A political conspiracy is now suspected behind the controversy that has erupted in Assam around filmmaker Aimee Baruah’s National award-winning film Semkhor, which was adjudged the best Dimasa film in the 68th National Film Awards for the year 2020, announced in July this year. Baruah happens to be wife of Assam’s cabinet minister Pujush Hazarika.
On September 29, several Dimasa organization—All Dimasa Students Union, Dimasa Student’s Union, Jadikhe Naisho Hoshom, United Dimasa Youth, Dimasa Student Community, Guwahati, Dimasa Youth Forum, Dimasa Mother Association—sent a letter to President Droupadi Murmu alleging that an 84-day-old infant, who had been cast in the film Semkhor, died five days after the shooting of the film because the infant had been exposed to cold weather.
They have also alleged that Dimasa community is hurt by the wrong representation of Dimasa culture and tradition in the film. They have now demanded a ban on the film and an apology from Baruah, who not only directed in the film but acted in the central role. The film received wide acclaim in several national and international film festivals. It was released in the theatres on September 23.
However, India Today NE’s investigation into the allegation of the infant’s death has found a political angle in the entire controversy. The infant died on October 19, 2020, and the family members and locals of the village that the infant belonged to never raised the issue in the last two years. There was no mention of the death of the infant in 2021 when Semkhor got wide publicity because it became the first-ever film in the Dimasa language to be screened in the Indian Panorama Section of IFFI 2021.
When India Today NE asked the parents of the infant why they waited for two years to raise the allegation against the filmmaker, they claimed that they had been pressurized by Daniel Langthasa, a former local Congress leader, to allege that the baby died because of exposure to cold during the shooting. “The filmmaker paid Rs 16,000 for taking the child as an artist in the film. Aimee Baruah took great care of the child. But Daniel Langthasa and some unknown people came to our home some days ago and forced us to demand justice for my dead child,” says Hammy, father of the infant.
“We are illiterate people. We didn’t understand why they were asking us to demand justice. They did not tell us that the comment was against Baruah. But later when we received a lot of unwarranted attention, we realized that we had been tricked into saying something we did not want to,” Hammy added.
He also appealed everyone not to play politics over their dead child asserting that the death did not happen because of exposure to cold. A reliable source, which did not want to be identified, informed India Today NE that the infant was born with a hole in her heart. The parents, who were aware of the situation before the shooting, accepted that they did not reveal the condition of the child to the filmmaker.
When contacted by India Today NE Baruah said that she had reached out to the family immediately after the death of the child and since then has been in regular touch with the parents. “All those associated with the film, including the parents of the infant, are one big family and we remain in touch and support each other. All of us were distraught when the child died, and a collective sense of grief still encompass us,” Baruah told India Today NE.
When India Today NE reached out to Daniel Langthasa, who had released the video of the parents demanding justice, on why he waited for two years till the release of the film to raise the issue of the infant’s death, he claimed that he came to know about the incident recently from a social media video posted by the neighbours of the parents. “We are protesting against Semkhor because we want proper investigation and justice to be provided in whichever way possible,” Langthasa told India Today NE.
But there is more to him than his identity as a Dimasa activist and member of the Dima Hasao Autonomous Council. In August, he quit the Congress party and since then allegedly has been trying to join the BJP and has been seeking help of Baruah’s husband and BJP leader Pijush Hazarika, who is also a senior minister in Assam with cabinet rank. A photo of Langthasa with Hazarika and Tuliram Ronghang, Chief Executive Member of the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, has already gone viral on social media. “Daniel Langthasa came to my residence two weeks ago and requested me to help him join the BJP. But being a small worker in the party, I could not help and now he is targeting my family,” Hazarika told India Today NE.
On being asked, Langthasa admitted to meeting Hazarika and that he had been discussing about the possibility of joining the party. “The BJP invited me to join the party. I made a video of the meeting. It’s on social media,” he told India Today NE.
Meanwhile, Semkhor has been withdrawn from the theatres in Assam after a successful run in the first week of release.
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