Nicholson Students Spotlight Indian Caste System in New Documentary


A non-governmental organization (NGO) that fights caste discrimination with education is the subject of a new documentary directed by Lisa Mills, Ph.D., associate professor of film in the Nicholson School of Communication and Media.  The NGO, Movement for Scavenger Community (MSC), was founded by Vimal Kumar, a doctoral candidate at the Tata Institute for Social Sciences in Mumbai.  Mills and Kumar met in 2018 at a conference, and Kumar invited Mills to visit India to examine four educational resource centers run by MSC.  In late April of 2019, Mills and two UCF graduate students, Kevin Garcia and Kayla Beadle, traveled to India to film Kumar’s work.

“This will be my fifteenth documentary, and it was definitely one of the most challenging to shoot,” said Mills.  “But I couldn’t resist telling Mr. Kumar’s story.  It was the experience of a lifetime for me (and the students).  The sounds and images my students captured are at times beautiful, at other times heart-wrenching.  I want this film to capture the essence of education as a human right and a key component of social justice.”

Mills and her film team traveled in taxis, trains and ferries for three weeks over hundreds of miles to film MSC education centers in the so-called “sweeper communities” of Ladwa, Solan, Guwahati, and Barrackpore.  They captured footage of children rushing into the centers every afternoon for academic and social guidance designed to help them achieve excellence in school and strive for a college degree.  But there was also evidence of discrimination in slums where the children live.  In Guwahati’s sweeper community, 25 families share one spigot for running water.  They also share one toilet.

Kumar is a Dalit, born into the “untouchable” caste, and a self-described “son of a sweeper.” Although the caste system was outlawed in India decades ago, many Dalits still face cultural, social and economic discrimination.  Determined to overcome this fate, by age 16 Kumar recruited members of his cricket team to tutor students in his hometown of Ladwa.  Mills’ documentary will tell the story of how he formed MSC as a gateway to help other Dalits rise above their caste through higher education.  It will also show some of the challenges he faces, like the sudden takeover of one MSC center by a political party for use as a campaign office during India’s recent elections.  As a result of the takeover, the center’s library and classroom were destroyed.

While traveling in India, Mills, Garcia, and Beadle shot hours of digital film.  Kayla and Kevin also screened films they made at UCF at the Apeejay Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi.  Mills screened her new feature documentary Marching Forward at the American Consulate in Kolkata, where it was well received.

“We are aiming to have a first cut of the India film completed by late fall 2019,” said Mills.  “We haven’t decided on the title yet, but I am leaning toward Vimal’s Dream.  This was my dream, too.  I’ve always been interested in India and had hoped to visit one day.  I’m truly grateful to UCF’s India Center, College of Sciences and Nicholson School of Communication and Media for making this experience and the resulting film possible.”

Mills has also released a trailer to her film.

Comments are closed.