Monday, August 01, 2011

In the Name of God

30 July 2011

This evening a screening of Anand Patwardhan's 1991 documentary film “In the Name of God – Ram ke Naam” was held at the Max Mueller Bhavan auditorium. Organised by a three year old magazine published from Calcutta called Kindle, the screening was followed by a discussion between the film maker and Tarun Vijay, the national convenor of the BJP.

The film was really all about the content and context in which it was made, a year before the Babri Masjid was destroyed and India was consequently polarised further into religious domains. As far as film making goes there's a lot I didn't care for, yet as a documentary film it's a solid piece of work and it hits the Hindutva supporters where it hurts quite a bit. Still, I found myself nodding off in a couple of places despite that... probably my fault.

The post-screening discussion, anticipated to be exciting, didn't disappoint. Once the almost sermonic Hindu/Muslim/anti-Indian posturing by both Anand and Tarun, and to a large extent the moderator as well took off, Calcutta's vibrant audience made their presence felt. Tarun Vijay as the BJP representative played his role well, grandstanding to an audience he could easily feel were antagonistic to him. Anand Patwardhan maintained his veneer of coolth and rationality as one might expect of someone of his repute. Neither of them though, can be held to represent the aam janata's voice. The moderator, Parnab something, apparently the Roving Editor of the magazine (whatever that might mean), was trying to be diffident and unbiased, but I suspect he was having fun watching the audience react the way they did. Calcutta-people can have quickly inflamed passions. You don't need much to set them off and if you try to be condescending and above them all, you're likely to get hurt. When Tarun Vijay walked off stage taking umbrage at Anand P's remark about black money in Tirupati and other temples, he was summarily halted at the doors by heated audience members and sent back to the stage. Back in his chair, Vijay realised that he had no chance with a questioning audience and proceeded to hog the mike as his defence. He had earlier stated that everyone in India was of Hindu origin regardless of what their present beliefs may or may not be.

It was obvious Tarun Vijay could only espouse the old tired party line of Hindutva, and that too to a Calcutta audience, members of an electorate which has historically never given the BJP or associates a chance. He spoke on and on and was not really amenable to questions. When a 16 year old schoolgirl asked him whether he knew Ram's date of birth and his real birthplace, he proceeded to be condescending with the young girl and then went off on a tangent wanting to know if his questioner or anyone in the audience could give their great-grandfather's DoB or name his birthplace! He didn't expect that a whole lot of people were actually pretty well informed of these details. He ended up saying that Ram was born “10 lakh years ago”! He finally stormed off the stage closely escorted by a confused and worried looking personal security guard. Some of his supporters who appeared out of nowhere effectively blocked off some raging audience members wanting to take the fight outside, as Vijay made his getaway behind their affronted, protective backs.

The audience, comparatively calmer, yet seething energetically sat back in their seats to endure a tad more of Anand's rational posturing. Yes, he has made this film which is important, significant and almost predicted the later violence of Babri Masjid, and and some other controversial films. He spoke of being considerate of other's opinion and always listening to what they said even if one didn't quite agree. He flaunted statistics about the minority community in his suave manner. He rued India's awful polarisation into the Hindu-Muslim centres of power and opinion, somewhere along the way mentioning Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, Jains et al as an afterthought. But his film was no different. I wonder how a person who makes the sort of films he does, can remain only in observational mode without being affected by the circumstances yet still stay inactive. The only activism he has reputedly indulged in is to fight a number of legal battles over the years to ensure his films are permitted public screenings and freely distributed in India, thereby garnering overabundant publicity for himself. His standard justification most likely being that of one trying to uphold freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution. The anger and the concern of the majority for the minority. I thought of the stickers I had seen many years ago on the walls of Bombay's suburban trains, yellow horizontal strips with printed red letters screaming, “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain!” (“Say it with pride: I am a Hindu!”). And then the repartee appearing a few weeks later on those same walls, sober black text on a white background: “Pyar se kaho hum insaan hain” (Say it with love: I am human”).

