamara Shahar (1985, 75 minutes)
In Memory of Friends / Una Mitran Di Yaad Pyaari (1990, 60 mins)
In the Name of God / Ram Ke Naam (1992, 75 minutes)
We are not your Monkeys (1993, 5 minutes)
Occupation: Mill Worker (1996, 22 minutes)
• Ribbons for Peace (1998, 5 mins)
Father, Son and Holy War / Pitra, Putra aur Dharmayuddha (1995, 120 minutes)
A Narmada Diary (1995, 57 minutes)
Fishing: In the Sea of Greed (1998, 45 minutes)
War and Peace / Jang aur Aman (2002, 135 mins)
images you didn't see (2006, 5 mins)
Children of Mandala (2009, 5 mins)
Jai Bhim Comrade (2012, 180 mins)



From the Sanskrit root dal-, Dalits means “broken” or “the oppressed.” It is the Dalits themselves who adopted this term after having been identified as “untouchables” for centuries. Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule, iconic activists from the 19th century, were troubled by their situation and began using the term Dalit instead. Others have used the term coined by Mahatma Gandhi, “harijans” (children of God), which is sometimes considered to be patronizing. Dalits include outcastes and lower castes of the Hindu social hierarchy. There are four principal varna in Hinduism, classes which organize the castes hierarchy: the Brahmins (priests), the Kshatriyas (warriors), the Vaisya (merchants), and the Shudras (workers). According to mythological texts, the Brahmins came from the mouth of Brahma (a god), while the warriors came from his arms, the merchants from his legs, and the workers from his feet. The Brahma Purana state that Brahma is the father of Manu, the progenitor of humankind. Manu’s discourses are recorded in the Manusmriti (The Laws of Manu), which sets out the different “ways of living” for the various classes, including prohibitions on education for the now called Dalits and women. Castes are social groups reproduced through a filial endogamous structure, accompanied by sets of practices and occupations. Literally, caste or jati means “birth,” whereas colloquially it signifies the occupation that is traditionally transmitted from the father to the son along with the family name indicating your community. In Hindu epics such as the Ramayana, one’s place in society is fixed at birth. Thus, the order of life is reproduced as long as one follows one’s role. These beliefs are based on a complex system of purity wherein Brahmins are the purest and in constant danger of being polluted by lower castes. Dalits, being the lowest, are thus allocated the dirtiest jobs. This code has enforced several layers of segregation, including the status of non-physical contact (untouchability), and the social impossibility of sharing water or entering temples.

After 150 years of British rule, 1947 marked the year of India’s independence. Through its struggle against colonial rule, certain values and principles were developed, including those of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, for which this newly liberated India would be the beacon. Its constitution was drafted by Dr. Bhim Ambedkar, a Dalit himself. In it, many aspects of social discrimination were to be changed: practicing untouchability, for example, became illegal, while the “affirmative action” policy of reservation seats were put in place for Scheduled Castes (constitutional term for Dalits and whose declination of castes is listed and available at the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment) and Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis). Some reservations policies had already been in place for what was known as the Depressed Castes under British rule, notably the result of demands made by Jyotirao Phule. Varying at the state and regional levels, this quota-based system consists of reserving a number of seats in educational institutions as well as employment in public sector jobs for under-represented castes. According to the 2011 census of India, 16,2% of the Indian population is from Scheduled Castes and 8,2% from Scheduled tribes. Together, they are numbered at more than 250 millions out of total population of approximately 1, 3 billions.


Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar:

Dr. Ambedkar (1891-1956) was a Dalit (Mahar) Barrister-at-Law and Doctor in Philosophy from Columbia University and Doctor in Science from the London School of Economics. After completing his BA studies at the Elphinstone College of the University of Bombay in Economics and Political Science, he did his Master at Columbia University, majoring in Economics with Sociology, Anthropology, History, Politics and Philosophy. His works include his doctoral thesis on the Problem of the Rupee, historical work on Indian economy, several essays on untouchability and Indian castes system and his most famous work, Who were the Shudras?, on the formation of the fourth varna of the Indo-Aryan society. When he returned to India, he decided to fight for the conditions of his peers and actively participated in the emancipation of Dalit communities. The principal architect of the Indian Constitution, he promoted values of equality and justice. In opposition to Mahatma Gandhi, who was seeking to erase untouchability while maintaining Hindu varna divisions, Ambedkar believed the problem to be the very nature of caste dynamics themselves. To escape this system of social discrimination and gain equality for his people, Ambedkar announced at the 1936 Yeola Conference that he would not die Hindu and called for a massive conversion to Buddhism. Along with hundreds of his followers, he and his wife converted to Buddhism in 1936. Among his reasons for turning towards Buddhism were the absence of hierarchy and castes, the absence of God, and the promotion of equality and knowledge.

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