Imagine a world where each year, a government legitimizes the execution of every criminal activity for 12 hours, irrespective of the atrociousness level. This idea was artificially materialized through the cinematic franchise of James Demonaco, with the establishment of his “Purge” series. The series, through its apparent four films, riped into a successful political allegory.
In a dystopian iteration of the United States, an unusual annual tradition called “The Purge” is implemented by an organization called the New Founding Fathers, in an attempt to tackle the rising social unrest and unemployment. Short of aiming at the top-level government officials and discharging weapons of mass destruction, committing every criminal act is legalized for the American citizens for 12 hours within this tradition.
On the surface, the purge turns out to be a successful economic scheme for its supporters. The tradition possesses an ostensible motive – to efface unemployment and the pent-up public aggression so that people act as more diligent citizens for the remaining 364 days of the year. On the other hand, refuting the purge and taking a humane approach stands the “other side”, who view it as nothing more than a heinous manoeuvre through which the minorities encounter the brunt of carnage every year.
For a sane minority living under the regime of the Bhartiya Janta Party, Demonaco’s theme may not be very peculiar. The dystopia displayed in the films is nothing short of a real picture within the “democratic” government where mob lynchings, discriminatory bills & brutality against minorities occupy a vast stage. Where the horrors of the cinematic Purge are brought to a halt within 12 hours, India exists within an eternal purge on a muted level. Thus, the only difference between the two comes out to be the time period.
Focusing on a privileged white family inadvertently taking in a homeless bloodied black man in their mansion on the purge night, the first film acquaints the audience with how the purge functions, while focusing on the theme of wealth inequality and racism; concepts well known in our country. In India, 57% of the national income is held by the top 10% rich population, while the bottom 50% accounts for a mere 13% of the national income. With these statistics, India was labelled as “a poor and very unequal country, with an affluent elite”, according to the World Inequality Report, 2022.
Being a reciprocal of the death rate, the poor in India have been facing a purge since time immemorial, as the rich corner a huge part of the wealth by using crony capitalism, inheritance, and an ignorant government as their weapons. The most recent political issue on the matter is the death of migrant workers trying to reach their homes during the 2020 lockdown. While road accidents, starvation and suicide accounted for the death of 900 people, 8700 people, most of them migrant workers, were killed on railway tracks amid the lockdown. The bogus statement by our own rendition of the “New founding fathers” of “not having any data on the deaths” was used as a weapon against the families of the deceased. A weapon, sharper than those depicted in the Purge films.
With the release of “Purge: Anarchy”(2014), the theme of class and race went beyond the gated community of the previous family, and the real motive of the tradition went above the comment of “cleaning the nation’s soul of its sins”. Set in the city of Los Angeles, the film centred on an unfortunate diverse group, against the right-wing extremists and street gangs, who are under the influence of the politicians creating illusions of patriotism and Christianity to orchestrate and justify violence against the vulnerable groups, on the purge night. This illusion of patriotism and religion is something we witness on an extensive level nowadays through the flowering words of our leaders. Words, impactful enough to instigate the violence the new founding fathers in the film aim for. This takes us back to the riots of North East Delhi in 2020. Bearing the blood of 53 people, the riots erupted on Feb 23, a day before BJP leader Kapil Mishra made hateful remarks and called for the forceful dismission of the anti-CAA protesters at Jaffrabad. What followed was a three-day purge with underlying slogans ranging from “Jai Shri Ram” to “Har Har Modi”. However, instead of Kapil Mishra, who vowed to “do it again if needed’’, the accusation of the conspiracy of the violence was put on the anti-CAA protesters, who were mostly Muslims. The purgers walked out free, as if the 12 hour period was completed.
In recent news, an oath to harm Muslims if necessary for the formation of a “Hindu only nation” is making rounds. Set in Uttrakhand, hundreds of monks and right-wing Hindu activists rose in unison at the event held between 17 and 19 December 2021. Our politicians stay silent through their statement, “if 100 of us are ready to kill millions of them, then we will win and make India a Hindu nation”. As many of such verbal, as well as physical actions, (given the rate of mob lynchings), occur in the country, the voices of the victims are pitched in the coffins built by the media. The media was another important theme of the film. As the New Founding Fathers create an illusion of a free press, the voices of resistance are drowned out by the pro-purge voices. This resembles an issue India is already acquainted with, as politics and media shake hands delicately.
The third film in the franchise, titled “The Purge: Election Year” follows a senator named Charlie Roan, an anti-purge candidate who wants to overturn the establishment for good. Thus, she becomes the perfect target for the New Founding Fathers who plan to assassinate her under the pretence of the purge. Charlie Roan here, reflects the dangers of standing against the government, something a few brave hearts in our country dare to endure and face the consequences respectively. The detaining of protesters against any discriminatory government step, being the most known example; whether it be the peaceful dissent of the young students, or the sharing of a toolkit to help the farmers protest against the farm laws. The film goes forward to present resistance on an extensive scale with more members calling out the purge for what it is: a government-mandated genocide of the minorities. Sounds familiar?
One of the recent instalments of the franchise released in 2018 traces the origins of the new founding fathers and their tradition while simultaneously focusing on how quickly people accept and normalize a thing so malignant to certain sections of society. Such people can be termed as “bhakts” in our popular and so-called “democratic” culture. Similar followers of the Modi government uncritically accept false information as the gospel truth. The first purge here is referred to as an experiment within Staten Island in New York. A place, which can reflect the city of Kashmir, which, with innumerable killings under the name of “militants”, enforced disappearances, sexual abuse and torture have been in a state of purge for ages. An “experiment” originating way back, spreading all over the country.
Considering the latest, 2021 edition of the franchise, one can only wonder how loyal does our government aim to be, with a title as sinister as “The Forever Purge”.
Maryam Hassan is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Diptarka Chatterjee