April 12, 2001


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Francois Gautier

The last cry of the secularists?

Since some time, India's intellectual elite, the historians, some journalists, film-makers, writers and social activists, have been making a lot of noise, complaining that they are being hounded by the Saffron Brigade, that the RSS/BJP combine is edging them out of their position and that generally, the country's secular fabric is being "torn apart."

There are a few flaws in this persecution complex. Firstly, what the secularists do not say, is that for more than fifty years, they had no qualms about imposing on Indians their impression of what India's standards should be in terms of literature, journalism, film making, or painting. Secondly, that their idea of intellectual standards is totally foreign to India: it is borrowed from Marxism, an ideology which is profoundly hostile to India's culture, traditions and ethos. And lastly, that barely a handful of Indian intellectuals have held sway over this huge and diverse nation.

Historians like Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia and Bipan Chandra, for example, professors at the JNU, the Mecca of secularism and negationism in India, have constantly upheld theories, such as the Aryan invasion, which have been proved totally false by recent archaeological and linguistic discoveries. We have seen on the other hand, how Thapar, who had no scruples in trampling upon others who did not share her views, made such a racket when she was edged out of the ICCR.

The recent controversy about the film awards has once again brought to the fore this kind of secular Talebanism. The best feature film award went to Shantam. a film which deals with the RSS/BJP and the CPM bloodying each other in Kerala. One of the boys is killed and his faction swears to take revenge on the other faction. But sacrificing her thirst for vengeance, the mother of the killed boy finally prays for peace and both the factions forego their enmity. "Apart from the message, said one of the members of the jury, the overall presentation, action, direction are so superb that none had any doubts about it to be the best one."

The next is Sayahnam. a film on the life of E M S Namboodripad, who died a couple of years ago, one of the leading lights of Marxism in India. It rightly won the Swarna Kamal award for the best first film -- and nobody complained, not even the "saffron" members of the jury, who could have objected to a man known for his hatred of Hinduism from being honoured. Then, Soumitra Chatterjee acted in Dekha, an aesthetical film, which makes a few barbs about the Babri Masjid and Partition. Yet again, Soumitra got the best jury award -- and none of the non-Marxist members of the jury resigned in protest.

But the other side did not show the same generousity. They ran down Pukar, a patriotic film. But being proud of one's country and culture is deemed as an 'obscurantist trait', and slandered Raveena Tandon because she campaigned for the BJP (she did not) and said 'the film is bad'. "And although," recalls one of the members of the jury, "Pukar was accepted by the majority for what it stands for -- victorious Indian people, national integration and an excellent performance by Anil Kapoor, why should we punish Raveena for factors not under her control? The jury recompensed her for her acting and not for the film direction!"

Another controversy: Pandavas, which won for the best film in the English language category. It was attacked "for projecting the Hindu ethos." But what's wrong with the Hindu ethos? It is the ethos of 850 million people today, and a wonderful ethos: generous, tolerant, spiritualised, as ancient as the history of humanity. But no, the Marxists of the jury wanted to award Split Wide Open for this category, because "it dealt with a bold theme' and characterization. But a majority of the jury felt that like many films made brilliantly by people such as Deepa Mehta, Split Wide Open sought to debase Indian culture and applied standards and judgments on India which belong to the West.

"This film," accuses one of the members of the jury, "shows sexual relations between son-in-law and his old mother-in-law, between father and daughter, and we felt that it was not proper to award such a movie." Instead, the jury decided in favour of Pandavas "for its beautiful portrayal of an epic in animation form and its overall presentation." Of course, the Marxist members (all Hindus by the way -- and of course, Hindu-bashers) objected to Hinduism being portrayed so delightfully (although, not even once, they uttered the word Hindu), but what's wrong in honouring one's culture? The West does it all the time -- even lately when it gave the Oscars to Gladiator, a film which goes back to the much loved -- and hyped -- Roman roots of European culture and civilisation… and glorifies violence …

Says one of the attacked members of the jury: "A jury member may lodge a protest or submit a note of dissent if dissatisfied. How do you run a democratic institution? Put forward your views and respect the majority. Many of the films strongly advocated by others were simply rejected. They too could have walked out. Where would that all have led to? To label the entire jury as saffron is a travesty of truth. Each one was there in his individual capacity. Even then, each and every decision can be discussed threadbare if that would satisfy anyone." But that's not the reason behind the furore of the three holy jury members. The reason is the deep-rooted sense of apartheid in their minds. Taleban mindset. Which just does not tolerate a different viewpoint.

So what is the message? Those three, just three, are right and the rest of the 13, just wrong. They simply do not matter because they have come directly from the shakhas (and believe you should because these three have said so) and it is immaterial if many of them have made more and better films, or won more awards than these three respectable members. They say, Vyjayantimala Bali is unfit because she is from BJP. So you are suggesting that the other great actors like Rajnikanth, Sunil Dutt, Dilip Kumar too should be outlisted from any awards list or joining any awards jury because sometime or the other they worked for the Congress, Dalit Muslim Mahasangh or BJP.

Instead of bothering with the political affiliation of juries, one should concentrate in cleaning-up the rot in Bollywood, where blood money finance films, where Muslims writers, actors, musicians, who should have their country's interests first, use their talent and money to subtly attack the very culture which gives them the licence to express themselves freely.

Tarun Vijay editor of Panchajanya, who was particularly hounded by the three above-mentioned individuals, is not only a fine man, an upright journalist, but he was also very much in his element when he was asked to be part of the jury of the recent film awards: he has worked with Basu Bhattacharya and Bill Greaves -- one of the greatest Black film makers of the USA, wrote on films in various English and other language newspaper, covered several film festivals as an accredited film critic and was on the jury for best writing on cinema which awarded The Times Of India film critic… But he is suspect because he is saffron!! Why not demand the removal of saffron from the tricolour too? They would, if they could!

The hue and cry made by the outnumbered Marxist panelists show how much the secularists realise that they are in the process of losing the iron grip they have on this country's intellectual pulse. Are we then hearing the last cry of the Hindu negationists?

The National Film Awards 2000 Controversy: The complete coverage

Francois Gautier

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