For an Indian born in a generation where secularism was not just a ‘vote-bank’ term but a reality in practice, I find it hard to digest the fact that as a nation, we are veering slowly but surely into a fundamentalist nation. Don’t get me wrong, I have no qualms with India declaring Hinduism the national religion or getting rechristened back to ‘Hindustaan’. And really why not! That is the ideology of the majority populace. It is the growing fundamentalism that I dread and loathe, the kind where liberal and secular views are mocked and jibed. I remember my childhood days where we inter-acted with people of different faith with no suspicion, celebrated one another’s festivals (Yes! Diwali was as big as Christmas in our home as kids till we outgrew it) with the right spirit and welcomed and respected the different ideologies and practices of different faiths. An Indian was an Indian despite his/her faith – be it Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian etc.
Cut to 2015, the scenario is very different. There is a surging wave of fundamentalism that is increasingly becoming synonymous with patriotism. To add fuel to the fire, we have fundamentalists turned politicians taking center stage and spewing hatred speeches by the dozen and inciting feelings of fear, intolerance, pseudo- patriotism and resentment towards their own brothers and sisters of another faith and ideology. Today, your patriotism is questioned or plain suspicious based on your religious belief and faith. Or for that matter, even which political party you endorse. An Indian Muslim today is unflinchingly asked to pack his bags and leave the country for good to Pakistan or a Christian asked to boot his a$& to Italy/Rome. As if religion is geography specific. Ha-Ha! Which brings to my mind, the recent Ghar Vaapsi program, which to me was nothing but soft apostasy.
Foreigners are increasingly looked upon with fear, distrust and devoid of any respect. Recent cases in point – even the long gone dead Mother Teresa isn’t spared and the controversy surrounding the critically well-acclaimed, film-maker Leslee Udwin is no news by now. Post the ban, Udwin came out and clarified she didn’t pay the rapist, Mukesh any money to appear on the show. She claims she made no monetary benefit either from this film. She also whined that the Prime Minister Mr.Modi has not entertained her requests for a meet to clarify any questions surrounding the documentary. Meanwhile, the parents of the victim (I suspect owing to pressure) is making contradictory statements. On one hand, you see them by the director’s side attending television interviews, one after the other, replete with footage of all the controversial scenes in the documentary. Together with the director, you see the parents of the victim urging people to watch the film. And on the other hand, you see them take a complete U-turn in some of the print interviews by certain media groups. Here, they deny seeing the full documentary, state that they support the Government ban and even plead people to boycott the film. The plot thickens as they say. Hmmm..Fishy! The only witness to the case, Nirbhaya’s friend has slammed the documentary calling it ‘fake’. While Udwin now, standing all alone in this whole ‘jhamela’ refutes his statement saying it was the friend who cried ‘fake’, in fact who demanded money to appear on the show and not the rapist. And since this was against her professional ethics and conscience, she halted her chase for the sole witness. Anyway, let’s give her some benefit of doubt and respect what she has to say even though there are some obvious discrepancies.
Now, the Government ban was issued on grounds of global conspiracy to paint India and it´s men (who cares about the women anyway,right?) in poor light. The funny rather frustrating fact for the Government was that this film is finding no difficulty whatsoever getting premiered and screened country after country internationally. Surely, the Indian Government cannot extend its ban to other countries! Then, whatever happened to that fantastic rationale behind the ban, that of saving Bharat Maiyya and her Putar’s reputation ? Which makes this whole ban ordeal and brouhaha around it such a pointless and futile exercise in the first place. Coming closer home, the documentary is common trite and banal for us. For the citizens in India, this banned documentary is a free, live-feed reality show anyway. We are well-aware of the ground realities when it comes to the issue of women in this country. In fact, the documentary covered only a wee bit of a gigantic problem. Women are by and large, viewed as property in this culture in some pockets of the country. Paraya-Dhan, a property/wealth/disposable commodity to be traded during an arranged marriage deal, and more. Honor killings are pretty normal in some belts in the country because women in those households are viewed less human and more property. Yes, there are progressive mindsets but they are still far, few and way behind the majority. A lot CAN be done and SHOULD be done.
Personally, I think the Government should not have acted hastily and banned the movie without a respectable, formal meeting with the film-maker. The decision should have been made only after a mutual consensus was established between the 2 parties. Furthermore, Prime Minister Modi should have made a public statement accepting these ground realities and vehemently condemning such people and their mentality. Why deny and ban the reality is my argument!
To add fuel to the fire, one gentleman goes ahead and shoots ‘United Kingdom’s Daughter’ in retaliation and anger or in some supporters words, true patriotic spirit. Oh God! Was I shocked? As if rape is some glorious act or sport and we are in some competition or race where your country has more rapes than mine. So Yay! we won because statistically we are still lower on the rape count than your country. Juvenile, I tell you!
