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*****BAN on Film BLOWS Indian Govt's Secular MASK******

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    *****BAN on Film BLOWS Indian Govt's Secular MASK******

    'Indian govt bowing to cultural terrorism'

    NEW DELHI: India's film industry on Monday accused the Hindu nationalist-led government of bowing to 'cultural terrorism' after an acclaimed director was forced to stop work on her latest movie following violence by Hindu fundamentalists. Film directors and stars from the world's most prolific film industry denounced Sunday's directive by a state government freezing shooting on the latest film from Canadian director Deepa Mehta in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi.

    The order came after a supporter of the militant Hindu Shiv Sena party tried to commit suicide to protest against the movie 'Water' -- which marks the final part of Indian-born Mehta's trilogy about her mother country. Although the script has been kept under wraps, the film has attracted the ire of Hindu right-wingers. Set in Varanasi in the 1930s, it allegedly shows impoverished widows being sexually exploited and depicts an inter-caste love affair, taboo in traditional Hindu society.

    Veteran director Mahesh Bhatt said Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, whose Hindu nationalist BJP party rules the northern state of Uttar Pradesh where Varanasi is located, had failed to ensure artistic freedom. "My immediate response is that the government has succumbed to cultural terrorism, which is more insidious and terrible than the underworld." "You have an enemy within," Bhatt told AFP.

    "What is appalling is that despite clear instructions by the prime minister, the state government is not falling in line. "The system is not working. If the body does not obey the head, it means the system is sick and diseased." The central government had given a green light to the script of 'Water' before the Uttar Pradesh authorities issued the banning order.

    The Hindu newspaper said in an editorial on Monday that both New Delhi and the Uttar Pradesh government had 'emerged badly' from the controversy.
    "Is the seemingly moderate and accommodative posture struck by the Vajpayee administration a cover up "
    it said, pointing out that "BJP leaders in Uttar Pradesh have openly sided with those who have raised a hue and cry about the film."

    The first film in Mehta's trilogy, 'Fire', also attracted similar protests for showing two sisters-in-law, both trapped in loveless marriages, falling in love. Leading Indian film actress and parliamentarian Shabana Azmi defended her role in 'Water,' saying it was a movie about liberation. "For that you have to show oppression. If there is no oppression what are you liberating?" she said, urging a public response to what she described as a 'dangerous trend' of religious intolerance.

    Red tape, squeamishness and other hurdles, have put off several leading foreign producers and directors from filming in India. The affected films include 'Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom' and Jean-Jacques Annaud's 'Seven Years in Tibet.' 'City of Joy' -- a film based on the eastern Indian city of Calcutta by French author Dominique Lapierre and starring Patrick Swayze and Shabani Azmi -- faced violent attacks while it was being shot on location.

    Prime Minister Vajpayee spoke out against censorship while opening a World Book fair in New Delhi at the weekend. "We have seen books being banned and authors persecuted. But neither burning nor banning has been able to suppress the human mind," Vajpayee said. But Home Secretary L.K. Advani, considered a nationalist hawk, said on Monday that the protests against 'Water' had to be given due consideration. "I believe that the film has to be made with the consensus of its producer and those who are objecting to its shooting," Advani told reporters.

    Actress Nafisa Ali, who doubles up as a social activist, said the 'Water' controversy sent a strong warning about the 'so-called secularism' of the current government. "I don't see any women shouting and raving about 'Water,'" she said.
    Go and ask widows in Varanasi about their life and whether they think it is fitting that God gave them birth for this misery and you will know if the film is misleading or not

    Never ever take principle or a system for granted! Only the ground reality counts. LOL

    Fata Morgana


      Hindus cut film on widow exploitation
      By Ranjit Dev Raj

      NEW DELHI - Hindu fundamentalists have prevented the shooting of the Indian film ''Water'' in the ancient holy city of Varanasi, but its theme, the sexual and other exploitation of widows in the name of religion, refuses to go away.

      ''What they are afraid of is the shameful sexual exploitation of helpless widows that goes on in this day and age at Varanasi and other Hindu pilgrim centers in Uttar Pradesh,'' said women's rights campaigner Pramila Pandhe.

      Pandhe, vice-president of the Marxist-leaning All-India Democratic Women's Association, said the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee acted predictably by banning the shooting of the film. ''Instead of cracking down on hooligans led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its sister organizations they have banned the making of a film which sought to draw public attention to the plight of thousands of widows,'' she said.

      Chief Minister Ram Prakash Gupta who leads a BJP government in Uttar Pradesh chose to accuse the film's producer Deepa Mehta of creating a ''law and order'' problem in Varanasi - considered among the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities. On Monday evening, local authorities in Varanasi, acting on directions from the chief minister, invoked emergency provisions in the city and banned shooting of the film for the next 15 days and until further review.

