Dimasas request President Murmu to stop screening of national award-winning film 'Semkhor'
Stills from the movie Semkhor

Haflong (Assam): Dimasa organisations here have requested President Droupadi Murmu to intervene and halt the screening of National Award film ‘Semkhor’ for misrepresenting the community and took out a protest march here, the headquarters of Dima Hasao district in Assam.

The 2021 film is the first Dimasa language film and was awarded the Rajat Kamal at the 68th National Film Awards. Baruah, who is also the co producer and lead actor of ‘Semkhor’ won the Special Jury Mention award. She is the wife of Assam Information and Public Relations Minister Pijush Hazarika.

The film has depicted a false story on customs, traditions and livehoods of the Dimasa people, they said in a memorandum to the president on Thursday.

The Dimasa organisations also sought the president’s intervention for withdrawal of all press coverage of the film’s director Aimee Baruah.

They took out a protest march here and submitted the memorandum to the Dima Hasao district administration.

The protestors demanded a public apology from Baruah for misrepresenting Dimasa custom, tradition and livelihood in her film ‘Semkhor’. “We demand compensation to the Dimasa society for defaming the customary morality of the community,” their memorandum said.

The memorandum also claimed that a baby girl had died of cold during shooting of the film as Baruah did not follow the legal formalities.

The Dimasas are an ethnolinguistic community living in Assam and Nagaland. The film chronicles the life and times of a woman of the tribe.

“The film portrays the Dimasa people as being against any kind of modern developments like road infrastructure, schools and medical facilities,” the memorandum by five Dimasa groups said.

“The film has misrepresented the tradition of our community at such a level that it portrays the practice of female infanticide in Dimasa society which is completely wrong and false. Such practices have never existed in the Dimasa society since time immemorial,” it said.

The protestors claimed that no extensive research was done on Dimasa customs and traditions by Baruah. “Rather she went on with a half baked story and is simply carried away with her passion to meet up her profession/hobbies by which she can earn name and fame and her act has led to a permanent dent on the morality of customs, traditions and livelihoods of the Dimasa tribe”.

Blaming Baruah for not following legal formalities, the protestors claimed that she did not take permission from the district magistrate before casting the baby girl in the film as required under the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.

“This is a clear case of violation of laws,” the memorandum said and demanded justice for the bereaved family.

“The baby girl was just 84 days old when she was cast in this particular film and became sick due to exposure to cold and rough weather condition at the time following which she died four days later”, it said.

There were reports that a three-month-old girl ‘Claring’, who was cast in the movie, died of cold three days after the shooting on the bank of a river during the COVID-19 lockdown in the country in 2020.

All Dimasa Students’ Union leader Mahendra Kemprai had lodged a police complaint against Baruah earlier this week and alleged that the community was wrongly depicted in the films.

Baruah said that the story of the film is “completely fictional” although the plotline was created on the basis of information collected from newspapers, books, magazines and a few individuals.

“It has never been our intention to hurt anyone’s feelings or self-respect through this film. I simply attempted to draw the attention of our society to the beauty of the location, the local language, the attire and so on. Nonetheless, we sincerely apologise if we have hurt anyone in any way,” she wrote on Facebook.

Mala Baruah co-produced the film and the story was written by Sasanka Samir. Screenplay was by Jintumoni Kalita, Sasanka Samir, Uday Bhaskar Patar and Aimee Baruah. ‘Semkhor’ was screened at different national as well as international film festivals and won accolades. It was commercially released last week.

The Dimasa Mothers’ Association too condemned the wrong projection of female infanticide in the movie. The association claimed that it is “totally untrue and factually incorrect” to show the community practicing such an “evil”.

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