By Syed Ali Mujtaba
Paatal Lok is an Indian Hindi-language crime thriller web television series which was premiered on Amazon Prime Video on 15 May 2020. The series is about a disillusioned cop who handles the case of an assassination attempt that has a web of plots and sub plots built around this crime thriller.
The nine-episode series is scripted by a team of writers with Sudip Sharma of NH10 and Udta Punjab fame gaining the credit line. It is directed by Avinash Arun Dhaware of ‘Killa’ fame and Prosit Roy of ‘Pari’ fame. This web series is generating rave reviews and has been declared as a classic.
Below the glitter and shine of the crime drama, Paatal Lok is an allegory of India’s social structure. This web series rips open the social stratification of the society that runs parallel to the main plot. Although the prominent lawyer of the series is the characters enactment in the drama but the most fascinating things is below the surface is chilling commentary on the Indian social order.
There are four groups unofficially classified as; Dhartal Lok, Paatal Lok and Swarag Lok along with the fair sex who constitute one plus three categories of people called as Patal Lok.
This imaginary classification has no resemblance with anyone and there is no malicious intention against anyone. However, the most conspicuous part in the Paatal Lok allegory is the near absence of Muslims in all the layers of Indian society. This may be due to constraints in the script but this social reality epitomizes the Muslim dilemma under the shadow of Carona pandemics that has shown mirror to many Indian realities.
Dharatal Lok- Awareness about deep caste trenches in Indian society is well known. People living at the bottom are identified belonging to the Dharatal Lok. It’s an odyssey for those living in Dharatal Lok as life gives them only two choices; either the hard rock or the rough surface. The people here are struggling to escape from these existential troubles but can only move from one hellish point to another.
This stratification is based on the current life in Indian society that’s quite visible in the turbulent times of Covid 19 pandemic. The images of migrant workers walking on the road are chilling our minds and bleeding our hearts. The stark reality of the people belonging to the Dharatal Lok become more pronounced when the pandemic and the government has left them to fend themselves in the most uncertain times.
In the Dharatal Lok people belong to the low rung of the society. They are the edifice the modern India and survive by the dint of their labour. However, they are exploited lot and when tragedy strikes like Covid-19; they are left to unknown future.
The journey of the migrant laborers that we see on the TV screens is the people of the Dharatal Lok. Within this bunch of poor and hungry people there are up-teem characters. There are the low-caste Dalit-Bahujan mass, the lower OBC castes, the poor construction laborers, the marginalized social groups and of course the Muslims. All such groups are born in a rotten and treacherous social system whose lives are doomed.
These voiceless people live without any hope. Their social and personal life is suggestive of the fact that they are passive participant in the continuing saga of human exploitation. They are most condemned species that are left to survive on their own or are destined to die in ignominy.
In the Dharatal lok exist the real India. These segregated characters have more egalitarian outlook. Their social order is an epitome of unity in religious diversity. Their poor lifestyle and exploited situation cut across the religious divide. People here remain united due to common bondage of economic hardships. Here the folks do not see Muslim with contempt but have a comfortable bonding with them. Their situation does not change, no matter, which political party holds the power in the country.
The people in the Dharatal Lok constitute almost half of the Indian population. They are the biggest vote bank for the political parties. Victims of social malice and injustices, people of Dharatal Lok are most gullible lot. They fall an easy prey to those who show them the dream of changing their lives.
The Muslims amongst them have little choice and find solace in the political parties that promised them security of their life and property. They have not got anything apart from such tokenism and their lives have never changed. As such Muslim have little role in the Dharatal Lok.
Paatal Lok- The social structure in Paatal Lok exists in its brute nakedness of wretched caste hierarchies, feudal structure and the crude patriarchal domination. Here society is segmented into caste groups’ families and kinship groups. The vociferous diversity in the Patal Lok are under four broad categories of castes system and within them numerous subdivisions based on varna, jati, jat, biradri, and samaj etc. There is purity and pollution complex with high caste associated with purity and low with pollution. The pure maintain a corona distance with those alleged to be impure or pollutant.
