Monday, January 19, 2009

The Human Face

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.


  1. it's odd to read your post right now b/c i just spent the last two hours discussing something along the same lines.. i was talking with a friend about barack obama being elected and somehow the topic went from that to my confusion abt the existence of racism and finally to my disgust about slavery. in the end, he said something that shocked me. he said that i had such strong opinions about these topics because i would have been the one enslaved and he the master.

    i think that's what it boils down to though. the western world, which is for the most part also the more developed and more influential of the rest, is actually racist. they might not act it all the time and many will treat you with kindness and even respect. but in the end, the truth is, they feel they are better than the rest. they feel that their life is of more value and more importance than that of an african or an iranian or an indian. true humanity and equality is surprisingly not as widespread as i would have imagined it to be.

    the only way to get those in power to stand up and say we won't let this happen anymore is by having them realize that the value of each human life is the same. that the same things that are unacceptable in the their world are and should also be unacceptable in these worlds where life is grimmer, more desperate, more violent. however, more often than not, the attitude tends to be "oh, but that happens there all the time." i don't know how we can change these attitudes. i don't even know if we can change them. but i know that the day all human beings begin to regard everyone else as equals, most of the world's problems will be solved.

    the world needs a high dose of compassion...

    and btw, don't leave me hanging.. do they really stone her or not?

  2. Reading your post was an eye-opener in itself to me for I have never attended film festivals or watched so many to authoritatively comment on it. I do believe there's a lot of unwanted and avoidable cruelty around us and it pains me greatly. As a teacher I try to sensitise my students to what happens around due to our thoughtlessness and I am not taken seriously most of the times..but the effort continues.. I was just writing about such an experience in a poem titled signposts of god.. do check it up and let me know what u think..