Sunday, January 28, 2018

Padmaavat Reinforces Negative Stereotypes of Muslim Rule in India

Famed Bollywood producer Sajay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat is a fictionalized portrayal of a Rajput queen Padmavati, played by Deepika Pudokone, whose earliest mention is found in a 16th century epic poem by a Muslim poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. With the movie Padmaavat's (Padmavati's) musical score and the song and dance sequences and the opulence and the splendor of the costumes, the jewelry and the sets, it's safe to say that the fans of Bhansali's earlier Bollywood blockbusters like Bajirao Mastani and Devdas will not be disappointed. It looks particularly spectacular when watched in 3D-IMAX version-- something my wife and I experienced in a local Silicon Valley multiplex.

Released amidst death threats by right wing Hindu groups,  one would have expected that the movie in some way challenges the revisionist history being promoted by the ruling BJP's ideologues.

Surprisingly, the movie Padmaavat  reinforces the current Hindutva narrative about the Muslim rulers of India. It portrays Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji of the Delhi Sulatanate, played by Ranveer Singh, as a violent and lustful man lacking any scruples, fitting in with the current wave of Islamophobia in India. On the other hand, his Hindu Rajput counterpart Maharawal Ratan Singh, played by Shahid Kapoor, is shown as an honorable and principled person.

The story appears to glorify the act of mass suicide by Rajput Hindu women by self-immolation in the name of idea that the Karni Sena opposing it picked up by threatening mass self-immolation by 1700 women in protest if the film is released. It begs the question: Why should only women commit this mass suicide in protest? Why not the men of the Karni Sena?

Meanwhile, it remains a mystery as to how a fictional Hindu queen first mentioned in a poem by a 16th century Muslim poet has become the symbol of honor for Rajputs in the 21st century.  For this, one must understand the larger underlying trend in Indian polity today with the rise of Hindutva under right-wing Hindu Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership.

American historian Audrey Truschke, in her recently published book "Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India's Most Controversial King", attributes today's Hindutva revisionist history to the colonial-era British historians. She says they deliberately distorted the history of Indian Muslim rule to vilify Muslim rulers as part of the British policy to divide and conquer India. These misrepresentations of Muslim rule made during the British Raj appear to have been accepted as fact not just by Islamophobic Hindu Nationalists but also by at least some of the secular Hindus in India and Muslim intellectuals in present day Pakistan, says the author.  Aurangzeb was neither a saint nor a villain; he was a man of his time who should be judged by the norms of his times and compared with his contemporaries, the author adds.

Alauddin Khilji, portrayed in Padmaavat as a villain, was in fact neither an angel nor a devil; he was a man of his time who should be judged by the norms of his times and compared with his contemporaries.  Colonial-era British historians deliberately distorted the history of Indian Muslim rule to vilify Muslim rulers as part of their policy to divide and conquer India, according to American history professor Audrey Truschke. Professor Truschke has systematically dismantled all the myths about India's Muslim rulers as hateful and bigoted tyrants who engaged in rape and pillage of Hindus and carried out widespread destruction of Hindu temples across India. Hindu Nationalists led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are using false history to justify their hatred and violence against Indian Muslims today.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Hindu Nationalists Admire Nazis

Lynchistan: India is the Lynching Capital of the World

Hindu Supremacist Yogi Adiyanath's Rise in UP

Hinduization of India

Globalization of Hindu Nationalism

Hindutva Distortion of Indian History Textbooks

2017: The Year Islamophobia Went Mainstream


Ahmad F. said...

Where is the film that conveys the Muslim version of the story?

Riaz Haq said...

Ahmad: "Where is the film that conveys the Muslim version of the story?"

I don't know of any "Muslim version" of this fictional story specifically.

However, I do my best to counter the false Hindu Nationalist narrative of Muslim rule of India.

Fortunately, I'm not alone.

The one person doing a marvelous job of it is American historian Audrey Truschke through her book on Aurangzeb, her articles in newspapers and magazines and her postings on twitter challenging Hindutva trolls.

And another person doing something similar is Indian politician and diplomat Sashi Tharoor.

