Court: The Rashōmon of Unabashed Violence

Scope | Abdul Ahad

While watching the movie “Court” I was very much reminded of a novel called “My Name is Red” written by Orhan Pamuk, especially because of its narrative style. The novel evoked a variety of experiences for understanding what is happening in a particular event with the contributive narration of all characters. The author is criticizing the single narrative for understanding an event. In the novel, all characters are talking about a particular event from their perspective; a kind of “Rashomon” effect. Anthropology is also very much invested in understanding a particular event through different perspectives and narration in order to get a better understanding of a particular event.

“Court” gives such an account of a particular context and explores the larger question of law, violence, and justice through different narratives of living experiences of the characters. Instead of giving the realist certificate directly to the film, I am going to engage the variegated degree of manifestations of the violence in the movie. It unfolds from character to character and from incident to incident accordingly. Then questions like “Is the movie not showing the narrative structure of state violence and the legal subject?” will not be a sufficient argument for me.“Court” is not only a story of the brutal state violence inflicted on a Dalit activist called Narayan Kamble or similar people who are unjustifiably imprisoned in jails throughout India by invoking the essence of national security and integrity. If you follow the threads like that, you will get enough vantage points to justify your own reasons. In that sense, the movie is political enough to show the violence inflicted by state and machinery on the marginalized people. The movie gives direct narratives of Narayan Kamble and Mohsin (one is a Dalit and other is a Muslim); both were arrested on the false allegation and through the fabrication of evidence and subjected to the unabashed violence inflicted by the state. If we focus through the realist narrative given by the movie, we will reach another conflict:any propagated violence may be necessarily invited, but in another name, it is called structural violence; an impersonal form of violence which won’t show the perpetrator directly but will inflict a violent act.

As Akhil Gupta pointed out, the crime has been like one without a criminal. We can identify the character of the public prosecutor as a subject of the structural violence. Coming from a middle-class family and having the family’s burden upon her shoulder, she happens to plea for any case which the state has given to her. In that sense her arguments on behalf of the false allegations made by the prosecution can be seen as the form of structural violence; doing an act, which she actually doesn’t want to, but is compelled to do it. However, I am doubtful here to give that excuse to the prosecutor within the scene when she went to the theatre with her family. The content was very xenophobic and against lower castes but presented with humor. The prosecutor and her family watched the drama while clapping. By following these threads what I am arguing is that the story narratives are very complex and we cannot put a single narration to the categorical understanding of structural and state violence etc. The narration becomes complex because of the complexity of the violence that perpetrates within it. It is not only a narration of the violence of the state against its subjects but it deals with various forms of violence manifested within a particular realm of legal understanding.

The long shots, the angle of the camera and the sequencing of the shots etc. also bear a role in understanding the violence portrayed by the film. The movie demands a triangular relationship with the characters. After the discussion on a violent narrative, the camera still stands there even after the characters have gone away from focus. A kind of helpless, idle positioning of camera symbolizes the attitude of the society towards the violence that happens in front of them. In that sense, the narratives form an argument about activism towards the questions posed by the movie. Sometimes, even after completing the grand narratives like Narayana Kamble’s hearing, the camera captures the later ongoing court activities. One can easily reach the inference that the realistic sense of movie is focusing such shots. Instead of saying that, I am arguing that such continuities in the shots symbolize the continuous nature of legal violence within the society.

For a better understanding of above said, a Benjaminian understanding of law and violence will be helpful for us. For Benjamin, the law and the system are formed by creating subjects under the conditioning of law and order (Benjamin 1986). Those who pursue their own natural end will be a threat to the existence of law because the law is formed by negating other’s natural ends through the legal ends (Benjamin 1986). So, law actualizes itself by a violent act like the negation of other natural ends, through the creation of legal subjects (Benjamin 1986). Benjamin called such violence involved in the subject making as “law-making violence” (Benjamin 1986). And the violence involved to control/condition this subject is called as “law-preserving violence” (Benjamin 1986). Hence, the creation of legal subjects and maintenance of it involved violence. Such violence is the only legitimated form of violence. Through this particular action, law monopolizes the violence. Monopolization demands continuity of violence. This continuous usage of the violence is the ‘big problem’ when we expound the relationship between law and violence in the question of justice (Benjamin 1986).

