Documentary channel

Documentary ‘Cecilia’ puts a face to human trafficking, and it belongs to a 14-year-old corpse

Pankaj Johar’s film explores the efforts of a tribal woman to seek justice for the sudden death of her teenaged daughter in Delhi.

A few weeks after Cecilia Hasda came to work at the household of filmmaker Pankaj Johar and his family in Delhi in 2014, she heard that her 14-year-old daughter Mati, whom she had left in her village in Lakhimpur district in Assam, was in hospital. The news got worse: Mati was actually in the capital, not too far from Hasda – in a morgue. The teenager had been trafficked to Delhi without Hasda’s knowledge to work with a family and had died in mysterious circumstances.

Hasda wanted to file a police complaint but immediately came under pressure to avoid this step from her husband, members of her village, the agent who brought her daughter to Delhi, and the family that employed the teenager. She was offered monetary compensation and bluntly advised to move on.

Cecilia Hasda refused, and the documentary named after her follows the doughty domestic worker’s attempts to seek justice for her daughter’s death. Pankaj Johar, who has directed the documentary Still Standing (2010) and produced Hemant Gaba’s first feature Shuttlecock Boys (2011), turned on the camera soon after Hasda heard of her daughter’s death, and he filmed all the way till the case got resolved, first through the regular route (rounds of police stations and negotiations with the lawyer for Mati’s employer) and then the community way.

'Cecilia' director Pankaj Johar
'Cecilia' director Pankaj Johar

Cecilia provides a sincere and absorbing bottom-up study of human trafficking and its sometimes brutal side. The 81-minute film was premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in mid-November.

Play

Johar didn’t initially believe that Hasda’s problems would last beyond a few days. “I never thought that she would face such huge problems, and that she would be hassled by the police,” the 35-year-old filmmaker said. “We thought it would get sorted quickly and the trafficker would get punished.”

Johar’s involvement became serious after he met child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, who suggested that the only way to understand the gravity of human trafficking was to travel to the places most prone to such crime. Johar visits Hasda’s village, where the reasons behind the trafficking of under-age girls who are passed off as adults become amply clear. Agents exploit poverty and ignorance, and keep their so-called clients on a tight leash. “Many of the girls and women come from places in Bengal, Assam and Jharkhand,” said Johar. “Placement agencies ensure that you cannot keep the maids for over a year or so, since if they stay with a family for too long, the agency loses its commission. Under-age maids are not given salaries, these go directly to the agencies.”

Cecilia unfolds as Mati’s mother and the filmmaker experienced it. We see Hasda’s repeated visits to the police and the pressures she faces from her husband and other villagers through the filmmaker’s shocked eyes. The transactional nature of the whole business shows up in the attitude of the police and the lawyers, and suggests that for them, Mati is just another statistic – she can never be brought back, but perhaps her family can make some money out of her. What does justice mean for you, a police officer asks Hasda, a jail term for the trafficker, or money in the bank?

As Johar digs deeper, he is confronted with the wilful ignorance of the middle and affluent sections of society who don’t care where their help comes from, and whether or not they are old enough to work. “Wasn’t it people like me who were creating a demand that had opened a large market for these traffickers?” he asks in the film.

Yet, Johar sank in deeper than he might have wanted to. His wife Sunaina, whom he had married the year of Mati’s death, gets deeply upset with the phone calls and visits that Johar’s ailing father has to fend off while the filmmaker travels through Lakhimpur. Most employers hesitate to get involved with the personal matters of their live-in domestic workers, and Cecilia seems to justify the reluctance.

“We have had more conflicts than shown in the film, we faced more threats,” Johar said. “It was a turbulent time for Sunaina and me. When this incident happened, I was finalising my feature film screenplay, but I stopped doing everything else. There were monetary problems too.”

Johar soldiered on, and he is not sure if he would have if there wasn’t the promise of a film at the end of the tunnel. “Sunaina asked if I was doing the film for my own interests,” he said. “When we started helping her, I didn’t know what I was going to make. But I don’t know the answer to whether we would have continued to stay involved with her case if were weren’t making the film.”

The film includes observation as well as intervention, but Johar draws the line on trying to influence Hasda’s final decision on whether or not she should drop the case.

“Sometimes there was a fine line which I tried my best not to cross,” Johar said about his position as a sympathetic observer. “You want things to unfold in a certain way, and since I was the central character and was deeply involved, there were times when I could have influenced Cecilia’s decision, but it would not have been right on my part. I would have influenced the film and become an activist filmmaker.”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Get ready for an 80-hour shopping marathon

Here are some tips that’ll help you take the lead.

Starting 16th July at 4:00pm, Flipkart will be hosting its Big Shopping Days sale over 3 days (till 19th July). This mega online shopping event is just what a sale should be, promising not just the best discounts but also buying options such as no cost EMIs, buyback guarantee and product exchanges. A shopping festival this big, packed with deals that you can’t get yourself to refuse, can get overwhelming. So don’t worry, we’re here to tell you why Big Shopping Days is the only sale you need, with these helpful hints and highlights.

Samsung Galaxy On Nxt (64 GB)

A host of entertainment options, latest security features and a 13 MP rear camera that has mastered light come packed in sleek metal unibody. The sale offers an almost 40% discount on the price. Moreover, there is a buyback guarantee which is part of the deal.

Original price: Rs. 17,900

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Samsung 32 inches HD Ready LED TV

Another blockbuster deal in the sale catalogue is this audio and visual delight. Apart from a discount of 41%, the deal promises no-cost EMIs up to 12 months.

Original price: Rs. 28,890

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Intel Core I3 equipped laptops

These laptops will make a thoughtful college send-off gift or any gift for that matter. Since the festive season is around the corner, you might want to make use of this sale to bring your A-game to family festivities.

Original price: Rs. 25,590

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 21,900

Fashion

If you’ve been planning a mid-year wardrobe refresh, Flipkart’s got you covered. The Big Shopping Days offer 50% to 80% discount on men’s clothing. You can pick from a host of top brands including Adidas and Wrangler.

With more sale hours, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days sale ensures we can spend more time perusing and purchasing these deals. Apart from the above-mentioned products, you can expect up to 80% discount across categories including mobiles, appliances, electronics, fashion, beauty, home and furniture.

Features like blockbuster deals that are refreshed every 8 hours along with a price crash, rush hour deals from 4-6 PM on the starting day and first-time product discounts makes this a shopping experience that will have you exclaiming “Sale ho to aisi! (warna na ho)”

Set your reminders and mark your calendar, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days starts 16th July, 4 PM and end on 19th July. To participate in 80 hours of shopping madness, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Flipkart and not by the Scroll editorial team.