Here's what he said recently:

Under Muslim rule, India was the richest country in the world producing 27% of the world GDP.

“The British came to one of the richest countries in the world when the GDP was almost 27% in the 17th century, 23% in the18th. But, over 200 years of exploitation, loot and destruction reduced India to a poster child for third world poverty”, he said in reply to a question about the British rule in India.

Riaz Haq said...

#Padmaavat: #Malaysia Bans Controversial
#Indian Film – Variety

Malaysia has barred controversial Indian period drama “Padmaavat” from receiving a theatrical release. The announcement by Malaysia’s National Film Censorship Board (LPF) was made Saturday.

Its “not approved” ruling gives no explanation for the ban. But local media quoted LPF chairman Mohd Zamberi Abdul Aziz as saying: “The storyline of the film touches on the sensitivities of Islam. That in itself is a matter of grave concern in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country.” The film as directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali sees a Muslim sultan waging war in order to be able to win a beautiful Hindu princess of the Rajput warrior class.

In India, the film was banned for two months after protests by Rajputs, but eventually was released last Thursday amid some violence by protesters. India’s censors required a title change and a disclaimer explaining that the film was not based on historical fact.

Salah A. said...

I agree with you for the most part regarding what is going on in India these days (especially since Modi became PM). But, what I don’t understand is the fierce (and sometimes violent) demonstrations in that country by the right-wing Hindu nationalists, rajputs, etc. against the movie since the rajputs and their culture, history, etc. are being depicted very positively, whereas the Muslims are being portrayed in a very negative way. So, actually it should be Muslims in India who should be demonstrating against their ‘unkind’ portrayal in the movie. Your thoughts, please.

Also, accept for a few well-known writers (Audrey Truschke, Shasi Throor, etc.) why aren’t there more (‘scholar-type’) people who can/would present a counter-narrative about past Muslim rule in India, and present day Muslim societies, their achievements in the South Asian subcontinent.

Riaz Haq said...

Salah: " why aren’t there more (‘scholar-type’) people who can/would present a counter-narrative about past Muslim rule in India, and present day Muslim societies, their achievements in the South Asian subcontinent."

The Brits have dominated the discourse on Indian history for a couple of centuries and claimed lots of unsuspecting victims in both India and Pakistan, including liberal Hindus and Muslims

The tide is now starting to turn with the Hindutva excesses and their justifications based on British distortions.

I hope we’ll see more scholarly scrutiny building up on the work of Truschke and Tharoor

Sika said...

I don't buy your line. Alauddin's wife and father-in-law are portrayed positively. So is the nephew, the Mughals - all Muslim. The court Hindu Brahmin Priest is portrayed very negatively and so is the first Rajput queen. My father is an Indian Muslim involved with Bansali. Please don't be so alarmist.

Riaz Haq said...

How Hindu nationalists devoured India

Shikha Dalmia

Loosely based on an epic poem by a 16th century Muslim Sufi poet, the movie's cinematic sophistication — it is shot in 3-D with absolutely breathtaking scenes of courtly pomp set in medieval India — contrasts sharply with its crude and cartoonish characters. The film isn't a clash between mere good and evil, but utmost perfection and complete depravity as embodied by Singh, the Hindu hero, and Khilji, the Muslim villain.

The Hindu Singh, with his buff bod and kohl-smeared eyes, is a paragon of Rajput virtue who treats women like queens (of which he has two), moves with grace, deals with matters of state with flawless judgment, conducts himself with decorum, and fights with valor and integrity. Twice he foregoes the opportunity to kill the unarmed Khilji because that would have meant violating the Rajput code of honor.

The Muslim Khilji, by contrast, is not just dastardly, but a savage lech. He is a sadist who gets a sexual high from humiliating his minions. On the day of his wedding, he is off jumping other women. He is cruel toward family and friends and happily turns on them for the slightest advantage. He doesn't dine from shining utensils sitting serenely in the traditional lotus position like the cultured Rajputs. He hunches over a table grabbing large pieces of meat with his bare hands, tearing the flesh with his teeth.

