Category Archives: Politics

Film Review: Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai

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Directed by Nakul Singh Sawhney

There was a time when Muslims and Hindus lived together in Muzaffarnagar. Their children played cricket. They celebrated Eid, Holi and Diwali. They worked the fields and sat on farmers’ collectives like the Bharatiya Kisan Union. The town was referred to as “Mohabbatnagar,” the city of love.

In September 2013, however, the Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of Uttar Pradesh suffered one of the worst pogroms in modern India’s history. Over 100 people (mostly Muslim) were massacred while more than 80,000 were displaced. Homes were wrecked, mosques were vandalized and dreams turned to dust.

In Muzzafarnagar Baaqi Hai, Sahwney probes the underlying causes of the pogrom. He shows how the BJP (and its agents) instigated the pogrom to win the general election of 2014 which brought Narendra Modi to power. The BJP was assisted in Muzaffarnagar by local Hindu Jats who used the pogrom to seize Muslim property, women and wealth.

Sawhney also unravels the BJP’s strategy in stirring up violence for votes. First, they turn Islamist terrorism into the new bête noire deeming Muslim youths as members of ISIS. Second, they revive the idea that Hindus have been “cheated” with election banners and posters speaking about “struggling” for Hindus. Third, they play on old anxieties of Hindu men about Muslim men stealing Hindu girls through the new “Love Jihad” conspiracy.

Those who survived the pogrom were put into camps. As Sawhney shows, however, the refugees failed to receive adequate provision for food or medical care. When it was discovered that over one hundred children died in the camps due to disease, the government has the camps bulldozed to avoid any unwanted scrutiny.

Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai is a difficult film to watch. Sawhney could have reined in the many threads in the documentary (such as the Bharatiya Kisan Union) for a tighter narrative and unity of theme. Still, in giving voice to the unheard and letting us enter their world, Muzaffarnagar triumphs.

 

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Filed under Cinema, India, Politics, Randeep Singh, Religion, Uncategorized, Violence

Ambedkar, Buddhism and Caste

ambedkar
Written by Randeep Singh

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was one of modern India’s most remarkable statesman. He drafted the Constitution of India, served as the country’s first Minister of Law and led the Untouchables in his fight against the caste system.

Ambedkar singlehandedly revived Buddhism in India. On October 14, 1956, he converted to the religion, prompting the mass conversion of hundreds of thousands of his followers. He created a new identity for India’s Untouchables, but he polemicized his interpretation of Buddhism in the process.

Ambedkar claimed that the Buddha did everything to uproot the caste system, but ignored the fact that the caste system remained entrenched in India throughout the Buddhist period (c. 268 BCE – 551 CE). He did not mention that the practice of Untouchability first emerged during this period. He gushed about how Buddhism gave India democratic parliaments with whip, quorum, resolutions, ballot voting and vote counting.

He inspires me nonetheless and I believe that Buddhism, as secularized political philosophy, can help undermine the caste system. It was the first religion to challenge the caste system by turning upside down the concepts upholding it. Its insights in this respect are interesting from a modern, secular perspective.

Buddhism is concerned with the end of suffering as a human problem.  Its primary concern is to promote human welfare and happiness. It holds that only humans can end their own suffering through moral action, self-discipline, and understanding. No God, divine being, black magic, superstition or astrological charts are necessary.

Humans are equal in Buddhism in the sense of being equally capable of achieving enlightenment. They are equally subject to one universal moral law (‘Dharma’) with moral obligations to one another such as to respect one another’s life, liberty and dignity. This contrasts to the caste system which differentiates laws on the basis of caste.

The Buddha recognized the existence of caste in his society. He exhorted his followers, however, to emphasize the cultivation of moral character as an indication of self-worth. Caste or rather class in Buddhism arise due to human expediency, not divine sanction: it is a matter of vocation, not birth.

Caste is not static either. Like all existence, individual or collective, it is subject to change, interrelated and composite and conditioned by many interdependent factors. The seasons come and go, empires rise and fall and ancient communities perish. There is no “caste” other than the conditions giving rise to it.

Lastly, Buddhism left an important secular legacy for India. It inculcated a more humane ethic in politics (e.g. the reign of Ashoka). It formulated a social contract theory of government. It established inclusive social institutions such as universities, monasteries, and hospitals. Its appeal to reason, ethics and its concern for human well-being, can enlighten India yet.

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Filed under Buddhism, India, Politics, Randeep Singh, Religion, Secularism, Uncategorized

The Burqini Ban

burqini

Written by Randeep Singh

The Muslim women of France are being forced to be free, again.

A few days ago, on a beach in Nice, police forced a woman to remove her burqini. The woman was fined and charged with disrespecting secularism. She stood in the shadow of four police officers armed with handguns, batons and pepper spray. She was gawked at by others, told to go home.

I am not a fan of the hijab, niqaab or any form of face or head covering. I think they are a form of oppression. But it is not my place to tear them off Muslim women. Nor is it the place of a state with all its coercive powers to force women toward freedom by having them remove their clothing or head covering.

Like any law or ideology, French secularism is not neutral. It is the product of French culture, history and society. It reflects the will of the French majority. It did little for its Jewish minorities living in an anti-Semitic French society and culture before World War II, just as it struggles to manage an ethnically and religiously diverse society today.

The Muslim woman’s veil, in particular, has long haunted France. Colonial France saw the veil as the major barrier to the spread of her superior, egalitarian civilization. In the Algerian War of Independence (1954 to 1962), the French called themselves liberators of Muslim women. In 1957, Muslim Algerian women were publicly unveiled as part of the French “emancipation” program.

