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Jai Bhim: The Quest To Walk Out Alive

With five days away from work, I watched several movies and series that caught my eyes. But it was purely by chance that I discovered this gem of a movie. Raw, powerful, moving, and at time painful to watch, Jai Bhim moved me to tears in many scenes.

by K. Vatsala Devi
Jai Bhim was an eye opener

The long Deepavali weekend for many meant an opportunity to go back to their hometowns and visit family members they haven’t met close to two years. For others, it was the time to plan a perfect getaway from the city. For homebodies like me, it was a chance to rest, relax and catch up on movies available on various streaming platforms.

With five days away from work, I watched several movies and series that caught my eyes. But it was purely by chance that I discovered this gem of a movie. Raw, powerful, moving, and at time painful to watch, Jai Bhim moved me to tears in many scenes. And it touched a nerve, got me thinking about the core of the issue in a deeper manner and stirred me to write this piece.

Jai Bhim, written and directed by TJ Gnanavel, is based on true events, and brought to life by compelling actors who all give a powerful performance. In short, Jai Bhim, according to Film Beat, is a movie composed of a fine blend of mystery and drama. It delves deep into the lives of tribal couple Senggeni and Rajakannu.

Police Brutality At Its Maxim In Jai Bhim

Rajakannu (Manikandan) and Sengani (Lijomol Jose), a young couple from a tribal community who lead a happy and content life even in poverty. However, things change when the police arrest Rajakannu and a few others suspecting his involvement in a robbery case, and brutally torture them.

Later, the cops inform that the suspects escaped from their custody and their whereabouts are unknown. The helpless Sengani, who is pregnant with their second child, seeks the help of a righteous lawyer, Chandru (Suriya), to unravel the mystery behind her husband’s disappearance or the ‘miraculous’ escape from custody.

Lijomol Jose in Jai Bhim
Lijomol Jose captured the essence of Sengeni so well that the audience were swept in a tide of emotions

The roles of Rajakannu and Sengeni were so authentic and powerful that at every twist and turn, their pain, anger, and grief became the audiences’. As the credits rolled, what stayed with me is the extent of torture and brutality by the police force in the name of investigation. This movie isn’t about an isolated case in India. This movie is a representative movie because police brutality happens everywhere including Malaysia.

Just last year, the world was shocked and raged for George Floyd. BBC reported that the 46-year-old man of colours, died after being arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Footage of the arrest on 25 May shows a police officer, who unfortunately is a white man, kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he was pinned to the floor. Transcripts of police bodycam footage show Floyd said more than 20 times he could not breathe as he was restrained by the officers.

I remember watching the video clip of Floyd’s last minutes as he was being pinned down and pleading repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe and feeling so angry, disappointed that the police force which is entrusted in protecting the lives of civilians, could take a life, without remorse and feeling sad for Floyd because as a person of colour, he was subjected to cruel treatment that led to his death.

This got me thinking why when it happens in a different country, it stirs such strong emotions within me and fellow Malaysians, but we don’t spare a thought to the police brutality cases that take place in our own country. Why could we take a stand and support the Black Lives Movement but not be interested to stand by the many Malaysians who have either been tortured or have died in police custody? After all, we have to admit that we have our own baggage of police brutality that should not go unnoticed.

Jai Bhim Sheds Light On The Ugly Truth on Police Brutality

Many Malaysians are seemingly still not aware of such issues happening in their own backyard. Could it be a lack of interest or because it is quite a common occurrence or our lackadaisical attitude so long as it doesn’t get in the way of our everyday lives? What would it take for us to be interested in the lives of others, even the ones of the accused and suspects? Why can’t we stand up for the powerless, the discriminated section of society?

Just in July this year, Vice.com – an award-winning international network of digital content with offices in 35 cities across the globe – reported that in a span of less than three months this year, six ethnic Indian men—between the ages of 21 and 42—died under suspicious circumstances while in police detention. The latest death was a 25-year-old named Roopan Karnagaran, who died in prison in Selangor, Malaysia’s richest state.

A local social welfare organization handling the case alleges that police were attempting to cover up Roopan’s death, noting major inconsistencies between accounts from doctors and prison officials.

The report shockingly reveals that the Royal Malaysian Police has also come under fire after shocking news reports and accusations of rape, sexual harassment and torture methods emerged, along with a bombshell revelation from the former police inspector general, who said a criminal cartel operated within the force. His stunning claim of long-standing corruption sparked calls for open and independent investigations.