      Mehta, along with lead actresses Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das reacted by saying in a statement ''We have been defeated despite being right. But we have total faith in our film and in truth. This film will be made if not today then tomorrow.'' Azmi who is also a social activist and member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) told newspersons ''Today falsehood has won. Our conscience has gone deaf and dumb. Our country is going to hell.''

      For their roles, Azmi and Das have had their heads clean-shaven as befits orthodox Hindu widows who are by custom denied dignity and even expected to burn themselves on the funeral pyre of their husbands. Widows are routinely denied the right to own property or to re-marry in spite of modern laws and social reform movements dating back to the last century. ''What needed to be banned are the Pandas (the high-caste Brahmin priests who control temples and religious institutions which house widows),'' said Pandhe.

      Pandhe said the widows were basically refugees from religious and social persecution and it was the government's duty to ensure their proper rehabilitation in places away from religious centers where they are thrown to the mercy of the powerful priesthood.

      Thousands of widows, abandoned by their families for the ''sin'' of having become widowed, end up in Varanasi and in the pilgrim centers of Allahabad, Haridwar, Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh in the hope of shelter and food.

      But according to a 1999 study commissioned by the government-appointed National Commission for Women, a statutory body, widows below the age of 50 can expect to be routinely exploited for the flesh trade that flourishes in these cities.

      In Vrindavan and Mathura (on which the study concentrated) the ''flesh trade flourishes in many ashrams (religious retreats) under the cover of religious activities,'' the study said. Often the widows are asked to do domestic chores at the houses of rich businessmen where they end up being sexually exploited and sometimes get pregnant, it said. ''The police, politicians, local thugs and even the so-called godmen in the ashrams are in league with each other and exploit helpless women,'' the report, which was not officially released because of its controversial nature, said.

      ''Deserted by their families they (the widows) quickly fall prey to the grossest forms of exploitation, ranging from their dues being swindled to their bodies being sold,'' the Indian Express newspaper said in an editorial Tuesday. As controversy over the film snowballed last week, the Indian Express reported a racket which deprived the widows of the meager government pension of $380 each of them is supposed to receive each year. ''Even after years of reform and constitutional redress the view that a woman's life is rendered meaningless once her husband dies or deserts her is still the dominant one,'' the editorial lamented.

      Explaining the peculiar plight of the widows, Jyotsna Chatterji, director of the Joint Women's Program (JWP) said ''India is one of the few countries where widowhood in spite of being a personal condition exists like a social institution.''

      ''The JWP supports the filming of Deepa Mehta's film 'Water' as it highlights the marginalization of widows and their state of emotional and material deprivation,'' Chatterji said. The film in no way attacked Hinduism or Hindu culture as alleged by the VHP or the World Hindu Forum and other organizations but ''depicted the status of women within a patriarchal system that works to subjugate them''. She has demanded that the central government ensure that the Uttar Pradesh state government allows the shooting of the film without disruption since the script had been cleared by the Information and Broadcasting ministry.

      Kumudini Pati, general secretary of the All-India Progressive Women's Association said there was far more to the controversy than whether or not the shooting of the film could proceed. ''The BJP is trying its utmost to impose its saffron (pro-Hindu) agenda of cultural nationalism in the country and the BJP-ruled states are being concentrated on for this ideological offensive,'' Pati said.

      Pati indicated a recent order in western Gujarat state which allowed government employees to become members of the fundamentalist Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) known for its military-style drills. Vajpayee and his home minister, Lal Krishna Advani, have defended the move of the Gujarat government saying the RSS was a cultural organization and that there was no ban on it. However, the RSS was banned by previous governments.

      ''The BJP has been thoroughly exposed through Vajpayee's support for the fascist designs of the Gujarat government and for the violent tirade against the shooting of a socially relevant film by affiliated organizations,'' Pati said

      (Inter Press Service)


        Hindu chauvinists block filming of Deepa Mehta's Water
        By Richard Phillips and Waruna Alahakoon
        12 February 2000

        Deepa Mehta, director of the films Fire and Earth, has been forced by Hindu communalists in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to halt production of Water, the third in her trilogy, and look for a new shooting location. The movie was due to commence production in Varanasi on the Ganges River on January 30.