Then there’s the policing of women’s morality. This, of course, is not unique to Muslim women. In 1907, the first woman to sport a sleeveless swimming outfit in Australia arrested. The two-piece bikini was banned in Spain, Italy and Portugal and denounced by the Pope. In 1967, French women in mini-skirts were stripped by a mob.

And of course, Saudi Arabia enforces the niqaab, Iran upholds the hijaab and Pakistan has its shariah-compliant bra. To veil or not to veil is a question answered by the state, cleric or clan, but rarely just left to the Muslim woman.

Further Reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/24/the-burkini-ban-what-it-really-means-when-we-criminalise-clothes

 

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Filed under France, Islam, Politics, Randeep Singh, Uncategorized, Women

The Attraction of Fear

Trump-pointing
Nietzche once said that the world has lost much of its charm because we no longer fear it. The attraction of fear though, is central to the appeal of Donald Trump. Fear is linked to curiosity. We experience both when we listen to a ghost story, watch a good horror film or take part in a death sport. Our heart-rate and breathing accelerate, our muscles tense and adrenaline flows. Trump inspires those feelings in his shock opera. He is the greatest show on earth, the man who breathes fire, the daredevil act of the evening. Like the car wreck on the side road, we can’t help but watch.

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Filed under Politics, Psychology, Uncategorized

The Good Muslim

Khizr-Khan

 

Dedicated to my dear friend, Haider Nizamani, who introduced me to the term, “house Muslim.”

KHIZR KHAN is the Uncle Tom of America’s Muslims.

The grieving American (Muslim) father at the Democratic National Convention, is now a proud spokesman for the Establishment.

Khizr Khan is a good Muslim. He is one of those Muslims who, in Bill Clinton’s words, loves America and freedom and hates terror. He carries the Constitution of the United States in his blazer pocket. He supports the U.S. army. He is a Gold Star father.

As a father, Khan can only have grieved for his son Humayun Khan, who was killed by a car bomb explosion in Iraq in 2004. His story reminded me of Lila Lipscomb in Fahrenheit 911, a once proud flag-flying American reduced to anguish at the death of her son who died in Karbala in 2003.

Lipscomb questioned the establishment. Khan embraced it. Lipscomb stood up. Khan sold out. He lost his son in a war which Hillary Clinton supported. If the Chilcott Inquiry in the United Kingdom is any indication, the Iraq War should never have happened. Men like Humayun did not just die in vain – they should not have been in Iraq in the first place.

Whether he meant to or not, Khan has become a racial pawn in a political game. He was picked by the DNC to win the Muslim vote, and to provide a model of the good Muslim for America’s Muslims. Just like the slave ancestors of African-Americans were bifurcated into the field negro and the house negro (e.g. like Aunt Jemima), Khan has become the house Muslim, loyal and privileged enough to live in the big house – so long as he knows his place.

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Imagining Ancient India

hrithik roshan

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Written by Randeep Singh

Ashutosh Gowariker recently released his trailer for Mohenjo Daro, an action-adventure set in ancient India’s Indus Valley civilization, c. 2016 BCE.

For years, ancient India has been imagined as Hindu in TV and film. The mythological serials, Ramayan and Mahabharata, set the standard back in the 1980s with their recreation of an imagined Aryan/Vedic/Brahmanic society and culture. The vision of Ancient India as a Hindu India has been constructed with every palace wall, turned with each roll of the chariot and uttered in every Sanskritized syllable in Hindu mythological serials and in semi-historical serials like Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat.

It’s also apparent in films like Mohenjo Daro. True, it looks less like the Mahabharata, but also, unlike the epics, Mohenjo Daro was a historical reality. The Indus was India’s first civilization, declining around 1900 BCE. The Aryans thereafter migrated to the Indus Valley from beyond the Hindu Kush around 1500 BCE, giving India the Vedas, the earliest Hindu religious texts.

Gowariker helps popularize the claim of Hindu Nationalists that the Indus civilization was (in part) an Aryan society and civilization. Whereas the people of the Indus are believed to have been dark-skinned Dravidians, the hero in Mohenjo Daro is a light-eyed Hrithik Roshan with blondish locks and a trident. The statues of the Indus gods are recognizably Hindu, the language Sanskritized and the film features horses, animals not known to the civilization and introduced to India centuries later by the Aryans.

Films like Mohenjo Daro suggest what India was and how we see the past. And like the many mythological and semi-historical TV serials and films before it, Mohenjo Daro is less an attempt at faithfully reconstructing a historical India than imagining a perennially Hindu one.

 

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Filed under Hindi Cinema, History, India, Politics, Uncategorized

The Censorship of India

udta punjab

Written by Randeep Singh

The Bombay High Court has overturned the censor board of India’s decision to make 89 cuts to Udta Punjab, a film about drug abuse among Indian youth. That’s good news for Udta Punjab; so why was it subject to such censorship in the first place?

It’s because India’s Censor Board (i.e. the Central Board of Film Certification) is an arbitrary, paternalistic and repressive tool of government which dates from the colonial era. The first censor boards in India were set up in 1920 to discipline, rear and guide Indians from their naïve, childlike and unruly selves.

Today’s Censor Board continues the colonial tradition of parenting Indians, protecting them from all sorts of realities films. It has grown increasingly conservative since 1991 as a reaction to Westernization and is currently staffed with BJP members and supporters, including its head, Pahlaj Nihalani.

The Udta Punjab controversy has nevertheless brought out Karan Johar, Mahesh Bhatt and Aamir Khan in support of the film. Online petitions to screen the uncensored version of the film gained tens of thousands of signatures. The Bombay High Court decision too leaves hope that, if censorship of cinema grows in India, so too will resistance.

 

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Filed under Censorship, Cinema, Hindi Cinema, India, Law, Politics, Randeep Singh, Uncategorized