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Issue 22

Viral Videos and Inspirational Youths: A Conversation With Vinod Kapri

OpenAxis had an insightful and engaging conversation with Vinod Kapri, a filmmaker and author, on his recent viral video about a 19 year old boy, Pradeep Mehra, who’s resilience and determination has impacted the world. Mr. Kapri was in his car, driving home from the Gold Course in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, when he spotted Mr. Mehra running outside. After conversing with him, he learnt that Mr. Mehra ran around 10 kilometres (six miles) every night to keep himself in shape to join the Indian Army. Here is the link to the podcast:

For the transcript of the talk, read below!

Maahira Jain

I just wanted to ask you a few questions about one of your recent tweets, which was a video of Pradeep Mehra which went viral all over the internet. It’s gained a lot of popularity, and a lot of positive feedback. Why do you think the video you took became viral?

Vinod Kapri

To answer this actually, I am going to quote a retired marshall, who stays right next to me. His name is Air Vice marshal Mr. S.K Bhatnagar. He called me, and he said, “I would like to meet you”, and when we met, he said, “I saw that video of Pradeep running for 3 minutes, and I would like to tell you one thing, that this boy no doubt wants to become a recruit in the Indian army, but after watching this 3-minute video I think this boy has OLQ”. I then asked him what he meant by OLQ, and he said that the boy has an ‘officer life quality’, and I am willing to help him become an officer in the Indian army. I asked him how he came to this idea after watching this video, and he said that the 3-minute video is a complete depiction of his personality, his dedication, and inspiration as well as his motivation and hard work. He said that it really touched him, and so he came to the conclusion that Pradeep could become an officer in the Indian Army. 

I think people like and share this video because they get some kind of inspiration from it, seeing him running against all odds, doing something we cannot imagine. Ninety-nine per cent of people complain about how things did not turn out the way they wanted them to and about life, but this boy has changed that narrative. Furthermore, the footage was completely genuine and raw, which people have never seen before. Most people have seen inspirational films and movies, like Forrest Gump and Pursuit of Happiness, and tons of people commented that this short footage is as good as a 3-hour film.

Maahira 

In a movie, you have a few hours worth of content and videos and points, which could really create an impact. But how does such a short raw three-minute video create almost the same impact? Do you think it’s also just the genuineness of the video, not pre-planned like a film? 

Mr. Kapri

It was completely unintentional. I’ll narrate the whole incident and how it all started. It was around midnight when I was going back to my home after having dinner, and I saw this boy was running and I was something around 150 or 200 meters behind. He looked between 12 to 14 years of age. I was wondering why this 14-year-old boy is running at midnight. Maybe he’s in some crisis, maybe he’s in some trouble and he needs some help and he’s not getting any taxi or help? So I thought I should help him. When I reached him, I asked him, “why are you running”, and offered him a lift. He refused and said he will continue running, and on again asking him why, he answered that he is preparing to join the Indian Army. I was taken by surprise, and this was my first 5 seconds of conversation with him. At that point in time, I didn’t know his age, so I thought he must be 14 or 15. I just loved his dedication. So I thought that I should record this and asked his permission to do so. So after starting the recording, I resumed my conversation. After that, everything went so naturally. If I had probably started recording later it would not have been as authentic and raw as this was, and the effect would be lost. Everything was so natural. So this is a reason that people are like, “how come this boy is running, against all odds, is refusing lift, refusing dinner?”. So it was spiky.

Maahira

So would you say it’s that inspiration? Just hearing that he’s running at midnight, just preparing for the army made you decide that you don’t want to just stop this conversation. 

Mr. Kapri

Yeah, of course. Initially, when I thought that I should capture this moment, I thought about my son. He is 18 and he’s in class 12. So I thought maybe I’ll show this video to him, and he will gain some inspiration from it. So most parents always compare their children to others and say things like, “look, their daughter is studying at Columbia and the son is in St.Stephens firms and so on”. So this happens in every household, and my initial thought was I’ll record this and only show it to my son. But while talking to him, and with each question, I was only discovering more, and after a conversation of around 80 seconds, I realized that maybe if I post this video online it could go viral. I took his consent and decided to upload it.

Maahira

Since you mentioned that you initially took this video just to show it to your son, you know, just to let them be inspired when he sees something like this, and it really makes a difference. Do you think the video not only helped or influenced people who want to help Pradeep in his journey, but also students or young adults, around the age of 18 to 21 to share their journey like this online, or maybe to be influenced, to work as hard? Do you think it’s made an impact in that way? 

Mr. Kapri

Yes, it has had a great impact. I have seen many Twitter posts, Facebook posts and Instagram posts. I’ve seen that many small teachers and schools have shown this video in their respective classes, in their respective schools. I’m part of my son’s school group and it was shared there but they were not aware it was shot by me. So I think it created a large impact. 