And he believes that for victory in war, no tactic is too ignoble. After killing Singh on the battlefield through treachery, he races to claim his prize. But Padmaavati, herself a paragon of virtue, calmly leads 800 women into a fiery cauldron in an act of mass self-immolation that Rajput widows were expected to perform to protect their — and their husbands' — honor. (This dénouement has rightly incensed Indian feminists struggling against traditional attitudes that measure a woman's worth by her devotion to her husband.)

It is not clear that Padmaavati ever existed, but Singh and Khilji were real historical figures and, unsurprisingly, much more nuanced than the movie's ridiculous caricatures. But literally every Hindu in the film, except the king's Brahmin tutor, is upright, humane, and decent — and every Muslim, but for Khilji's wife, is craven, randy, and slothful.

Such demeaning portrayals would be controversial under any circumstances. But today, when Muslims (and other religious minorities) are under siege in India, they are downright irresponsible.

Casual bigotry against Muslims has always existed in India. But since Modi assumed office, the situation has gotten considerably worse. Hindu nationalism's singular project is to restore Hindu pride and identity by avenging historic harms, real and imagined, inflicted on Hindus by "Muslim invaders" who ruled the country for centuries.

Lynching of Muslims suspected of consuming beef — which is taboo for Hindus — have become commonplace. And in recent years, paranoid Hindus have taken to accusing Muslim men of engaging in "love jihad" — or converting Hindu women by seducing them into marriage. (Christians face analogous allegations.) Hardly a day goes by when Hindu thugs don't beat up a Hindu-Muslim couple somewhere in the country. Last month, a court actually annulled a marriage between a Muslim man and a 25-year-old Hindu woman in med school. The court concluded that a woman of her station and background could not possibly in her right mind have consented to such a nuptial without being "brainwashed," her protestations that she was in love with her husband notwithstanding.

Given all of this, you would probably think that Muslims would be protesting this movie, directed by a Hindu with an all-Hindu cast, for feeding every single rabid anti-Muslim stereotype. Instead, it is Hindu extremists who have taken to the streets.

Ejaz N. said...

Do you notice that too? "Indeed, a selective survey of 41 films had concluded that 75.60 per cent of them portrayed Muslims negatively, 12.20 per cent positively, and the rest were ‘mixed.’ Be that as it may, Muslims are no longer Rahim chachas, rib-tickling Hyderbadi chefs (Mehmood, Gumnaam, 1963), kindly daai maas ( the daijaan nanny of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, 2001). Instead, largely, they’re shown as terrorists without delving into the reasons why." ~

Riaz Haq said...

Bollywood, please spare us your Muslim stereotyping by Milia Ali

Films are powerful tools that shape ideas, attitudes and social norms. But as any art form, the message can be diffused or even distorted if it's not presented in the right way. In general, movies produced in Bollywood are not inspiring or stimulating — most of them defy logic and common sense. But sometimes they manage to touch a cord — unfortunately it could be the wrong cord. I must admit that once in a while I enjoy Bollywood entertainers, simply because they make no pretences about projecting “real life”. Hence, when a friend invited me to watch Raees I accepted, looking forward to a fun evening of laughter and light chatter.

I will refrain from commenting on the quality of the film since it's beyond the purview of this column. What irked me is the stereotyped portrayal of the Muslim characters. The story centres on the life of a Robin Hood style mobster Raees played by Shah Rukh Khan. Interestingly, Raees, his sidekicks and rival dons are predominantly Muslim, creating the impression that the Indian underworld is entirely controlled by Muslims. Shah Rukh's surma-eyed, kurta-clad new avatar was charming and impressive. But his bloody, self-flagellating appearance as a mourner in a Moharram procession was too much for my palate. It evoked all kinds of negative connotations, especially now when Islam is projected by the media as a violent and “bloodthirsty” religion. As if that was not enough, we were subjected to a 10 minute (or what seemed like 10 minutes) brawl between Shah Rukh and a group of butchers in a bazaar with pieces of meat, and human and animal blood splattering all over the screen. This raw display of flying flesh and blood was a perfect gift for the RSS, who label Muslims as beef-eating savages and are advocating a ban on cow slaughter!

