Breakin' Ban

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 fundementalistic 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 some 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.                                

The Mirror

As I write about an issue that I feel very strongly about, I feel a surging rush of hopelessness, disappointment and frustration with the current standing of 'India's Daughter' in the mainstream Indian society. India is a land of immense intellect, age-old wisdom, talent, showmanship and Nari Shakti (Woman power). But unfortunately, these positive elements are controlled, banned and silenced by the dark elements of hypocrisy, prehistoric mindsets, chauvinism, violence and corruption.

Like any issue where one has to take a definitive stance, I choose to stand by 'India's Daughter' documentary.  And here's exactly why ...

This is a documentary that is just like any other that there is in the cinema/arts category. It is as banal and common trite as that. And so, let's treat it normally and review it objectively. Furthermore, the director is free to express or break all boundaries to make her point across. It's her given perspective and right. You either like it or don't. Ban is a bit extreme though.

My honest view is that when watched with an objective mind - the film is made beautifully, sensitively, realistically and fairly. But yes, if your sensibilities get offended too easily, then yes, the realities in the movie will mock you.

And then starts the critique finding - 'BRITISHER (as if that's an evil thing), MIND YOUR DAMN BUSINESS.' Or 'WHAT'S HER EVIL INTENT'?' (Who is to judge her intent ..maybe it was noble and curious being a rape victim herself or materialistically/professionally motivated or a bit of both) Why does the intent really matter to you, me or anyone else? Pseudo patriots will get offended and cry that this shows India in poor light. Really? Why does our Patriotism suddenly wake up from nowhere at the these irrelevant moments? Why give this issue a patriotic angle at all? Is there an unwritten/unspoken rule that only documentaries that show the good side of India will be allowed to be screened here? Are we that insecure of our great nation? There is also bizarre angle linked to the 'intent' criticism - Global  conspiracy! This was categorically suggested by a member of the ruling party, Mr. Venkaiah Naidu who cited global conspiracy for the reason behind the ban. Really, Mr. Naidu? So, basically, you are saying the documentary is falsified, manipulated and is a part of a larger global conspiracy? Which conspiracy theory are you particularly talking about? The New World Order? The Rothschild/ Rockefellers instrumented 'Feminist revolution'? The problem with these theories are just that - these are only theories with no valid proof. They may be true ..they may not be. Also, depending on which side of the boat you sit, you will accuse the one sitting on the other side to be a Zionist/Satanist/Luciferan/xyz with vested interests group etc. So, ultimately everyone/every group is accused of being a Zionist inculcated in the secret society by the opposite group. Yes, these theories make for an interesting read. But, to vaguely cite an insidious global conspiracy that will spark and ignite 'out-of-control' violent mob justice attacks as the reason behind the ban implies two things to the world.  One, that we are voluntarily turning a blind eye to the real-time injustice meted out to our women and two, that we are escaping our socio-moral responsibility to undertake the right judiciary action. A ban, then becomes  your quintessentially, atypical 'road often travelled' solution adopted to wriggle out of this embarrassing situation.  Definitely not the bravest attempt by the Indian Govt. We could do so much better especially when there are people from all walks of life in India speaking out loud against the ban. And the Govt. betrays and dashes all our collective hopes with this cowardly ban. 

Next critique 'WHY PAY MONEY/GIVE A PODIUM TO THE RAPIST?' - Well,this is a documentary and it has to show both sides of the story ..not just the victims side. If money is the only way to lure the rapist to talk (he initially demanded Rs.2 lakhs), then so be it. Let the truth be out from BOTH the victim and perpetrators' side. The bottom line is no one was forced to be a part of this documentary. Some like the victim's dignified parents obliged willingly, some had to be bribed like the perpetrator to open his damn gob and some others directly involved in the case just chose to opt out and stay out of further trouble and drama. 

Next hooker in line - 'IT SHOWS ALL INDIAN MEN IN POOR LIGHT'. "Hello! Did you miss the victim's father and friend's views? If it were not for the progressive views of the victim's father and the male likes in her circle of family and friends, she wouldn't be studying medicine in the first place or roaming with a male friend before marriage at night. In India, the reverse is true -'Behind every successful Indian woman, there is a supportive and progressive Indian man - be it father, brother or spouse.