One incident that is still fresh in the minds of people is that of A. Ganapathy, a 40-year-old man, spent 12 days in police custody from 24 February to 8 March to assist with investigations into his sibling’s alleged crimes. K. Ganesh, the lawyer representing the deceased and his family, said that Ganapathy died due to severe injuries on his legs and shoulders while he was detained. It is alleged that the police had used a rubber hose to inflict those severe injuries.

This case caused an uproar where social activists, human rights activists, lawyers, ordinary citizens, and politicians rose to demand justice for the deceased. Syed Saddiq, the former Malaysian youth minister took to TikTok to speak on the issue of police brutality against the backdrop of racist stereotypes that plagued Indians in the country, who are often perceived as “gangsters and criminals.”

“Custodial deaths in Malaysia are a manifestation of our nation’s problems: corruption, institutionalized discrimination and racism. Indians are one of our most marginalized communities, and violence arising from abuse and discrimination towards them must end,” he said.

Do we sense a parallel between Jai Bhim and what goes on in our own police stations and prison cells?

A. Ganapathy is just one of many Indians who have never made it out of jail. There are others before him such as Kugan Ananthan, Sugumar Chelladury, Karuna Nithi Palani Velu, Dharmandran Narayansamy, and Balamurugan Suppiah. Will there be many after him if nothing is done to monitor, check, review and balance the powers of the police force?

The Vice exposé titled, “Dozens of Malaysian Indians Died in Police Custody. Not a Single Officer Has Been Charged” that was written by Heather Chen rightfully uncovers facts and figures that sends shivers up our spines.

Heather in the article had written that “Indians are Malaysia’s third largest racial group after Malays and Chinese. But the community has long suffered from institutionalized racism and discrimination, social segregation and even violence. Rights groups and watchdogs say the recent spate of custodial abuse and deaths involving Indians has been disproportionately high and alarming.

 Over 23 percent of custodial deaths were ethnic Indians, despite the community making up around seven percent of Malaysia’s total population, according to official statistics compiled by the Malaysiakini news portal in 2018.”

Lawmaker Charles Santiago, who also serves as chairman for the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights group told VICE World News that “despite countless allegations and mounting evidence of abuse and misconduct, no police officer in Malaysia has ever been held accountable for their actions.”

Thus, the justifications presented by various groups on the urgent need for the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) that was first suggested by the Royal Commission of Inquiry 17 years ago may very well hold water.

The IPCMC, if implemented would deal with police misconduct such as police brutality, custodial deaths, shootings and cover-ups. IPCMC would police the police – by that it would investigate, try and punish bent police officers in accordance with its mandate.

And for it to be effective, the body must be independent.

According to the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission, the RCI had initially recommended that the IPCMC be placed under direct Parliament authority, but lawmakers from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition at the time had opposed the idea. 17 years later, and having seen five new Prime Ministers take the helm and seven changes to the Inspector-General of Police, the proposed commission remains mythical as the unicorn.

Instead, the EAIC website states that what had come in its stead is the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC), formed during the Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration in what critics described as a “cosmetic” move that pandered to police pressure. The EAIC oversees the disciplinary conduct of all enforcement officers. But while it has the power to conduct investigation, it cannot prosecute and can only recommend action.

If all this doesn’t stir you into action, it should at the very least make you want to sit up and pay better attention to how poorly the underrepresented and marginalized people are treated. Just writing this article fills me with sadness and torment.

As A. Kathirasen rightly puts in his opinion piece on Jai Bhim that was published in Free Malaysia Today on 8 November 2021, “the movie is unafraid to ask difficult questions and when you watch the court room scenes, you realise it is not just individuals who are on trial but the very notions of law enforcement, the justice system and the caste system.”

Jai Bhim that is available on Amazon Prime features a stellar cast comprising of Suriya, Prakash Raj, Rao Ramesh, Lijomol Jose, Manikandan, and Rajisha Vijayan among others. Produced under the 2D Production that belongs to Suriya and his wife Jyothika, the movie that runs for 164 minutes will leave you questioning your role in society and if you are doing enough towards helping to create a fairer social environment.

Jai Bhim has become the first Tamil film that has topped the list of IMDb. The film has bumped The Shawshank Redemption to the second spot. Suriya’s film even grabbed the top spot above movies including Inception, Schindler’s List, Pulp Fiction, The 12 Angry Men, The God Father, and others.

Image source : Amazon Prime

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