In the dog-eat-dog world of Paatal Lok, the different groups are demanding share in the power and resources of the country. The people in the Paatal Lok are highly politicized. The categories are in horde to be relevant to the demands of democracy. They exploit any primordial loyalties to acquire voting muscle and jump into the electoral fray as a separate category demanding benefits for their group.
As competition grows, political, social, and economic issues are hotly contested among the people of the Paatal Lok. They do not refrain from committing savagery upon other human being. The discrimination of Dalit’s and the Muslims are pet themes in their life discourse.
The people in the Paatal lok are most communalized lot. They make use of religion and nationalism as a tool to achieve their own social progress.
In this scheme of things, Muslims are no doubt important but are in a cruel way. Their utility is seen to be in terms of engineering the communal riots against them. The eventual killing of Muslims first alley the sense of insecurity and then forge unity among them and in combination give them electoral returns.
Muslims in the Paatal lok are at the receiving end. They are caught between the devil and the deep sea. They are in the bind to either go for their security of life and property or protect their identity. This hard reality makes any further progress of the Muslims impossible as they are unwelcome people in the Paatal Lok.
Swarg Lok- The people in the ‘Swarg Lok’ are highbrow English speaking folks. They belong to the capitalist class with tons of money. The corporate honchos, who may be five percent or less than that of the population, control over seventy five percent of wealth of the country. They live in palatial bungalows; have high lifestyle with their own civility and sexual liberties. Here the individuals here are ranked according to their wealth and power. They represent a class of people to whom poverty can never dare to touch. They are so high in the social echelons that the people of Pataal Lok or Dharatal lok can never sneak even into their outer rings.
The people of the ‘Swarg Lok’ indirectly control the power in the country. They fund the political elite and after saddling them in power draw rent from the investments made on them. Such people have little connect with the people of the Dharatal lok. They deal with them though those in the Pataal Lok but without getting their hands dirty. The people of the Swarg Lok have tussles for power between their own class groups but such rivalries do not come in open and have their own rules and ethics to deal with.
Muslims here again have no place in the Swarg Lok. It is an exclusive domain of the majority religious group. There may be few like Azim Premji of Wipro and Yusuf Khwaja Hamied of Cipla who belong to the Swarg Lok but they are incorporated into this group as Budha was done in pantheon of lord Vishnu. Their Muslim identity has no relevance to the social structure of ‘Swarg Lok.’
Status of Women in all Loks- In all three layers of the social strata, the position of the women is somewhat similar though their lifestyle may vary in each Lok. In terms of self-esteem, the position of women in Dharatal Lok is better than the other Loks. This is because of their share in the economic generation and in terms their bonding role in the family system.
In all the three Loks, males control the key resources, such as land or businesses and women do not have proprietary over the material wealth. The women are tied to their male folks and only have crass utility in all the three Loks.
The women in all the categories are victim of the patriarchal male hegemony. As wives, she is dependent on her husbands, as daughter she is dependent on her father, as sister she is dependent on her brother. The bonding between the male and female are superficial, one-sided and in most cases it is only for comfort and care of the men folk.
In all the three Loks, women are a passive spectator in the male dominated society. In Swarg Lok she is a compromising entity, in Pataal Lok she is a battered wife and in Dharatal Lok she is an economic utility. Restriction and restraint in every aspect of life is common to women in all the Loks.
The position of Muslim women is no different from the women of all the Loks. The good part is the gender binding supersede the communal binding and women in all the Loks are Eves first than being Hindus or Muslims.
These four segments overlap yet standalone individually in the social stratification of the Indian society. The four Loks retain human beings perpetual existence without any victory or defeat. In this cycle of Karma and dharma the wheels of society are turned on the basis of these three plus one Loks. Such allegory of India’s social stratification is just imaginary and has no resemblance to anyone and whatsoever.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org