The movie could have picked up some traction with its diversion toward the Gujarat riots, but this thread was unfortunately sidetracked. On the contrary, by a strange twist of the plot, it was revealed that a Muslim underground don was involved in a major terrorist attack on the country, killing and maiming hundreds!

Bollywood's depiction of Muslim stereotypes is not new. In the late 60s and 70s, I remember watching Muslim socials (as they were then called) that came straight out of the studios and had no connection to reality. They were popular because they showcased a surreal world where the hero (usually a nawab's son) fell in love with the marble white (sang-e-marmar) hands of the burka-clad heroine whose face was revealed to him halfway through the film. After several twists and turns of mixed identities, the story ended happily. There was also the popular genre of the proverbial courtesan (always Muslim ) rescued by the hero after a three-hour long tamasha with conspiring brothel madams, devious pimps and “khandani” fathers trying to preserve their family honour by disavowing the smitten, prodigal son!

The question that continues to puzzle me is: Why are Muslims usually depicted as veiled beauties, dancing girls, nawabs, emperors, princesses, gangsters and terrorists! The Bombay film industry has given us many iconic directors, scriptwriters and actors who are Muslim. Yet it is hard to name a memorable movie that has “normal” Muslim characters with normal dreams and aspirations — like the boy or girl next door.

Riaz Haq said...

“Very few films go against Muslim stereotypes”
Mohammad Ali

As an industry Bollywood resists movies which will break stereotypes of Muslims as terrorists, argued filmmaker Subhas Kapoor while speaking at a function organised to mark 25 years of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust.

While talking about the “Trajectory of the Secular/Communal Impulse in Indian Cinema”, the Jolly LLB director pointed out there were very few films which go against the established Muslim stereotypes.

“Who is a Muslim character in Bollywood today? He is a terrorist and if the filmmaker is progressive then the terrorist is shown dying while trying to save the flag,” the filmmaker said.

While mentioning cases of innocent Muslim youths being framed in terror cases in which later they get acquitted, Mr. Kapoor shared his future plans to make movies which challenge the perception of Muslims as terrorists.

He talked about his desire to make ‘ Pandit Saleem Mohammad Chaturvedi’ , a movie where a Brahman youth gets killed in a fake encounter.

“There is a lot of resistance if one wanted to change that perception. When I discussed my plan for the movie, senior producers frankly told me that it was not possible to make such a movie and it may lead to communal riots,” he said.

But at the same time, the filmmaker said, Bollywood remains one of the most secular spaces to work without any strong biases. And there is competition between Kapoors and Khans to get the Eid slot for the release of their films.

Posing a rhetorical question as to when will the situation change, the filmmaker said the answer lies in the society, the domain outside the film industry.

While adding to the filmmakers’ argument, one of the trustees of SAHMAT Sohail Hashmi said the Muslim character in Hindi cinema has to pay for not going to Pakistan.

“Muslim characters are drunks, poets or terrorists. Where do we have a hero who is Muslim? Normally a Muslim character has to die saving a Hindu hero. The opposite is quite rare,” he said.

While talking about how reality was distorted to suit stereotyping of Muslims, Mr. Hashmi mentioned Sarfarosh, a movie which talks about Pakistan-sponsored terrorism . The origins of the movie lies in the attack by Shiv Sena on a ghazal concert of Ghulam Ali.

Riaz Haq said...

#India Should Be Grateful to Alauddin #Khilji for Thwarting the #Mongol Invasions. Mongol success would have completely destroyed #Hindu civilization. #Padmavati #PadmavatiControversy … via @thewire_in

At a time when most of the medieval world was laid waste by the brutality of the Mongol armies, Khilji kept India – and its culture and civilisation – safe.

What is not well-known, however, is that Khilji, for all his faults, saved India from a fate much worse than even his own oppressive rule – that of the murderous Mongols, who tried to invade the Indian subcontinent six times during his reign as the sultan of Delhi, and failed miserably, thanks to his brilliance as a general, the quality, discipline, and bravery of his army and its commanders, and their superior military tactics.