Maahira

Lastly, to wrap up this conversation, do you think that every great story starts from something so simple. You just see something as simple while driving back home, like a boy running and that becomes a three-minute video that goes viral making a world of a difference. Even with your films and with other content that you’ve shot, do you feel like this is the most natural way for a great story to begin? 

Mr. Kapri

Yeah, I think so. I think, you know, the most difficult part for any storyteller is to tell the story in a very simple way. That’s the toughest part. It’s the biggest challenge for every storyteller. It was honestly luck also that I got this opportunity to tell this story so simplistically. I never intended to so I would not say that it is my creation. It is completely God’s creation. But yes, last year in 2021 when I was a part of the journey with seven migrant workers, that was my decision to be a part of the journey and capture it. After capturing their journey for seven days, and eight nights, while editing it I realized it’s a very simple story that I must tell in a very simple way. 

Vinod Kapri is a National award winning filmmaker. He is also an author, writer and director and was formerly a TV Journalist.

Interviewer: Maahira Jain

Podcast Editor: Shree Bhattacharyya

Picture Credits: Wikimedia

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 18

Call of Duty: A Surgical Strike on the Discrimination in the Indian Army

Celebrating 75 years of Independence, the Beating Retreat marked the end of this year’s Republic Day through a mesmerising display of lights, history, and inspiring tunes. Each year, the Beating Retreat showcases the grit and strength of the Indian Armed Forces, the continuation of tradition, and acts as a record of history. However, recognising how far we have come also makes one wonder how far we have yet to go. 

In 2018, the government of India decriminalized section 377 of the Indian Constitution. This marked a historic moment in the history of LGBTQ+ rights in India. In the four years since, the Indian Armed Forces have not explicitly recognised the ripple effects of the judicial move, nor have they extended any visible hand to include the community into their forces. In January 2022, the Ministry of Defence rejected a script for a film, directed by Onir, that told the true story of a gay ex-Army officer. The true story affirms that people from the LGBTQ+ community are present in the Indian Armed Forces — however, the institution staunchly refuses to acknowledge them. In 2019, a statement stressed that the Indian Armed Forces were not yet “westernised” and were still quite “conservative.” While it is true that the Indian social and cultural landscape is different from the west – and it may not be fair to compare the two – nonetheless, perhaps the west should be viewed as a society to take note of, rather than one that is unfathomable for India. Moreover, countries in the west are not the only examples. Each country has its shortcomings concerning unequivocal acceptance and inclusion. However, Nepal, the Philippines, and Israel are a few examples of countries that accept service in the military regardless of one’s sexual orientation. 

In the Indian Armed Forces, though they can not punish those in the Army for their sexuality, they can punish them for carrying out certain sexual acts. The Army Act of 1950, section 46(a) states that any “disgraceful” conduct of an “unnatural” kind may lead to punishment. The phrasing of this act is vague, but can be imposed on officers depending on whether those in authority view the encounters and relationships between LGBTQ+ individuals as “unnatural.” The LGBTQ+ community is often ignored and effaced from both within the forces, and from those who wish to serve their country. The first crucial step is that the Armed Forces recognize the existence of the community, after which the system and the state have to collectively work to embrace them into the force. 

The discourse around gender and sexuality has especially been prominent in the past few decades — as laws are modified, views are changing, and people are aiming to be more accepting. The attitude of the Indian Armed Forces towards women differs slightly from their attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community. Women are proudly recognised, and when one visits the official page of the Indian Army, the radiant smiles of five women officers greet them under a section titled ‘Our Ethos’. In February 2020, the Supreme Court granted Permanent Commission (PC) to women officers, irrespective of their number of years of service. Previously, to argue against PC, the government had used excuses such as “motherhood”, “child-care”, and “biological requirements.” In September 2021, the Supreme Court declared that women were now allowed to appear for the National Defence Academy (NDA) exam, and nearly a third of the 2021 exam applicants were women. 

After the landmark decision was taken, only 19 women cadets were inducted into the NDA, and the Centre justified it by stating that they did not have the necessary infrastructure, and they would be ready by May 2022. However, in January 2022, the Supreme Court had to demand the Union Government to explain its reasons behind limiting the intake of women cadets in the NDA to 19 again – even after their assurance the previous year that they would be ready. 

Though the Supreme Court is taking measures to include women in the Indian Armed Forces, the decisions are either long-overdue or are not properly reinforced by the government. On 1st February 2022, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stated that the induction of women fighter pilots was now a permanent scheme. However, despite its many reforms to include more women, the government has also stated that women are “physiologically weaker”, and has argued that women should not be put in commanding roles due to the “male troops not being mentally schooled to accept them”. While new policies and judicial moves for the inclusion of women are welcome, they must be accompanied by a shift in mindsets. Women in the Indian Armed Forces continue to prove themselves as redoubtable members, and making assumptions about their capability and assuming that those in service will not accept them is limiting the scope of what the Indian Armed Forces can achieve.

