Assam: Movement against 'Semkhor' gains momentum amid demand for ban

Guwahati: The controversy surrounding ‘Semkhor’, a National Award-winning Dimasa-language film by Assamese filmmaker Aimee Baruah refuses to die down, even a month after it left theatres after a moderately successful run.

On Sunday, several pressure groups under the banner of the ‘Dimasa Rights Protection Action Committee’ renewed their pledge to push for an apology from Baruah over “misrepresentation of Dimasa culture” and seek a ban on the film’s showings, especially at international film festivals.

“We feel neglected and demonized before the world and do believe that it is an attempt to distort our very identity and history by some nefarious agenda of the external forces,” Dr Mohonto Langthasa, vice president of the Dimasa Sahitya Sabha, said in an address to around 70-80 people, mostly Dimasas, who had come from several parts of Assam to attend the convention named ‘Protection of Indigenous Rights and the Gross Misrepresentation of Dimasa Peoples’ Culture, Customs, and Traditions in the Movie Semkhor’.

Laying out the committee’s charter of demands, Langthasa said, “We have to ensure the complete ban and cancellation of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) certificate to the feature film ‘Semkhor’. We are also urging for the withdrawal of press statements given by Baruah authenticating the story of the film. We also demand a public apology from Baruah for misrepresenting our customs. Fourthly, we are demanding compensation from the Dimasa society. Lastly, awards conferred on the film must be returned by the respective organizations.”

Banners of the ‘Semkhor’ poster crossed out with an ‘X’ were kept beside the stage

“Justice” for the family of baby ‘Claring’ who was used in the shoot and died a few days into filming, is also one of the key demands of the pressure groups.

Daniel Langthasa, a local politician-cum-activist, who runs a popular YouTube channel, had raked up the controversy when he interviewed the baby’s parents and they appeared to be asking for justice.

Later, however, they retracted their demand for “justice” and it was reported in some sections of the media that the baby was born with a weak heart.

Daniel, who was also present at the convention, says the Committee has taken the decision to reach out to Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Governor Jagadish Mukhi with their charter of demands.

“Moreover, it has also been resolved that if Aimee Baruah does not apologize to the Dimasa community within a month, people will take to the streets in protest,” he told EastMojo.

Former Cabinet Minister Holiram Terang, who is a Karbi, questioned Baruah’s gall in misrepresenting “the most indigenous Northeastern tribe Dimasas” before going on to allege a greater political conspiracy by the BJP-led Central government to further marginalize ethnic tribes of Assam and promote ‘Hindutva.’

“In this whole fiasco, the role of Aimee Baruah is not the only one that is important. We feel that it is the Indian State which is allowing this kind of repression, oppression, and dehumanization. Incidentally, Aimee Baruah happens to be the wife of a minister from Assam and she has used the power of the state and central governments in this case,” Terang later told EastMojo on the sidelines of the programme.

“Our grievances are very genuine,” Padma Bathari, convenor of the committee, told EastMojo, adding that the community will continue to push until the demands are settled. Newton Langthasa, a Dimasa filmmaker who is based in Guwahati, said that they will conduct another convention “on an even larger scale.”

The Dimasa organizations were joined by artists and intellectuals of other communities as well, including Rabha, Hajong, and Karbis, who have appealed for more support from other ethnic tribes from the Northeast to carry this movement forward.

Baruah’s ‘Semkhor’, which was shot amidst the COVID-19-induced lockdown in the country, became a popular hit in the festival circuit and swooped up a number of laurels, including a coveted National Award. Lauded by critics for its depiction of a remote culture, it was heavily marketed as the first movie in the Dimasa language.

Aimee’s appearance at Cannes promoting the movie, where she dazzled paparazzi with a display of the homegrown ‘mekhela chadar’, led to further hype.

However, troubles began after the film received a delayed release (on September 23) when Dimasa community members noticed some “problematic” patterns with the depiction of their community. For instance, its depiction of female infanticide and child marriage in Dimasa society ruffled quite a few feathers. It was also lambasted for its depiction of Dimasa priests as gluttonous meat eaters.

“We were excited to watch the movie. However, when we got to know how it has portrayed our community, we were left aghast. For the damage, we demand compensation from Baruah,” All Dimasa Students’ Union president Uttom Langthasa told EastMojo a few days back.

Amid the controversy, Baruah has said that she took liberties with the script as it is a work of fiction and “fiction can be anything.”

EastMojo reached out to Aimee for a comment, but the calls went unanswered.

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