An agonising wait for justice for almost two decades to finally be proven innocent in court,that too in matter of a couple of hours sounds preposterous. Sachin Shirke thought so after he read reports in newspapers about a special riots court in 2008 letting off hundreds of accused in the 1992-93 riots,one after the another,in a few hours.
Then a fresh law graduate,Shirke decided to tap their side of the story. Shirke,who has not even remotely affected by communal tensions ever,wanted to understand the mental turmoil these people went through.
Talking to them,Shirke,also an amateur filmmaker,decided to can their experiences in a documentary. That was when 80-minute film Audi Alteram Partem,a latin phrase often used in legal circles that means the other side should be heard too,was born. The documentary tracks these people who suffered along with their families the long wait before a court acquitted them of all charges the state had levelled on them.
Many were not even aware of the charges they were tried for,or the offence they were charged with. Only when they came to the court were they told what their offence was. In several cases it was established in court that they were not present at the spot when the alleged incident occurred,leading to acquittals, Shrike says.
These were random people picked up by police and booked in a serious crime of rioting. The state government,least interested in bringing any sensible conclusion to any of these cases,set muitiple machineries at work,first the judicial commission,local police and then the Special Task force. By then many had perished,many had lost hope. But at the end their innocence was proved, Shirke adds.
Shirke,along with his friends Pankaj Sharma and Neeran Vora,began meeting people,slowly trying to gain their confidence. It was not easy. We gradually managed to get a few to speak to us. Many spoke,but did not want to be filmed, said Sharma. The movie that talks of several persons let off by the court,also deals with several who were convicted. Justice is barely done after 17 years of wait. Many of them were immediately let out on bail, adds Shirke.
Shirke says Audi Alteram Partem ran into some censor trouble. I have a beautiful poem of Kaifi Azmi as background score. The poem was written by Azmiji about communal violence. It mentions Lord Ram,who returns from exile. The censor board wanted us to drop the poem. However,after a long struggle,the board agreed, Shirke says. The film got a censor certificate in December 2010. Audi Alteram Partem was screened at the 8th Indian Film Festival,Bollywood & Beyond,at Stuttgart in Germany last year,where it got a nomination for Best Documentary. Shirke is now busy approaching people so that Audi Alteram Partem can have a wider screening.
If my movie helps bring even a tad of peace and tolerance in every religion and belief,I will consider my job done, he says.