        Set in the 1930s during the rise of the independence struggles against British colonial rule, the film examines the plight of a group of widows forced into poverty at a temple in the holy city of Varanasi. It focuses on a relationship between one of the widows, who wants to escape the social restrictions imposed on widows, and a man who is from a lower caste and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

        A coalition of Hindu extremists aligned with the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP), which rules in Uttar Pradesh and is the majority party in India's National Democratic Alliance coalition government, claims that the film besmirches India and is part of an organised plot by the Christian church against Hinduism. On January 30 fundamentalist thugs destroyed the film's sets. They have since threatened the cast and crew and pledged to drive Mehta out of India.

        Her decision to withdraw from Uttar Pradesh came after a series of violent demonstrations and government provocations. These culminated in the state government ordering a two-week suspension of production on February 6, the second delay within seven days, claiming that it could not control the protests. Behind the scenes, in fact, the state government and senior figures in the central government have encouraged the provocations. Riot damage and shooting delays have cost the production company more than $US650,000.

        On January 29, a day before shooting was to commence, the central government's liaison officer suddenly demanded a Hindi language version of the script and said he needed a fortnight to study it before the film could proceed.

        According to Indian law, before foreign films can be shot directors must submit scripts and all production details to the government. If a film is approved, the government appoints a special liaison officer with wide powers to monitor all aspects of the production.

        The following day about 500 supporters of Sangh Parivar, the alliance of Hindu fundamentalist organisations associated with the BJP, marched to the Ganges River where they destroyed the set. BJP officials, including a state MP, Shyamdeo Roychowdhary, the state branch treasurer, Ashok Dhawan, and Jyotsna Srivastav, the wife of the Uttar Pradesh Finance Minister, led the demonstration.

        Among the participants were members of the Rastriya Swayangsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Forum), Shiva Sena (Shiva's Army) and the Kashi Sanskriti Raksha Sangharsh Samithi (KSRSS), an amalgam of several Hindu fundamentalist organisations. After wrecking the set, the mob held a meeting and vowed to stop the film. Police officers made no attempt to arrest any of those responsible.

        The next day the state government suspended production, declaring that it could not guarantee law and order and that Mehta had failed to meet the legal requirements for the film. Mehta, who had fulfilled all government conditions, rejected these claims and flew to New Delhi where she met with Arun Jaitly, the Information and Broadcasting Minister.

        According to some press reports, Prime Minister Athal Behari Vajpayee, although not in attendance, proposed that sections of the script be changed. Mehta agreed to change five words, the film was re-approved, and the Uttar Pradesh government lifted its suspension.

        But fundamentalist agitation continued with a demand that the script be submitted to Kashi Vidvat Parishad (KVP), a group of religious leaders and academics, for approval. Mehta refused, but as pressure and threats intensified she and scriptwriter Anurag Kashyap met with the group and read them the entire script. The extremist cliques responded to such conciliatory measures by Mehta with more protests and a threatened bandh (strike and general closure) in Varanasi on February 8.

        VHP leader, Ashok Singhal, told the press Mehta should get out of Varanasi and that any attempt to make the film would be completed over his “dead body”. He described the acts of vandalism and ongoing threats against Mehta as “the regeneration of Hindus” and said the film's script “smacks of the conspiracy by the votaries of Western culture to tarnish the image of widowhood in India".

        A few hours after the filming resumed on February 5, amid growing threats, a Shiva Sena member tied rocks to his body and jumped into the river in protest. According to press reports the man, who is known for staging suicide protests, leapt into the river three times before he was able to attract media attention.

        The stunt was a signal for KSRSS-led thugs to begin damaging property and threatening the production crew. KSRSS secretary Narayan Mishra declared he would fast to the death and several Shiva Sena activists threatened to set fire to themselves unless the state government suspended the film's production. The state government immediately seized on these antics and on February 6 ordered the suspension.

        A number of intellectuals, artists, filmmakers and sport stars have issued statements denouncing the Uttar Pradesh government, describing the attacks as “cultural fascism.” Signatories to one statement include Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, musician Ravi Shankar and writer Mahashweta Devi. Their statement said: “[I]t is not merely a question of this particular film. Step by step, incident by incident, the encroachment of mob mentality into the freedom of social criticism in art is becoming a matter of serious concern.”

        Veteran film director Mahesh Bhatt denounced the thug attacks, saying Vajpayee had failed to ensure artistic freedom and that his government had “succumbed to cultural terrorism.” “What is appalling,” he continued, “is that despite clear instructions by the prime minister, the state government is not falling into line. The system is not working...”

        There are no essential differences between the BJP-dominated state and central governments. If Vajpayee felt compelled to give permission to Mehta to film, it was only because he was concerned at possible adverse reaction internationally and by his coalition allies. The central government did not oppose the actions of its allies in the state government. Local BJP leaders, in turn, mobilised and led the extremist hooligans against the film production. After the thugs had done their dirty work, the state government piously claimed that it had to “keep the peace” and halt production.