What the Mongol invaders inflicted on Persia, the Caliphate of Baghdad, Russia, and elsewhere is well documented – genocide, the destruction of infrastructure, and the destruction of native culture, literature, and religious institutions. Their habit of leaving conquered countries as wastelands that would not spring back for at least a hundred years, and their tendency to rule even the regions they settled in, such as Russia, in an exploitative and backward way, are well-known to historians and laypersons alike.

Against this backdrop, one can safely argue that Alauddin Khilji, for all his faults, actually saved the syncretic culture of the Indian subcontinent of that time – which included Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jain subcultures – from enormous destruction, even if preserving the culture of India may not have been what motivated his resistance to the Mongols.

Indeed, Khilji is a classic study in the layered and complex nature of historical figures whom it is impossible to portray in the black-and-white terms that modern politics seems to demand. Khilji is rightly viewed negatively for his cruelty and brutality; but he should also, in fairness, be seen as the saviour of Hindustan that he unwittingly ended up being, by repelling the formidable and ruthless Mongol hordes.


For the past month, Rajasthan has been convulsed by a controversy over the Bollywood movie, Padmavati, based on Padmavat – a prose-poem written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540 CE which uses Alauddin Khilji’s conquest of Chittor in 1303 CE and his supposed obsession with Rani Padmini of Chittor as a backdrop for its ficitional tale.

None of the politicians and activists accusing the film maker of denigrating the honour of the Rajput queen of Chittor, Padmini, and glorifying the “Muslim conqueror Khilji” has even seen the film yet.

Much of the controversy is fuelled by ill-feeling towards Khilji, based on the fact that he was an oppressive ruler to his subjects, who were mostly Hindu. So the possibility of romance – or even unrequited love – between a Muslim “villain” and a Hindu queen being depicted on screen, even as a fantasy, as has been rumoured, infuriates Hindu right-wing groups.

Dawud said...

Wow, so the “good invaders “ prevented the “bad invaders”. Such generosity to protect what they captured.

Makes a good bedtime story for kids :)

Ahmad F. said...

They came anyway. The Mughals were Mongols.

Riaz Haq said...

Ahmad: " They came anyway. The Mughals were Mongols"

The Mongols were illiterate and uncivilized.

The Mughals were a later civilized version of the Mongols.

The Mughals enriched India by all genuine historical accounts while Mongols laid waste to the places they invaded.

India got its reputation as "golden bird" during the Mughal rule.

The most lasting Mughal influence on India can be found in India's architecture, literature, poetry, music, cuisine, etc etc.

The biggest , most iconic and most lucrative tourist attractions in India were built by Muslims.

Muslims from Arabia and Persia coined terms like Hindu and Hindustan that are celebrated by Hindutva today.

Dawud said...

Historic and magnificent buildings have existed in India for centuries.

Mugals filled their treasuries using local wealth by collecting taxes, etc.

When one accumulates such huge resources, it is easy to find great artisans to build. It would have been different scenario had they brought in wealth from their lands to build and beautify India. No wonder that Emperor Shahjehan emptied his treasury in his quest of building the Taj Mahal. He paid the price as his son had him imprisoned.

Riaz Haq said...

Dawud: "Historic and magnificent buildings have existed in India for centuries. Mugals filled their treasuries using local wealth by collecting taxes, etc."

1. India’s top 10 tourist attractions in terms of tourism dollars were built by Hindu king or raja ever built anything as beautiful and iconic as the Taj Mahal

2. All of the Hindustani music gharanas are Muslim

3. Biryani, the most popular dish in India owes itself to Muslims

4. Tandoori meats and nan were introduced to India by Muslims

5. India’s textile industry that made and exported the world’s finest muslins was started by Muslims...the Brits singled it out for destruction

Arshad M. said...

Doesn't matter what Mughal did for India, they were invaders ..

Riaz Haq said...

Arshad: "Doesn't matter what Mughal did for India, they were invaders .."

Wrong....only Babar was an invader. All others were born and raised in India. Several had Hindu mothers.

They were as Indian as anyone else.

Ahmad F. said...

