Radhakanta Barik

Manthan a film based on a story related to class struggle of Gujarat. Film director has taken a group of artists and actors who are committed to show their talents in each field. Be the dialogue writer or script writer or actors were the best of their time. This story is about post Independent rural Gujarat which was class and caste ridden one. The lower caste and lower class both are living in fear and that make them a high level of servile people.  Their level of poverty and caste servitude make them such a servile community to the local landlords and politicians. Such a level of poverty keeps them in a level of subordination to the rural elite.  It reminds of Wolf the leading anthropologist of Latin American peasantry who argues that people in high level of poverty cannot protest against social injustice.  This observation is relevant here in the case of Gujarat.  Regarding the lower strata of society specifically Dalits Gandhi led two movements and but showed desperations regarding the behavior of his supporters towards dalits.  In the first movement he advised his supporters to go to the houses of the poor dalits but no avail. The second movement led by Gandhi where he found some improvements in their behavior but disappointing. Such a stagnant society where rural elite enjoys all privileges through the modern panchayati system or milk cooperatives in both the cases the rural poor cannot get benefits. This film begins with a veterinary doctor reaching their locality in the train at their local station. This shows that an external element can help in improving the social situation. He with a group of assistants work for creating rural milk cooperatives as each family has a cow or buffalo which is an asset for each family. They all sell their milk to the merchant Mishra who buys from them by paying the meager price. This is a disappointing situation but it has been working in a locality where people in poverty need some cash for their daily expenditure for which selling milk is the only option.

The caste dynamics work in politics as the Sarapanch belongs to the high caste Thakur community.  Milk merchant and sarapanch work hand in hand to throttle any protest arising in the local society from any community. There is a rebellious youth belonging to Dalits who opposes these people. The village is divided into two blocks. A block supporting Mishra and Sarapanch and another block who are poor belonging to dalits and backwards. In their everyday struggle they confront these people and turn unhappy but without protest. In the meantime, the Doctor plays a catalyst in social movement against the elite.  The movement got a momentum once they initiated the process of creating milk cooperative where every farmer be landless or landed turn to be the members. In the process the veterinary doctor confronts the social and political situation in a single handedly. He is trying to convince the poor that milk price needs to fixed at the level of fat content rather than normal price for KG. Those who sell the milk without mixing water they get higher price. Doctor confronts the reality by going deep into their social situations and understanding them. He mixes with them and convince them the cooperative is the only alternative for getting prestige and price for their goods.  The poor woman in dalits confronts their husband and buffalo as an alternative. Her husband feels jealous of the Doctor who is supposed to be her wife’s lover. In such a situation he abandons her and poisons the buffalo as the only source of income.  The woman goes to Mishra for getting a loan for buying a cow but Mishra misuses her finger print for filing a false case of rape against the doctor. In such a moment of crisis there was an election to the cooperative where a Dalit man contests the Sarpanch as the chief. In the process he wins which changes the balance of forces against the doctor and his team.  Mishra and Sarapanch both work together to defeat the agenda of social and economic changes. Their people go and put pressures on the administration to transfer the doctor. In the meantime, the houses of the poor and dalits catch fire which has plays a symbolic role in this class struggles. That fire has brought destruction and hope both that poor have got mobilized against the elite and fights back for the real price. Doctor after getting transfer order leaves by the train from the station. The young dalit leader runs to the station but cannot give him a see off. This works as a symbolically that class struggles have to go on where their own organic leaders have to work and lead to a victory. Outsiders can provide them a little light but regular light has to come from themselves. This is perhaps the best film on class struggles in rural India. It should be shown on WORLD MILK DAY -1st June 2020.

Shyam Benegal directed the film MANTHAN in 1976, which was co-written by Verghese Kurien, and was based on the White Revolution, the largest, most successful cooperative movement in the world. Benegal terms it his most influential film, and it is one that would never have got made if it weren’t for Kurien. Indian dairy sector was on the verge of a collapse when Amul came into existence in 1946. Amul’s architect , the late Dr Verghese Kurien, arrived in Anand in 1949 as a government employee and went on to become the flag bearer of Operation Flood, a cooperative dairy movement that skyrocketed India from a net importer of milk into the world’s largest producers. Verghese Kurien was made the chairman of NDDB by the then Prime Minister of India,Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, and he was the chairman and founder of Amul as well. MANTHAN was also the world’s first crowd-funded movie, with the largest count of individual investors. Verghese Kurien collected 2 rupees from each of half a million members of his dairy farms to finance the film. All those farmers came to watch the film once it was released .The film traces the origins of the movement through its fictionalized narrative, based around rural empowerment, when a young veterinary surgeon, played by Girish Karnad comes to a village to to set up a dairy cooperative upsetting the middlemen and feudal structure of the village, but soon an uprising is sparked among the local untouchables, which leads to an economic revolution as well. Shyam Benegal and writer Vijay Tendulkar made sure to build the narrative to touch on a variety of topics whilst keeping milk, both metaphorically and literally, in the middle of it.

MANTHAN was also screened for the United Nations Development Programme. The then PM also sent a copy of the film to the erstwhile Soviet Union. MANTHAN won two National Film awards for Best Feature Film in Hindi and Best Screenplay in 1977. The title song of the film-Mharo Gaaon mein sung by Preeti Sagar was used as soundtrack for Amul’s television commercial.

The milk producers in various parts of India could oppose the caste hierarchy of Hindu society.  They are known as the Yadavs in North India. They start opposing the caste domination of Brahmins and Thakurs in UP and Bihar.

In the case of Odisha they succeeded to oppose the caste hierarchy of upper castes. Today is World Milk Day which brings the women milk producers of the country to the forefront for earning their livelihoods and contributing to children's education. It has been a successful cooperative movement in India including Bihar. The milk producers are badly affected by the Lockdown as they could not supply to the towns specifically sweet stalls which are being closed except Bengal. Furthermore in Odisha the milkmen caste known as gopal or gwala are the first people who protested against the caste domination of Brahmins, Karans and Khandayats by refusing to carry the palkis for their children. This broke the caste hierarchy in Odisha in a big way. As they turned into an urbanised people by moving to the cities with their cows and buffaloes had enough earnings and outlook to fight the caste hierarchy of rural society in Odisha.

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Jun 16, 2020

Prof. Radhakanta Barik

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