The arrest of Narayan Kamble at the beginning of the movie has something to say with regard to our understanding of Benjamin. The first question is: what kind of violence happens on that particular arrest? Is that law-making violence or law-preserving violence?  Law-making violence is used to create legal subjects. Before that, the subject remains something beyond the understanding of the law. Law-preserving violence is happening for the conditioning of the legal subjects. It acts when a subject is under the captivity of law. In the case of a criminal, he is a legal subject and only law-preserving violence is needed to capture his activity.

The arrest of Narayan Kamble and Mohsin in the movie shows a different trajectory. The arrest of Narayan Kamble at the beginning of the movie was not his first.  He had been arrested once before and received a warning from the law. The same can be seen in the narratives about Mohsin, who was arrested according to UAPA of fabricating evidence. Vinay Vohra, the seeming protagonist, gives a lecture about Mohsin at a Human Rights seminar. A striking incident in Mohsin’s story occurs after completing the sentence period. On the very day while being released from the jail he gets arrested for alleging another charge. So, the arrest of Mohsin also showed the continuing nature of the violence. In that sense, one can say that the violence inflicted can be read as the law-preserving nature of violence.  

But the attitude of Narayan Kamble does not let us infer it in that way. A man who is afraid of an injection needle shows amazing bravery towards his arrest. He is very reluctant even while talking to the judge; he represents a kind of pessimist approach towards the law. At the same time, he is exceedingly active in his speech and recitation of revolutionary poems, and his conducting a meeting for the marginalized shows a different portrayal of the character. After every arrest, he gets stronger, moving beyond the captivity of law, like an extra-legal subject. He seems like the individual who helps a community to pursue their own natural ends; a kind of community emancipation out of the violent manifestation of law.  Benjamin called such violence, which destroys the continuity of the violence by destroying itself as divine violence.

As conclusion, the alleged activity of Narayan Kamble, Mohsin and those who were arrested under the draconian laws such as UAPA and others has a capacity to use “pure means” of violence, or divine violence, which destroys the law without spilling blood, expiates it to a different realm of subjectivity where law cannot exercise violence as a means. The attitude of Narayan Kamble and the arguments which he puts forth through his slogans and poetry has the capacity to extract the justice out of the violent resolution of law. The cinema ends with the equal pessimistic concern towards the violent manifestation of legal machinery, which can be seen in the last sequence of the movie, when it questions how prudent our judges are in delivering justice. The movie winds up with the equal pessimistic concern that during vacations, the prudent judge suggested numerology and astrology to his relative as a cure of his son’s dumbness. While he was sleeping, the children came to him and made noise in order to disrupt his sleep. Leaving that childish activity aside, the judge was equally arrogant to punish the dumb child, he was among the children but couldn’t run after the “game” of disrupting the judge’s sleep. The judge punished the child by slapping his face.

I think that ending scene is enough to understand the nature of justice given to the society. The group of innocent children that was making noise against the smooth, ongoing sleep of judge is a metaphor for society. After making such a loud noise everyone disappears except that child who happened to be punished for the entire group without knowing what is happening but expecting mercy through “justice”.  The portrayal of the child is also the metaphor of the marginalized society, they became dumb not because of the fact that they did wrong;it is the historical and cultural domination over them that has made them dumb. And for that particular reason, he happens to stand in front of “justice” every time, expecting mercy but getting punished by the violent manifestation of justice and equality. Here, dumbness unfolds into two meanings: the one is the political and cultural reason which made him dumb, and the second unfolding leads to the negative affirmation towards the casteist expression of law and order. Like the movie told us, the boy is not willing to go with numerology and astrology, the mythical and violent order of the present mainstream narration of society. The boy, unlike everyone else, chose not to speak but to open up the rotten side of justice by receiving that slap from the judge.

Works Cited:

Pamuk, Orhan. 2011. My Name is Red. London: Faber & Faber.

Benjamin, Walter. 1986. Critique of Violence. Reflections: Essays Aphorisms Autobiographical Writings (edited by Peter Demetz). New York: Schocken Books.

Kurosawa, Akira. 1950. Rashōmon. Japan: Daiei Film.

Tamhane, Chaitanya. 2014. Court. India: Artscope – Memento Films.


About the Writer


Abdul Ahad is an Advocate by profession, now pursuing his LLM in Development at Azim Premji University, Bangalore. He has worked as an Assistant Director for “A Documentary about Disappearance”.