        The BJP and Hindu fundamentalism

        The BJP is a Hindu chauvinist party, which rests on various extreme right wing fundamentalist formations, in particular the fascistic RSS. The RSS was responsible for the murder of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, claiming that he was too conciliatory towards Indian Muslims.

        Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani are life-long members of the RSS, while Heavy Industry Minister Manohar Joshi is a leader of Shiv Sena, a quasi-fascist organisation that attempts to outdo other fundamentalist groupings affiliated to BJP. Bal Thackery, Shiv Sena's leader, is an open admirer of Adolf Hitler.

        Joshi publicly endorsed the shutdown of Water. Advani said the protests against the film had to be given “due consideration” and the film could only go ahead if it was based on a consensus between Mehta and her opponents. Advani and Joshi led the campaign that resulted in the destruction of Babri Masijid mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 and unleashed the worst communalist violence since the 1947 partition of India. Advani still faces charges over his defiance of a Supreme Court ruling opposing any attack on the mosque.

        The BJP and the Sangh Parivar insist that India must become an exclusivist Hindu state with strictly observed religious traditions, blaming all the ills of society on foreign influences and other religions, particularly Islam, for the breakdown of Hindu norms. Like the extreme rightwing and fascistic movements that have appeared elsewhere around the world, the Hindu communalist organisations seek to exploit the discontent and disorientation produced by economic change and deepening poverty, social inequality and dislocation, and turn it in a reactionary direction by dividing the Indian masses along religious and caste lines.

        The BJP extended its influence in the early 1990s as the Indian government began to scrap national economic regulation and open up the economy to foreign investors. Backed by powerful business interests the BJP in government is committed to further economic restructuring, privatisation and cuts to social spending—processes which will inevitably produce widespread opposition.

        The attack on Mehta's film is a danger sign of what the BJP and its allies have in store for anyone who challenges any aspect of its ideology and actions. Because it is about Hindu widows and involves an “inter-caste” relationship, Water touches on issues at the core of the Hindu fundamentalist ideology.

        In the past, Hindu widows were encouraged to perform sati (a ritual suicide in which they burnt to death on their husband's funeral pyre) or were thrown out of the family home and forced to eke out a miserable life as beggars in and around temples in the holy cities. While sati was officially abolished in the first half of the 19th century, strict religious custom dictated that widows shaved their heads, wore rags, ate one meal a day and slept on a grass mat.

        Today the oppressed position of widows remains. Many are forced to leave their families and lead a precarious existence living on the margins of society. According to a recent report, an estimated 16,000 West Bengali widows live as beggars in the city of Vrindavan.

        According to the fundamentalists, the establishment of Hindu norms would lead to a peaceful and harmonious society. But the lot of widows in India is just a particularly repulsive example of the way in which religious traditions are exploited to defend existing forms of oppression. Defence of the caste system, which bars sexual relations or any direct physical contact between the higher castes and “untouchables,” meets up with the requirements of the ruling class to justify the country's yawning social divide between rich and poor and to keep the “lower castes” in their place. Far from being a recipe for a harmonious society, Hindu fundamentalism fuels caste-related violence, which is endemic in India with countless acts of violence and murder against the “untouchables”.

        Through her works, Mehta, who is a thoughtful filmmaker, expresses her concerns about religious divisions and social relations. In 1998, the organisations that are now demanding Water be stopped organised riots in New Delhi and Bombay outside cinemas showing Fire, the first of her trilogy. Films by other Indian-based directors have also come into conflict with Hindu fundamentalists and the authorities, including Bombay by Mani Ratnam, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love by Mira Nair and Bandit Queen by Shekhar Kapur.

        On Tuesday the Madhya Pradesh government offered shooting locations for the film in that state. While it is not clear whether Mehta will take up this offer, the campaign against the film will continue. Straight after the Madhya Pradesh offer, Uma Bharti, a central government MP and a former minister, told the press that Mehta and her crew “would be stoned” if they attempted to make the film. Mahant Shankara Bharti, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (ABAP), another Hindu chauvinist grouping, declared: “We can go to any extent, even sacrifice our lives and take others' lives to stop this film.”

        The ongoing attempts to intimidate Deepa Mehta and her cast and crew, makes clear that the BJP and its communalist allies are planning deeper assaults on the democratic rights and social conditions of all working people. When they dictate in advance what filmmakers, artists and writers produce they are attempting to control what everybody should think and do. The historic parallel that immediately springs to mind is the burning of books carried out by Hitler's brownshirts in the 1930s.