India under the Mughals had begun declining and to blame that on the British is a stretch. To argue that India under the Hindus after 1947 would have done better under the Muslims is even a bigger stretch.

Riaz Haq said...

Ahmad: "India under the Mughals had begun declining and to blame that on the British is a stretch. To argue that India under the Hindus after 1947 would have done better under the Muslims is even a bigger stretch"

Your statement is an opinion based on misinformation.

Assessment by serious scholars who have done research on this subject differs strongly from yours

Among the scholars whose work you need to read are American historian Audrey Truschke and Indian writer-diplomat Sashi Tharoor who have published recently

I suggest you also need to study the work of
Economist Angus Madden

Riaz Haq said...

Soni Wadhwa 14 July 2017 Non-Fiction, Reviews
“A Book of Conquest: The Chachnama and Muslim Origins in South Asia” by Manan Ahmed Asif

Chachnama, and its discussion of Chach as a just ruler, was incorporated in subsequent regional histories Masum’s Tarikh-i Masumi (1600) and Qani’s Tuhfat ul-Kiram (eighteenth century). Chachnama also finds a mention in Firishta’s history of cluster of regions in India, Gulsham-i Ibrahimi/Tar’ikh (1606-16). It is with Alexander Dow’s summary/translation that Chachnama came to be seen as “exposing” the origins of the “brutal” and “despotic” “Mahommedan empire in India”. Dow’s attempt was a part of larger project of conquest of Sindh by the British. Sindh was annexed to the empire of the East India Company in 1843. James Mill’s History of British India (1817) draws upon Dow’s interpretation to package the political arrival of Arabs as the history of Islam in India and to frame the British rule as enlightened and civilized. The British were manufacturing a Hindu past and thereby a 19th-century present that needed to be “rescued” from the Muslims.

Asif studies the aftermath of Chachnama and argues that it is misunderstood and misclassified as a work of history. It claims to be a translation of an earlier Arabic text but that claim is, as Asif argues, a gesture in gaining currency, legitimacy and authority in the period it was written—the 13th century.

Asif’s critical reading of Chachnama goes on to substantiate his opening sentence: “Beginnings are a seductive necessity”. In claiming to be a work of history, an authentic account that originates in an Arabic text written in 8th century, the author of Chachnama, Ali Kufi, strategically positions his creation to be perceived as carrying a certain magnitude. Asif demonstrates that this self-styling as history cannot be taken at its face value. He systematically makes a case for studying the case as a text of political theory after comparing it with other texts in the genres of so-called “conquest narratives” and “advice literature”.

Chachnama fails on all the points of reference of a conventional conquest narrative. To begin with, it does not describe all the conquests of the protagonist’s, that is, Qasim’s, achievements. The title “Chachnama” itself is inconsistent with a work purported to be about the conquests of Qasim. Asif shows that the text is a work of political theory and is concerned with dos and don’ts of governance, justice, ethics, kingship and warfare:

Chachnama argues that recognizing forms of difference and translating them into politically viable structures allows for communities to coexist. Chachnama’s theory of making difference commensurable and citing precedents is remarkable from a text that is understood as a conquest narrative.


Asif closes his book with the statement, “The stories we tell have consequences” after providing an extraordinary account of the kinds of stories left out of about thirteen centuries of the story of Islam in India: the stories of the women in Chachnama, and the strength of their participation in the definition of right conduct, or the stories of Buddhism, or the stories of the violence that Qasim did not commit.

The nineteenth century distortion of a text continues to have repercussions on national identity and communal harmony in South Asia and all around the world. The notion that Muslims are outsiders and thereby have a separate identity had been the premise behind the demand for the creation of Pakistan. It has also been used by the Hindu right to avenge the “humiliation” of its past. Muhammad bin Qasim’s invasion is time and again invoked to provoke and justify terrorist actions. Asif’s book is a timely reminder that the questions of origins cannot be answered categorically and need to scrutinized carefully.

Riaz Haq said...

