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Religious Fascism is on the Rise

Canadian Filmmaker under attack in India


Ashim Chatterjee
Asian Age, 4 February 2000


That Uttar Pradesh has become the happy hunting ground for the Sangh Parivar became apparent once again with the unprovoked violence at Varanasi on the sets of Water, filmmaker Deepa Mehta's latest endeavour.

The film, an Indo-Canadian venture, is the last part of the trilogy following Fire and Earth and reportedly is based on the lives of Hindu widows living at Kashi. As per the demand by the law of the land for foreign-funded films, the necessary clearance for the script of the film had been obtained along with the assurances from both the Central and state governments of full co-operation.

Deepa Mehta possibly was not acquainted with the strange and bizarre ways of the ruling hindutva psychosis. With the formalities over smoothly, little did she apprehend any mishap when she went on with the shooting scheduled at Varanasi. But, to her utter surprise, Ms Mehta found the local BJP leaders along with other Sangh Parivar organisations under the banner of newly formed Kashi Sanskriti Raksha Sangharsh Samiti up in arms against her. She had barely completed the mohurat shot of Water, when the protesters descended on the venue and vandalised the whole place under the plea that the film would hurt the sentiments of the Hindus and tarnish the image of Varanasi. Ms Mehta and her crew somehow managed to escape unhurt. The fact that the film had been cleared by their central leadership did not cut much ice with the protesters, most of whom are not even acquainted with the content of the film. Strange are the ways of the hindutvawallahs these days, especially in the states ruled by them.

Stranger still, is the behaviour of the state administration. Instead of punishing the guilty in order to protect and guarantee the democratic rights of free speech and expression as enshrined in the Constitution, the administration has asked Ms Mehta to discontinue shooting on the pretext that the shooting may lead to major law and order problems in the city! The ugly incident has rightly been condemned by all right-thinking people all over the country. One may be tempted to depict, as has been attempted by some BJP leaders, this vandalism as a spontaneous reaction of local people instead of being an organised effort by the Sangh Parivar. But facts tell a different story. As is well known, Ms Mehta does not enjoy any popularity among the members of the Parivar. Her earlier efforts, especially Fire, had earned the ire of the hindutva lobby. The decision to make a film on the Hindu widows had not been welcomed by them. Acts of vandalism, even when the content of a film is not known, smack of premeditated action. Moreover, the deafening silence of the central leadership on the issue is quite eloquent. The demand of a separate clearance of the script of the film from the state administration is not compatible with the film policy enunciated by the UP government. All these point out a prior decision to attack which exposes the intolerance as well as the real face of the BJP.

That this ugly incident has been condemned squarely is, no doubt, a welcome development. But is mere condemnation sufficient? Had it been a stray incident, condemnation would have been proper and sufficient to prevent its recurrence. But when the Varanasi incident, instead of being an isolated, stray one, becomes a part of the chain of events taking place all over the country, the dimension as well as the significance of the whole incident changes. It, then, points unmistakably to a more menacing, more ominous writing on the wall. One should not indulge in the luxury of missing the forest while looking at the trees. It often becomes suicidal.

In view of the recent developments taking place all over the country, the Varanasi incident cannot be judged in isolation simply because it is no isolated phenomenon. It is, in fact, part of a bigger game plan that is unfolding before our very eyes gradually through a series of events. Leaving aside, for the present the Pokhran programme and the Kargil conflict that successfully spread national chauvinism and jingoism throughout the country, one may try to understand the real significance of certain utterings made and recent steps taken by the BJP leaders. First, the chief minister of UP, a protégé of the central leadership of the BJP enjoying its unequivocal support and patronage, declared unabashedly that the UP government, in keeping with the tradition of pe aceful dismantling of the Babri Masjid would welcome the peaceful building of the Ram temple at the Babri site. Of course, a hasty denial came as a routine exercise, but it convinced none.

Second, the Gujarat government has permitted government employees to get involved in RSS activities. Faced with criticism throughout the country, the Gujarat government has come out with an adamant declaration that it would not bow down before any pressure. Third, the rare perseverance shown by the BJP leadership on the question of revision of the Constitution by which the reliance on the experts rather than the elected representatives of the people is a clear pointer towards the intended dilution of the political process. Fourth is the uncalled for enthusiasm to enact stringent methods to prevent conversion. The Varanasi violence came in the wake of all these developments, and, as such, cannot be judged isolated from them. Confronted with these developments, when I raised the question of the rise of religious fascism in our country, or to be more precise metamorphosis of communalism into religious fascism, most of my eminent friends scoffed at me in disbelief. But the uncanny similarity between the present situation in the country and that of pre-war Germany cannot be whisked away. Undoubtedly, fascism, a product of developed capitalism, would take the form of authoritarianism in this land of limited and perverted capitalist growth. But the identity of political content cannot be ignored. In fact, prevailing national chauvinism, jingoism, war against plurality of our society along with the witch-hunt for the artists etc. are nothing new. It invariably reminds one of pre-war Germany.

Thus, the Varanasi violence can neither be treated as a mere law and order problem nor as a failure of the local administration. It, rather, is a clear pointer to the shape of things to come. An unmistakable danger signal in the political horizon is emanating from Varanasi.
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