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Posted at: Jun 10, 2017, 12:30 AM; last updated: Jun 10, 2017, 12:30 AM (IST)

Step back to move forward

Daljit Ami makes a documentary on Singapore Mutiny to understand memory and how an eraser works as a conceptual category in history

Amarjot Kaur

Known for making issue-based documentaries on pertinent topics such as agricultural labour, mass movements, human rights and environmentalism, Daljit Ami is now headed to Singapore for his eleventh feature-length documentary titled Singapore Mutiny – A Reclamation and Saada Singapore in Punjabi. He started working on the documentary in 2012 and it is a product of his curiosity in the Ghadar Movement. 

“I wanted to make an elementary film on the Ghadar party, which was to be divided in chapters. While researching, the Singapore Mutiny of 1915 held my attention,” says Ami. He will be visiting Singapore this month as a resident artiste on the reciprocal residency sponsored by The Objectifs Films Residency, supported by the Singapore Film Commission and the Singapore High Commission in New Delhi (India).

Past tense

Ami explains, “Singapore Mutiny happened during World War I when Indian soldiers of the fifth Light Infantry Regiment of British Indian Army, instigated by the Ghadar Movement, revolted against their imperial masters whose war campaigns they were part of.” He shares, “The mutineers were arrested by the British with the help of allied forces of France, Japan and Russia deployed in nearby seas. The punishment awarded to these soldiers was staged as an imperial spectacle - 42 of the 205 court-marshalled soldiers were executed in the audience of 15, 000 people. The photographs of the execution are testimony of the spectacle, as shooting squads shoot the mutineers made to stand in front of a wall outside the Outram Prison with their hands tied behind.”

Forgotten history

More than the public execution of the soldiers, it is Singapore Mutiny’s exclusion from the pages of history books that haunts Ami. He says, “Most soldiers killed in the Singapore Mutiny were Muslims from Hisar and Rohtak districts of undivided Punjab. Ghadar Party’s plan to organise an Army revolt in India was aborted when British Government got the information and arrested its leaders. This information could not reach Singapore where 5th Light Infantry revolted despite being ill-prepared. In post-colonial nation state, Ghadar Party got passing reference in history-writing projects. However, most Muslims fled to Pakistan after independence, and this mutiny is of relevance to Pakistan, India, and Singapore.”

While sharing how history interacts with the present, Ami says that his documentary focuses on how eraser works in the conceptual category as far as history is concerned. “I went around four villages in Haryana only to find that people don’t even know about this event. Their reference point to this event is a consolation that these martyrs were from their village,” he says.

“This film is an attempt to recreate the event through these memorial plaques and memorial; architectural landscapes and people who inhabit these spaces. These questions are central to the exploration: How does memory leads back to the event? How do historical ruptures play with past events? How does repressed memory come back to problematize history?” he signs off.

amarjot@tribunemail.com

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