#India deputy rep at #UN: #Indian civilization built on "waves of #migration". "Science confirms that all of us are migrants. The deep and the more recent history of our migration and mixed ancestry is, in fact, recorded in our genes," via @timesofindia

India has acknowledged here at an international forum that its civilization was built upon successive waves of migration like most countries and it was a scientific fact.
"The Indian civilization has been built upon successive waves of migration throughout history comprising traders, soldiers, missionaries, communities escaping persecution, artists and academics and artisans seeking better opportunities," India's Deputy Permanent Representative Tanmaya Lal said on Monday.
"This mega diversity of our peoples is among our greatest strength," he said at a session of the intergovernmental negotiations on a global compact on migration.
The statement comes amid heated debates in India about historic migrations, some that happened eons ago.
Lal did not get into the debate or into the specific theories or peoples, but made a general statement, which mentioned "soldiers" among the wave of migrants.
He pointed out that migrations were a global phenomenon throughout history and nations have emerged through this inter-mingling.
"Most nation states and societies have been built upon waves of migration over the past several centuries," he said.
"Science confirms that all of us are migrants. The deep and the more recent history of our migration and mixed ancestry is, in fact, recorded in our genes," Lal added.
"Migration has continued to expand and is now aided by the integration of economies over the last few decades," he said.
Speaking of the benefits to the world through migration, he cited the example of Mahatma Gandhi, who studied in England and worked in South Africa, saying he is "among the most well-known international migrants who contributed hugely to our collective progress."
Lal also mentioned the many Nobel Prize-winners of Indian descent "who made seminal contribution to science" as well as foreign-born scientists, inventors, businesspersons, artistes, sportspersons, authors, academics, doctors and political leaders "who have made an indelible mark not only on societies where they lived but globally."

Negotiations are taking place for a global agreement to facilitate safe, orderly and regular international migration that is to be concluded in December in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Lal tried to dispel what he considered two widely held misconceptions about India and migrations

While India is considered to be among the top countries of origin for migrants globally, the rate of emigration from India is less than half of the world's average, he said.
"It is much lesser known and appreciated that India is also among the major countries of destination, as also a transit country, for migrants largely from our neighbourhood," he added.

Riaz Haq said...

What the Zaira Wasim controversy reveals about contemporary India
The teenage Muslim actress's decision to quit Bollywood for faith reasons brought India's Islamophobia to the fore.

On Sunday, Zaira Wasim, an 18-year-old Kashmiri Muslim Bollywood actress, caused a stir in India by announcing her decision to "disassociate" from the film industry. The actor took to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to declare that while the five years of being in the industry had brought her a "lot of love, support and applause", it had also led her to a "path of ignorance" as she had transitioned out of "imaan" (faith) and her relationship with her religion.

In her native Kashmir, however, many were less concerned with a young girl acting, as they were with her participation in an industry that is seen as being aligned with Indian national interests; Islamophobic; and misrepresentative of the Kashmiri struggle against Indian rule. Bollywood celebrities came to her defence, and Wasim was lauded as a role model of integration for Kashmiri youth, a nomenclature that Wasim herself resisted at the time



Bollywood is certainly not a reputable industry. It is ensnared by nepotism, rampant sexual harassment, and drug and alcohol abuse. It thrives on jingoism (as seen in the most recent incident over the Pulwama attacks), materialism, and scandal.

When it comes to the role of women, Bollywood is also hardly a source of female empowerment, a modern Constitution notwithstanding. Actresses are literally paraded around as "item numbers" and as with general celebrity culture, pressured to fit normative bodily ideals. Female stars are routinely harassed to lose weight in order to remain relevant. Marriage is often a death sentence for women in lead roles.

A number of stars, including Deepika Padukone and Wasim herself in 2018, have gone public with their struggle with depression and anxiety.

Research has also identified significant gender bias, stereotyping, and acts of sexual violence against women in Bollywood films, and the effect they have on how people behave in real life, including the phenomenon of eve teasing.