For decades, The Indian Armed Forces have remained a formidable and inspiring presence. With each march at the Beating Retreat, one can feel the echoes of generations of people who have selflessly served their country and continue to do so. However, among the assemblage of people who serve the country, there lie those who are grappling with their sexuality and are fighting to be recognised regardless of their gender. Perhaps next year, or the years after that, one can continue to look upon the Indian Armed Forces and be irrevocably proud, as they have every year, while simultaneously being comforted with the knowledge that among its rank are people whose sexuality is recognised, whose gender is empowered, and first and foremost are individuals who are serving free of discrimination and prejudice. 

Shree Bhattacharyya is a student of English literature and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 3

Everyday Forms of Geopolitics

We think geopolitics is all about international politics, where nations and national governments are involved. Many disputes over geographical borders are not even bilateral issues between two nations-states; there may be a third and fourth party in the backdrop. Former foreign secretary, Amb. Shyam Saran explains in a recent article how the U.S. forms the third angle in the present military stand-off between India and China in Ladakh. He says, “[China] has started looking at most issues through the prism of the more confrontational relationship it has today with the US. It is looking at India also through that prism and is telling the US, this is a country which cannot even take care of its borders, and you are thinking of this country as a major component of your security relationship in this region”

Yet, geopolitics can also shape the personal and social lives of individuals and communities. The geographical location of the border influences decisions about marriage, local elections, commercial exchanges, cultural expressions, regional unities and transnational affiliations. A recent book by Sara Smith called Intimate Geopolitics discusses how in Ladakh today, matters of the body and the heart, of love, marriage and romantic relationships, become caught up in larger questions of nations, borders and geopolitics. When geopolitics enters the intimate spheres of our lives and governs our deepest emotions – who we may love, trust and befriend, it becomes intimate geopolitics. It affects daily movements, trade, occupations, politics, and domestic relationships. 

In Kashmir, parts of Manipur and other militarized zones of India where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in place, war becomes indefinite, routinised and normalized to such an extent that people living in these regions become used to the everyday violence, killings, abductions, and random detentions. These places form, as anthropologist Haley Duschinski remarks, zones of exception and social abandonment, where violence is normalised and invisibilised to the rest of the country.

In Ladakh, Sikkim, or Arunachal Pradesh in the Himalayan borderlands of India, home to many Tibetan Buddhist communities, the situation is slightly different. Geo-strategically important in India’s border war with China, these Himalayan regions have been marginal in the national cultural imagination and yet, important for national security. In post-colonial India, different governments have tried in their own way to integrate these populations into mainstream political, economic, and cultural networks, through development, education, and other forms of soft state power. Berenice Guyot Rechard shows in her book Shadow States how development has been a means of establishing a benevolent state presence among these border people. The Indian state has also encouraged and funded Buddhist cultural traditions locally as a method of integrating and keeping these populations within the gravitational pull of the nation.

Yet, problems remain and resurface from time to time, whether it is the form of friction between identities, naming of local place-names, and loss in livelihoods such as yak-herding or tourism. Many of the local Tibetan Buddhist communities have historical and cultural connections with Tibet, through trade, religion or political alliance. When India and China emerged as new nations in the 1940s, both embarked on their individual projects of nation-building and border strengthening, leading to the political-economic integration of the border communities on each side. After the Chinese annexation of Tibet and subsequent border war between India and China, the Himalayan communities on the Indian side were integrated more tightly within their Indian political identity. Over the years, these Himalayan Buddhists have found it strategically necessary to show their Indian allegiance by distancing themselves from Tibet and the Tibetans. This has created a conflict within them as they reconcile their historical connections to Tibet with their contemporary political ties to India.  

Further, the military presence in these border regions affect the communities in different ways. In Arunachal Pradesh, many local Tibetic names have been replaced by Hindi names or names of Hindu gods and goddesses, because the army people, unused to Tibetic phonetics, renamed the places where they settled in and spread out their settlements. This has led to a wiping out of cultural landscapes because every place-name comes with a story or legend, and as these names are erased, places lose their cultural moorings. Land and livelihood are also affected when armies move in. In many high-altitude regions, where the Indian army has built firing ranges, yaks, an economic mainstay for many of the Himalayan Buddhist communities, have lost their grazing pastures. With army build up, tourism, which is the main source of contemporary income for these communities, also suffers.

As the battle for borders rages in the high glaciers of the Himalayas, the local communities living in these borderlands fight their own battles. As armies descend on the border zones, and diplomatic channels are simultaneously activated to defuse border tensions on the ground, the people who live in these borderlands are often forgotten. Geopolitics infuse into their everyday lives and livelihoods, making war a felt experience even for those not in war uniforms. Their struggles are more of an everyday form of geopolitics.

Swargajyoti Gohain teaches Sociology and Anthropology at Ashoka University, India. She has published widely on borders, state, culture, politics, and Tibetan Buddhist communities in Northeast India and the Himalayan region.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).