Sanu Kummil’s documentary narrates struggles of Dalits in burying the dead
Looking at an issue in isolation might not give one the true extent of it, on whether the same things are happening elsewhere too.
A few years ago, documentary filmmaker Sanu Kummil had come across an incident of a dead member of a Dalit family in Ittiva panchayat, near Chadayamangalam, being buried under the kitchen, as the family could not find any other land for the purpose.
Over the years, he came across more such cases in surrounding regions. Sensing that there could be more to the story, he went about looking for similar cases elsewhere.
What he thought was one-off instances of Dalit families having no land to bury their dead soon emerged to be a larger problem, tied to questions of unequal distribution of land even after the land reforms taken up in the State in its initial years.
The findings have all come together in a documentary Six Feet Under, which has now been chosen to the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK) to be held in June.
Last year, his film Oru Chayakkadakkarante Mann Ki Bath, the life story of a tea seller who showcased a unique form of protest against demonetisation, won the best short documentary award at the festival.
In his latest work, he brings stories of Dalit families from several districts who have buried their loved ones under their kitchens, drawing rooms, and even under public pathways.
In a recent case at Manjeri in Malappuram, a piece of land which has been used by the Dalits as a community burial ground was usurped by a local strongman. When a person died a few months ago, they attempted to take back the land and bury there, but faced stiff resistance and were later arrested. The body was kept in a mortuary for five days before being taken to an electric crematorium in Kozhikode.
“It is clear that Dalits have been sidelined from all land reforms. Many of the Dalit communities who used to bury their dead have now shifted to cremation, but even that is unaffordable to some of them, considering the transportation and other costs,” says Sanu.
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