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SACRIFICE OF BABULAL BHUIYA

India, 1988 (MIFF 1989)

Director: Manjira Datta

Babulal Bhurya was shot dead by the Central Industrial Security Force in February 1981 at Mailagora, where the people make a living from collecting coal dust. The film is an investigation of what this tragedy has come Go mean to his sister, fellow workers and to the union. It raises a myriad of issues: were the security force and the police extorting money from the workers? Was Babulal's sister being sexually harassed by the guard? But over-riding everything is the visual imagery of relentless and grinding labour as day in, day out, the workers drag coal dust out of waist-high water.

In a region where poverty politicises, Babulal Bhuiya has become a significant martyr and a rallying point. His ashes have been scattered on the coal-black river and a concrete monument erected in his memory is painted blood-red and matches the hammer and sickle raised by the rally of local Communists held on the anniversary of his death. The fire in our bellies brings us here' says Babulal's father, a poor farm-worker who attends the annual memorial rally. Harassed by the guards, harangued by the politicos, the Mailagotans hug their despair and Ranjan Palit's camera broods on a smouldering province of hell.

Even hell has its beauty, especially for those not in it. But the beauty is visual — the feel of the place gives no pleasure. Photography has enabled us to gawp at this century's many hells; but it has also encouraged us to create a vision of them, mote divorced from the experience of their horrors, which makes them into good pictures.

Manjira Dana's documentary film, The Sacrifice of Babulal Bhuiya, certainly gives us a vision of hell, one where the simpler miseries of the Third World join with the more mannered horrors of industrial pollution. It shows us an Indian community in Bihar, next to a coal washery and a thermal power station whose fumes have ruined local farmland.

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