People in Sanjarpur, a Muslim-majority village in Azamgarh district are engulfed in fear anticipating Islamophobic attacks or abuse again as upcoming Bollywood movie Batla House, which is a recreation of an encounter event 11 years ago, is set to release on Independence Day.
Sanjarpur had hogged the limelight as a 'terror hub' after the Batla House encounter on September 19, 2008, in Jamia Nagar, Delhi, against suspected Indian Mujahideen terrorists. The film has caused panic among villagers as they allege that filmmakers did not even bother to understand the villagers’ narrative. Also several cases related to the encounter are still sub-judice. The villagers along with some social activists are opposing the movie and claim that it is based on fake facts. They claimed that on the pretext of this film, an attempt is being made to prove a district, a village and a community as 'anti-national'.
‘BATLA HOUSE’- Only the Police Narrative
Commenting on the authenticity of movie, a resident and coordinator of the Rihai Manch (Release Committee), Azamgarh zone, Masihuddin Sanjari told NewsClick, "We do not have a problem with the movie but the timing of its release, as several cases related to the Batla House encounter are still sub-judice. The proceedings in the Jaipur blast case have been completed recently and the final verdict is likely to come very soon. Releasing the movie at such a juncture will surely have an impact on the judgement. The second thing in the movie that is objectionable is the character named Sanjeev Yadav, played by John Abraham, who is also the protagonist of the movie. When veteran journalist Aziz Burney had written in his column on October 12, 2008, about the Batla House encounter, he had shared a picture of Sanjeev Yadav posing with his revolver, aiming at someone. Burney in his column had written that he would write more on Yadav the next day, but he did not come up with any article. That was his last column on the encounter. The reality is that Sanjeev Yadav was not even in the team that did the Batla House encounter. Why Yadav was there at the spot where the encounter took place and who he was aiming at is still a mystery. Meanwhile, portraying Yadav in the lead role proves that the movie is not based on true facts."
Also watch: Anatomy of Batla House Encounter through Lens of Author Neyaz Farooquee
"We have been demanding for judicial inquiry for many years but our demands have not been met. Yet, in the movie, a newspaper clip is shown, where it is written that 'judicial inquiry begins'. There is a dialogue in the trailer when John Abraham is being questioned whether the boys he killed were all innocent students, to which he replies – yes they were students but not innocent. Now, the question arises when the case is sub judice and case proceedings are underway, how can the actor claim that they were not innocent. Such movies are made just to put a particular community in a bad light need to be condemned from the top," he added.
The villagers also claimed that they would have no objection if the director of the movie would have named the movie differently, and with different characters. By portraying Sanjeev Yadav’s character as the protagonist, the director of the movie wants to show that the movie is based on the real encounter, however, several things in the trailer are fake as per the villagers. "Baring a few exceptions, most of the times the Indian film industry makes movies based on stereotypes which are full of bias and prejudice against a group of people. Why the film management did not contact those families whose children were arrested or killed in the encounter to keep the movie transparent as they had earlier approached the Karni Sena before releasing Padmaavat? Just because we do not engage in hooliganism like Karni Sena, they did not ask." a villager told NewsClick.
Tarique Shafique, whose cousin had been arrested in connection with encounter also questioned the timing of the movie’s release. He told NewsClick, "My brother has been languishing in jail since 11 years and the trial is still going on. The final judgement will come within a month, so this movie will surely affect the judgment. Second thing is that this movie is based on only police version, why did the director not approach us or whose children were killed in the encounter?"
Also read: Remembering the Batla House ‘Encounter’ on its 9th Anniversary, the Case So Far
He further added, "After the encounter, Hindi daily Dainik Jagran had brought the whole issue into the media spotlight that Atif who was killed in encounter and Saif who has been arrested in relation to the case, had received Rs 3 crore in their accounts. But later when the reality came out, it was found that only Rs 30,000 was transferred to their account as scholarship but the same newspaper carried this news in four lines. This article by the Hindi newspaper had damaged the image of Azamgarh district and this movie will do the same and just rub salt on the old wounds.”
Meanwhile, an accused in the Batla House encounter case moved the Delhi High Court on Friday to postpone the release of the film, saying it would adversely affect his trial which is going on in a lower court.
WHY RELEASE ON 'INDEPENDENCE DAY'?
Retired IPS officer, Vibhuti Narain Rai told NewsClick, "To paint the whole district as a nursery of terrorism is absolutely wrong. Azamgarh has an old heritage. It is a city that has produced a poet like Kaifi Azmi and a scholar like Shibli Nomani. I am also from Azamgarh and I feel sad when such movies portray my district as a terrorist hub. While the case is sub-judice and proceedings are still going, how can anyone make a movie on such a sensitive topic?”
Also read: When Law Victimises Muslim Youth
The John Abraham-starrer Batla House is a recreation of the alleged encounter in Batla House of Jamia Nagar in Delhi which took place in September 2008, where two young men from Azamgarh and one police inspector of Delhi police were killed. Later, 16 Muslim youth were arrested from Azamgarh district and 3 from Sanjarpur for their alleged role in terror activities. While the police have hailed the operation as victorious, many have alleged that it was a mere cover-up.