Dr Ashvin Devasundaram from Queen Mary University of London has contributed to a new report from the British Academy on the theme of urban violence.
The publication offers a range of interdisciplinary perspectives examining violence as an urban process. Dr Devasundaram’s chapter considers police-related urban violence in relation to cinematic crosscurrents from the Global South.
The murder of George Floyd in the United States in May 2020 shone a spotlight on police brutality yet the issue is a global problem. According to Dr Devasundaram’s chapter, in India, the National Human Rights Commission recorded 1,723 deaths in police custody in 2019 alone. How can the glaring discrepancy between democratic principles and the actions of law enforcers be explained?
In his chapter, Dr Devasundaram argues that film can go some way to explaining this. Film is a medium that can be moulded, to identify inconsistencies between principles relating to rule of law, human rights and civil liberties and the state-sanctioned violence that undermines, violates and reneges on these nation-state responsibilities.
Dr Devasundaram, Senior Lecturer in World Cinema at Queen Mary’s School of Languages, Linguistics and Film said: “Films in various forms can therefore act not only as ‘whistle blowers’ but also as a litmus test of the implementation or contravention of democratic constitutional principles on the ground. In this sense, a film can bring forgotten discourses from the margins to the centre.”
According to the chapter, specific types of film constitute an important looking glass as we engage in processes of mapping connections and raising international conversations around racial justice, equality, civil rights and liberties.
Dr Devasundaram draws parallels between several moving image representations of urban violence linking the police force and marginalised, precarious and minority individuals and social groups. Whilst focusing on India, Brazil and South Africa in favour of a Global South perspective, he demonstrates connections with the contexts of western nations including the USA and UK, where introspections on disproportionalities of law enforcement, racial justice and colonial legacies are especially pertinent and sharply in focus.
In particular, the chapter focuses on police brutality across various groups ranging from women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ individuals and slum dwellers to ‘lower-caste’ Indian Dalit migrant workers. Films can present the possibility of imagining resistance, offering strategies to challenge state-orchestrated violence and demand reform.
Earlier this year Dr Devasundaram led an international edition of the Young Curators Lab. This is an annual workshop initiated as part of the UK Asian Film Festival (UKAFF) to nurture a new generation of film curators and audiences and showcases a diverse spectrum of South Asian cinema.
Rich Mix have just published a blog about Dr Devasundaram's Q&A with the Director of The Great Indian Kitchen. Read more.
Read the British Academy report, Urban Violence.