Monday, March 28, 2005

'Sins' and sentiments


Are the objections to 'Sins' based on the film being made by a Hindu?

The latest victim of our twisted version of secularism has been Vinod Pandey's film 'Sins'. Last week the Jammu & Kashmir government banned it for fear of hurting Christian sentiments. And, the Minorities Commission, ever ready to jump on a 'secular' bandwagon has leapt into the act by demanding an explanation from the Censor Board.
When 'secularists' are in high dudgeon they pay no attention to the vital detail that not only was the film cleared by the Censor Board but found unobjectionable by the Bombay High Court. So, the film will probably end up banned all over the country in the near future because a handful of Christians are in the streets protesting against it. I find this particularly interesting because I have seen no protests against foreign films or plays that have questioned the very divinity of Christ. Remember the line from 'Jesus Christ Superstar', "Prove to me that you're no fool walk across my swimming pool. Prove to me that you're divine, change my water into wine". So are the objections to 'Sins' based on the film being made by a Hindu?
Not a surprise
'Sins' is the story of one bad priest. Far from being insulting to Christianity it is almost a tribute to it with the film's heroine finding peace and true faith when she meditates in front of a forgotten Cross on an abandoned beach. That there are bad priests should not be a surprise to Indian Christians considering the scandals that have erupted in the Western world in recent years over young boys being sexually abused by men of the cloth. The Vatican had to intervene. That should have brought Indian Christians into the streets but it did not. On principle I am against the banning of books and films and on principle believe that religion must be in the realm of literary and cinematic discourse. When India became the first country to ban Salman Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses' in 1988 I remember asking one of the smug bureaucrats responsible for the ban if he had read the book and he admitted that he had not. 'Its too convoluted and boring' he said 'but we have seen from reviews in various magazines that it could be offensive to Muslims so we are banning it as a precaution'.This act of stupid censorship drew Ayotollah Khomeini's attention to a book that hardly anyone would have bothered to read otherwise and along came the fatwa ordering Rushdie's death and then along came the protests of Muslims who would never have known of the existence of the book had it not been banned by the Indian government. Vinod Pandey, like most other members of the Hindi film industry, is a card-carrying secularist. Years ago he denounced Hindu priests and 'mutts' in a television series called 'Reporter' so it has come as a huge surprise to him that he is now charged with being a proxy of the 'saffron brigade'. 'How is it when we did six episodes against Hindu mutts nobody said anything' he aks in puzzled tones. Well, because in our strange understanding of the word 'secular' it is alright to abuse Hindus, arrest Shankracharyas and insult Hindu religious teachers but say one word against Muslims or Christians and you are in trouble. 'Sins' is not the only recent victim of this kind of secularism. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also is. At the recent 'India Today' conclave famed lyricist, Javed Akhtar, sneered at Indian spirituality, particularly of Sri Sri's kind, for being little more than teaching rich people how to breathe.Everyone laughed heartily and nobody dared ask Akhtar his views on Islamic seminaries whose teaching of Islamic spirituality led to the creation of the Taliban. Nobody asked him if he did not think teaching the rich how to breathe was slightly less dangerous than teaching children how to kill innocent people by becoming suicide bombers. Sri Sri should have asked these questions but probably refrained because they are too politically incorrect. So, he came to Mumbai last week to inaugurate an exhibition on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits and found himself under attack again from another member of our 'secular' film industry. This time from my old friend Mahesh Bhatt. Mahesh sneered, a la Javed Akhtar, at Indian spirituality and said India was the most materialistic country in the world and that spiritual teachers like him were no better than entertainers. Rock Stars.
Respect religions
Would he like to tell us what he thinks of the mullahs that rule most of the Islamic world? Would he like to tell us the status of spirituality in Islamic countries? The spiritual aspect of Islam used to be reflected in Sufism and both Mahesh and Javed would be doing themselves a favour if they spent a few weeks finding out what happened to that kind of Islam. It has virtually disappeared, except at concerts at Humayun's Tomb, because it has failed to survive the onslaught of the new Islam that comes from Saudi Arabia and Iran and found its most significant political expression in the Taliban.Personally, I have no difficulty in saying loudly in print that we need to have more respect for India's religions and Indian spirituality if only because they have caused much less harm to the world than Western religions. And, there is no room for banning films and books in a country whose intellectual and religious traditions are based on the right to question.