Coming under the radar of this fresh controversy surrounding the ban, it’s supporters are spreading like wild fire, this particular video titled ‘Atrocity Literature’ by one gentleman, Mr.Rajiv Mehta. With all due respect to this man, he speaks with a lot of clarity, passion and confidence. And let’s be fair, there are some true facts in there as well. But somewhere, his hatred and bitterness is unmistakable. He is very obviously, a fervent Hindu activist who is settled in America and is fighting for Hindu rights and it’s identity and recognition within the United States. He questions Mr. Obama on his idea of religious freedom when the US itself has no place for Dharmic religions in its Constitution which is inclusive only of the Abrahamic religions of Jewism, Christianity and Islam. So, he has a mission and purpose to spread Hinduism and bring it into focus. Fair enough! But let’s just turn the tables here a bit. And we’ll get back to this gentleman who on one hand wants complete inclusiveness in the American system and is fighting tooth and nail for it and on the other hand, is fighting off potential colonists off the Indian shores via his viral videos.
As an Indian currently residing in the US, my experience has been more than positive. This country allows people from all over the world to live amongst them and let them be. You have temples, mosques, gurdwaras and other holy places to suit your religion. Even within those, you have customized churches, temples and mosques etc to suit your ethnicity, language and even your philosophy. There is abundant religious and non-religious freedom. A Korean is as likely to feel at home and find a church tailored to his language as an Indian who is equally likely to find a Venkateshwara temple with special Bhagwad Gita classes within the city limits. There are so many mosques and Quran schools everywhere as well. The same goes for Buddhist temples, Gurudwaras and of course churches of all kinds – catholic, protestant, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, Bahai, Vegas 24/7 wedding churches (wink!) blah blah blah! I haven’t witnessed a single incident of vandalism which involved ruining of temple relics or burning mosques or Holy Scriptures of any faith here. Yes, you are free to disagree, even poke fun and make caricatures of all Gods, Goddess’ including your own but vandalism is strictly off guards. That’s surely good news for the atheists, agnostics, creative artists and the likes here. There is an unspoken culture of ‘Live and let live’ by and large here which is highly commendable and truly respectable. Of course, there are occasional cases of vandalism but nonetheless, people from polar, diverse backgrounds are welcomed and allowed to follow what they want to. To each their own is an unspoken rule here.
Getting back to Mr.Mehta, it is easy to point fingers at the West. But he cannot deny that when it comes to religious freedom or simply freedom of any kind (barring of course, financial freedom which is non-existent as one is literally gagged and choked by the corporates and insurance giants) they are way ahead of us. Given the increasing number of Indian immigrants, the day is not far when even Dharmic religions will rub shoulders aside the Abrahamic ones in the American Constitution. There is also an active proposition to include the Indian Hindu festival, Diwali in the list of American Holidays. Hollywood itself, is warming up to a whole lot of global imports be it Japan, India or Pakistan.
Yes, Mr. Mehta, while you have to do your duty to spread Hindutva globally and watch out for the colonists invasion here in India, it’s also great to do a reality check and see if we, as a nation, as it stands today, would be welcoming of people of all nationalities and faith to live in our midst. With peace, with respect,without any vandalism, without any animosity and hatred speeches? Come to think of it, it’s been ages since the British invaded, ruled and left India for good as well. Yes, they betrayed us and usurped our land and left us impoverished in the end. They were on a ruthless, conquering spree, colonizing tirelessly one nation after another. While it’s good to be cautious in this age too, it’s also high time to ditch all bitterness and hatred, get out of the past mode and move on forward with a clear, positive energy. At best, let’s look at the brighter side and realize, thanks to colonization, we have an extensive and excellent railway network system, enjoy Cricket and have quality English medium schools. And these are just a few positive contributions amongst the many – preservation and maintenance of ancient relics, museums and monuments, construction of roads, sewers, building the mining industry from the scratch, providing world-class educational system with the finest schools and universities etc. Yes, they did more harm than good. But that’s what it is and that is history now. Why cry over spilled milk? So, let just get past this whole colonial invasion-rule fear, mistrust and hatred for all things foreign and non-Indian and move on.
Yes, there is racism, bias and sweeping generalizations against our great nation. But as a country, we need to get our act, our basics right instead of getting touchy (Ouch!) every time we see ‘India’ attached to an international article reporting rapes, female foeticide, dowry, malnutrition, poverty, dirty streets, cheating in exams…etc. Yes, there are douchebags in every country. Instead of justifying our stance, let’s get down to business and reduce some of ours. Let’s focus on having stricter law enforcement to tackle all our prevailing social ills in the society.
As I see it today and I will be glad to be wholly wrong here, I fear that India today is incorporating the fundamentalism of certain countries in the Middle East and the crony capitalism of the West. And that just spells disaster for its citizens as we would be perennially courting both the Devil and the Deep Sea in our hood.