Thursday, May 23, 2002

Horror through teens' lens ... (and Evil Stalks The Land)

Shocked by the violence and brutality that tore apart the social fabric of Gujarat, a 15-year-old now tells the world his story as seen through the lens. Titled And They Killed Him Again, Sahir Raza's roaming exhibition contains 79 stills from the Gujarat carnage. A student of Class XI, Sahir says he took the photographs while in Gujarat between April 7 and 10. "I've been taking photographs since (the age of) nine," says Sahir. He used a Nikon FE camera, and used up some 20 rolls of 24 exposures each to etch on film the images he wanted the world to take note of. For a 15-year-old, the situation was complex. So, to make his point, Sahir included a lot of subjects: victims of the carnage, relief camps where an estimated one lakh largely-Muslim victims have taken refuge, burnt houses, buildings and shops, even abandoned bodies. Did he face any tense moment? "While shooting, not really," recalls Sahir. "But, at one shop I happened to call my father abbu (the Urdu word for dad). Suddenly, the shopkeeper started shouting out to people: "Here's this boy who's calling his father abbu, he must be a Muslim...." "It was very scary and the feeling remains with you. To realise that just the name of a person is enough to get him murdered," says he. "I've never seen a carnage before. My photographs should raise awareness of how bad the situation is in Gujarat. Just being there scares you. People (benumbed by the wanton brutality and now huddled in relief camps) have not been to their homes for 40 to 50 days, even for a look," says Sahir. The exhibition has so far travelled from Delhi to Mumbai and now to Goa, from where Sahir plans to head for Orissa and Kerala. While young Sahir worked on the photographs, his father Gauhar Raza hastily put together a 34-minute video-film titled Junoon ke Badte Kadam (Evil Stalks the Land). For Sahir's father, this is not the first such film. An electrical engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and a scientist by profession, Gauhar has 12 video films to his credit. Based on scientific research and development, his earlier films dealt with topics like eminent Indian scientists (Homi Bhabha and S.S. Bhatnagar), computer virus, computers in India, nuclear disarmament, and related themes. A film on communal violence was, therefore, for him a different proposition. "This is an extremely important subject that has to do more with the future of the country," says Gauhar. According to Gauhar, though the English media is doing a good job of building public awareness of the ghastly events in Gujarat, ?one per cent? of the enormity of the situation is being portrayed. He fears that intense religion-based intolerance could yield an Indian form of fascism, just as race-based hatred led to fascism in Germany. "I come from Aligarh, the city of riots, and in 1984 saw Delhi burn (during the anti-Sikh riots)," he says, adding that the terror unleashed in Gujarat was much more shocking and at a much larger scale. [By Frederick Noronha in Goa. Published on May 28, 2002, in The Telegraph, Kolkata ... URL probably no longer valid]