[Found somewhere on the WWW]

I sat there and thought of my family and our extended family in all its glorious permutations and combinations. I thought of how many of us had married not just Christians, but Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs; of the ethnic origins of our various spouses: South Indian, Marathi, Gujarati, Chinese, Anglo-Indian, Anglo-Saxon, Mizo, Nepali, Punjabi and not just Bengali, and how we all had offspring from this miscegenation, who, if I may be allowed a slight amount of pomposity, are truly Indian. As differentiated from people who call themselves Bengali, Tamilian, Bihari or... Hindu. I thought of my maternal grandfather, a Thakur Brahmin from UP, who met my grandmother and converted to Christianity of his own free will to marry the woman he loved, of how he adopted a Muslim orphan from partitioned Bengal and raised him as his own along with his four children. I thought of my paternal great-grandmother and how she adopted a Muslim boy orphaned on the delivery table of the hospital where she worked as a nurse and raised him along with her four grandchildren, legally willing her property in one-fifths to all five. I thought of how this same lady and her daughter, my grandmother, two widows, offered their house in Park Circus during the pre-Independence Calcutta riots as a refuge for anyone persecuted from any community, regardless of their ethnicity and socio-economic status, merely because they believed so strongly in their Christian faith.

And I knew then that both these men were so wrong. India was not polarised because of our beliefs or attitudes. We were forced into becoming polarised because of men like them who play their blame games, with their disturbing espousal of their black and white theories, aggressively asserting that it is either this or nothing. They want us to see the world as they see it, as two distinct parts: us and them. I found Tarun Vijay and Anand Patwardhan to be opposing sides of the same coin.

As the session drew to a close, I wanted to ask both these men a couple of questions, and I might add of the moderator too. They remained unasked mainly because only 3 or 4 questions were allowed during the entire fiasco. But that is as may be. Since they had spoken so eloquently and often referred to the Constitution, what I wanted to ask was: Where does secularism as enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution of India in its very first line, come into your arguments? And what have you done to promote it actively and positively as a human being first, leaving aside your “Hindu-Muslim communal polarisation”?


Gordon-M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gordon-M said...

I could almost feel myself being there physically while reading the write-up... One gets to hear such crap from the people of this Sovereign SECULAR Democratic Republic described in your story. And sadly, they get away with their stupidity!

However, coming to think of the Preamble, they did exercise the Liberty of expression albeit in distaste...

Nice to know that the vibrant denizens of Kolkata (or should I be calling it Calcutta?) still vent their antagonism and umbrage in a tit-for-tat manner with heated heads!! That's the essence of a city equated with rebellion.

And BTW, the Kindle you refer to could possibly be akin to those kindle books from Amazon...

Piu said...

We need to find a way of not wasting time and effort to see these people saying the same sad things about religion and differences and making movies and documentaries highlighting the same.

All it tells them is that these differences matters in our lives

Not in mine and not for me

Rimi said...

Absolutely right, Pat, and I'm so glad the Calcutta audience -- which can on occasion plumb the depths of preening pseudo-intellectual platitudes -- showed some of its old spirit.

I can only wish there were more families like yours, in convictions if not in actions. May your tribe increase :-)

Anonymous said...


Nilanjan Bhattacharya said...

Unfortunately I was not there to witness the stormy weather created over the post screening discussion. But,from my experience I could very well imagine the situation. You know, Anand has his own place in the history and it ends there. Unfortunately he failed to upgrade his visual language with time and that made him irrelevant after a point. Ram Ke Naam was very important film for that particular time and it still is in its limiting ways but I think that the polarised and contrasty portrayal of religions in the film was sensational and it definitely failed to capture the subtleties of India's multi religious existence. So the retrospective viewing of this film naturally reveals many problems. From my experience I can only say that documentary filmmakers(activist filmmakers to be specific) at large tend to be polarised, like to see things in B& W and become very judgmental. Anand is a pioneer.

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