Here goes another one - 'WHAT ELSE DO YOU EXPECT FROM DEFENSE ATTORNEYS AND DON'T RIDICULE THEIR BROKEN ENGLISH?' We perfectly understand how the legal system works, how a defense lawyer is obviously meant to defend the actions of his client while attacking the plaintiff. What we do not understand, comprehend and vehemently condemn is the absurdity and unculturedness arising from an educated mind. At least come up with more rational talk befitting the legal profession. English proficiency of the interviewees' is well, irrelevant. Most of them in the documentary from both sides could barely speak English owing to their background. That's perfectly OK. What's NOT OK is that their (rapist and his defendants) stinking, low-level thoughts speak not just for the rapist but also for some of those in power in the parliament irrespective of the party and other similar mindsets in the general population irrespective of the gender.

And last but not the least -'The USA HAS WAY FAR MORE RAPES THAN INDIA AS PER STATISTICAL RECORDS'. First, no is claiming that the USA is a Utopian place. Yes, every country is riddled with their own nagging problems and the US is no pretty exception. Coming to statistics, one needs to microscopically study and research these statistics before throwing them out as some kind of patriotic defense. Whatever is recorded in India statistically is only a tip of the iceberg. Remember and understand that in India and other similar countries, a sweeping lot of women related crimes go unreported/ unrecorded on account of public shame, fear and our loopholed judicial system. Also, question and probe the authenticity of India's rape records. When they can't even get our names right on the voters ID/driver's license etc, when every record can be wiped out clean with a neat bribe, when women and their families fear not just the rapist thugs but also the thugs sitting in the garb cloaks of law and order, when women are leered and forced to be mindful of what they wear not just at dusk but also at the crack of dawn and after, then one needs to question these statistical figures. Unlike here, at least the officials do their duty - maintain records meticulously, keep handy and make available, a sex offenders' list and give a fair trial. That's what's needed in India too. What do rape victims in India get? Shame, blame and no justice. 

Either ways if one watches it objectively or pseudo-patriotically, one cannot deny that whatever is shown is a common reality in India. It's the truth... Why deny it? Worse still, ban it? 
In conclusion, I'm taking further liberties and tweaking with a popular children's fairy tale as an analogy to the current ban on the documentary.

Once Upon a Time, there lived a powerful and  handsome Mahapurush in the real land of Hindustan. He would stand before his magic mirror to inquire, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” 

Each time, the mirror would respond, “Thou, O King, art the fairest in the land.” But over the years, the Bharatiya Nari  blossomed and evolved into her most beautiful form that transcended all barriers of patriarchs, gender inequality and self-doubt. Came the day when the mirror said to the powerful Mahapurush , “India's Daughter, is the fairest and most beautiful of them all.”

From that moment on, 'India's Daughter' was the object of the Mahapurush’s hatred. He wanted to teach her a befitting lesson that would render her to be powerless, voiceless and lifeless. And so, he took out not just the most juiciest , but also the most rotten and vile apple of the lust lot as his bait - The Rape Bait!

'India's Daughter' is akin to the magical, talking mirror which not just pops up but also reveals transparently who indeed, is the fairest of them all. It could be the mighty all-Alpha Indian Male aka Mahapurush like it has always been from the very beginning. Or it could be the very formidable contender - 'Bharatiya Nari' Because, the times are changing, Mahapurush has to understand and learn to share his coveted spot willing to his truly fairer 'Bharatiya Nari'. The magic Mirror doesn't in any way suggest that the Indian society or it's men are ugly per se. It merely holds a reflection of the scars and blemishes in an otherwise, greatly handsome nation. Scars and blemishes of blaring shortcomings that can easily be treated and done away it.

I end this article in hopeful prayer -

'Let not the Mahapurush's masculinity feel threatened by the Nari's modernity. Let him not succumb to acts of eve-teasing, brutal violence and rape to put her back in her Medieval-age place. Let him learn to live and let live organically, peacefully and happily rest assured that there's space for everybody under the sun.'