I just came back from the Tri-continental Film Festival. “Human Rights in Frames” is what it is all about. Of the two days out of the four during which I managed to catch a few films, I was left with this deep sense of disgust. The films, naturally, captured gross human rights violations all around the world in a sincere effort to tell the stories of some very brave people. Most of these people are tired of being depicted as victims and just want their voices heard and want the world to realize that only collective efforts can bring about some kind of change. Many of the films that I watched just left me shuddering within – how can people be so inexplicably cruel? These stories stretched from India to Tibet to South Africa to Burma to America. At some level you like to believe that people turn cruel under strange circumstances – desperation, provocation, poverty… something. But these stories left me completely baffled – what one earth could the problem be? What can possibly make an individual so coldhearted that he/she inflicts such imaginable pain on others? Worse still, is this ‘tradition’ of cruelty being passed on from one generation to another?
The last film I watched today was one by Hana Makhmalbaf titled “Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame”. It is the heart wrenching story of a girl trying to find her way to school and all the obstacles that stand in her way. The brilliance of Iranian films, I feel at many times, is the way they use the simplest of situations and characters to tell the most amazing human stories. This one, like many other Iranian films I’ve loved, uses children to convey some very grim facts of our world. As a bunch of boys surround her on her way to school and start “playing war”, you can’t help wondering how in the first place these boys thought of a game like this. They ask her to raise her hands and stand within a designated circle as they dig a grave for her and prepare to stone her to death. The most chilling thing is that you never find out throughout the film if they really mean to stone her to death or if it’s just a game of pretentions.
As the end credits roll, I couldn’t help wondering if this is a bleak prediction of where our world is headed. Yes there are a lot of efforts around the world to change the way people think about each other but there are still children being born into hatred and unthinkable horrors. And the sad thing is, can you expect a child who has been born into unfair treatment to grow up and treat others differently?
What I realize is that there is such a huge task in front of us to be as human as possible. I know I am miles away from these horrific stories but I also see behavior around me that is disappointing enough; acts of disregard, selfishness, humiliation and prejudices that really make me wonder if we are headed in the right direction.
I know you cannot blame humankind for atrocities that are happening in certain parts of the world but then the fact that these things are happening and there are powerful people who are not doing anything about it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. So what needs to be done before governments and other agencies really stand up and say “we won’t let this happen”? I know at individual levels we can do our own best with whatever it is that we can do, but what else? How do we change fanatical minds that have no regard for human life?
I guess films like these is one starting point. Awareness of what is happening is so essential. At least it makes one feel that when the time comes one will stand up and fight against cruelty.
At least I pray I will.
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