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Ek Minute keeps memory of JNU student leader alive

NEW DELHI, January 11: March 31, 1997: A Ph.D. student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and CPI(M-L)-Liberation leader addressing a rall...

Written by Shalini Langer |
January 12, 1998

NEW DELHI, January 11: March 31, 1997: A Ph.D. student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and CPI(M-L)-Liberation leader addressing a rally against the Bathani-Tola Dalit massacre is shot dead in broad daylight in Siwan, Bihar, along with an associate. No one wants to testify as the alleged suspect, Janata Dal MP Shahabuddin, is a terror in the town.

April 15, 1997: Thousands take to the streets in the same Siwan as the slain student Chandrashekhar’s old mother, Kaushalya Devi, demands justice.

January 9, 1998: Individuals, friends, colleagues organise a screening of Ek Minute ka Maun (one minute’s silence) based on Chandrashekhar’s life in New Delhi, funded by personal contributions and dedicated to the cause he died for. Some 80 people crowd the auditorium.

IT ISN’T exactly a movement. And the people behind this docu-film effort know it may never become one. But Ek Minute ka Maun shows that even as Chandrashekhar’s death has got buried under fresh killings in Bihar and elsewhere, there are people who remember.

The film is a tribute to them. A presentation of the Chandrashekhar Smriti Andolan and JNU Students’ Coordination Committee, it documents the belief of Chandu (as he was called by friends) in social justice, the reason he got killed, the protests that followed, and the indifference of the authorities.

All the people who put the film together worked for free. Like Ajay Bhargava, a producer who has been associated with TV show Turning Point and who directed the film. Like Harsh Dobhal, a friend of Chandu who works in PTI and who was the first to start collecting footage on him.

Like Gautam Ghosh, who gave the music. And Sunil Kalia, a TV freelancer who edited and put the diverse footage from TV news, to video shots, to newspaper clippings together. Pranay Krishna, a former colleague of Chandrashekhar and the national convenor of the Andolan, shuttled between Allahabad, where he teaches in a university, Patna and Delhi.

“We didn’t know where to start,” says Bhargava. “There was no money, and even a 90-minute beta tape (needed for screening) costs Rs 2,200. We were also scared that by the time we did start, there would be no footage left on Chandrashekhar as networks erase and reuse their old tapes.”

This was sometime in April end. Then, help started coming. First, says Bhargava, “a friend came and gave me three beta tapes”. When they started the rounds of TV companies for footage, the late S.P. Singh of Aaj Tak stepped in. Says Bhargava: “His was the fist positive response we got.” The film has now been dedicated to Singh.

When the organisers thought they would not get enough on Chandrashekhar himself, filmmaker Arun Kaul came forward with coverage of the JNU Students’ Union elections that Chandu had won to become the president. Friends in Patna went to Siwan to capture his life there.

It took a further two-three months to put the film together, even as funds threatened to run out. But, says Kalia, “we managed somehow”. Friends, JNU teachers, sometimes organisations chipped in. In one of his speeches in the film, Chandu talked of the two faces of India: one democratic, the other fascist. Kaushalya Devi who he once hoped would be like Maxim Gorky’s Mother, whose son refuses to compromise has seen both. The fascist one killed her son. The democratic offered her Rs 1 lakh as compensation. She turned it down.

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