Children of the Pyre: Rajesh S. Jala’s Documenting of India’s Caste System
In the decades following Indian Independence in 1947, documentary filmmaking in Indian became synonymous with Prime Minister Jawaharla Nehru’s nation building project. Documentarians made bland films about steel mills and dams and shied away from contentious themes such as the caste system and untouchability. As a result, documentary in India became a much-maligned genre. From the 1980s on, however, younger filmmakers such as Anand Patwardhan, have begun to concern themselves with the pressing social issues facing modern Indian society. More recently an emerging generation of filmmakers, many of them influenced by Patwardhan, has taken upon itself the task of examining some of the darker aspects of Indian society such as caste and untouchability. Rajesh S. Jala (born 1970) is among this generation of young directors that seeks to investigate and report on some of the social problems of the modern India economic powerhouse. Jala’s award-winning documentary Children of the Pyre (2008) shows the lives of untouchable children from the Dom community in Varanasi who are forced to burn corpses at Manikarnika Ghat, the busiest cremation ground in India. This paper looks at how Jala went about making the film and explores some of the ethical implications that arise from making a document about a disempowered community.
Keywords: Rajesh S. Jala; documentary; caste system; India
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