With this in mind, why is it so difficult for people to accept the kinds of struggles that led to Wasim's decision, especially given the young age in which she entered the industry? Why is Wasim's choice to leave considered regressive, but not an industry that is sexist and patriarchal, thriving on the objectification of women? Furthermore, why is criticism directed towards an 18-year-old Muslim actress, and not the countless Bollywood stars that have cosied up to the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi, under whose watch lynching of Muslims in India has become rampant? Besides a handful of notable exceptions, where is the outrage over the actual radicalisation of the Indian public? If liberal journalists like Lakshmi and Dutt cast aspersions on the legitimate and constitutionally protected beliefs of others, it is little wonder that the Muslim polity in India can be treated with disdain.


The irony is that in a world that is so obsessed with a Muslim woman's agency, when Muslim women do express that agency in ways that do not seek to disparage or distance themselves from their religious faith, they are deemed to have undergone indoctrination or radicalisation.

What the response to Wasim reveals once more is that one has to absolve oneself of any sense of Muslim-ness to be accepted into the odd terrain of secular and Hindutva fascism that undergirds contemporary India.

And while the attention has been on Wasim, perhaps the limelight should be on Bollywood and why an 18-year-old Muslim woman from a conflict zone on the cusp of superstardom would choose to step away from its clutches.

Riaz Haq said...

Indian historian Rmila Thapar:

As with all nationalisms of all kinds, Hindu religious nationalism also turned to history. But interestingly, it appropriated the two dominant colonial theories – the Aryan foundation of Indian civilization and the two-nation theory. These they now describe as the indigenous history of India. Ironically, it is claimed that these histories are cleansed of the cultural pollution of Indian historians influenced by Western ideas! That their own ideas are rooted in colonial theories is conveniently ignored.

The core of this ideology is the identity of the Hindu. The Hindu is the only one who can claim the territory of British India as the land of his ancestry – pitribhumi, and the land of his religion – punyabhumi. Muslims and Christians are described as foreigners since they came from outside the territory of British India and their religions originated in other lands. The ancestors of the Hindu and his religion having been indigenous to India, he, therefore, is the primary citizen. The true claimants to the ancient civilization can only be Hindus, descendants of the Aryans, and this is one reason why it has to be proved that the Aryans were indigenous to India, irrespective of whether they were or not. Being indigenous, they are the inheritors of the land. There are, however, glitches in this argument. Those of us who have pointed out the problems get our daily dose of abuse on the internet, and we are described as ignorant JNU professors and worse, even if in fact most are not from JNU.


The point that I am trying to make is that the reading and interpretation of the past requires a trained understanding of the sources and a sensitivity to understanding what has been written. The political requirements of today cannot be imposed on the history of the past. To maintain a generalized statement that the period of the last thousand years was one of the victimization and enslavement of the Hindus by the Muslims is historically unacceptable. This kind of generalization feeds communal nationalism. That is why I am cautioning against it. Unfounded generalizations have to be replaced by analytical history.

Riaz Haq said...

Can #India's #Bollywood Survive #Modi? #Muslims have always had a disproportionate influence in Bollywood. Actors such as Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, and Aamir Khan have towered over the landscape of #Indian #cinema for the past 30 years. #BJP hates it.

“Everybody is just shit-scared and wanting to lie low,” a woman who is closely involved with the industry told me recently. “This is such a vindictive government.” The day before we spoke, tax authorities had raided the home and offices of one of the country’s finest directors, along with those of an actor he worked with. Both are outspoken government critics, and the raid was widely seen as politically motivated.

As we talked, a director friend sent me a vanishing message on Signal, the encrypted-communications platform, about a case before India’s Supreme Court. A senior Amazon executive in India was facing arrest, along with others, for a nine-part political drama called Tandav, which includes a portrayal of the Hindu god Shiva that some found objectionable. The director of the series had apologized, and removed the offending scene. And according to the message I received, the court had declined to offer protection (a decision it later revised). “The problem,” one senior executive for a major streaming service told me later, “is that the director is Muslim and the actor is Muslim.”


Bollywood has been central to the creation of India’s national myth. Its movies are full of dance and song, but their genius lies in the ability to weave serious issues—social justice, women’s rights, gay rights, interreligious marriage—into entertainment. Bollywood films are at once commercial and political. They epitomize the pluralism of India.

And in today’s political climate, that makes them a target. In ways reminiscent of the old Hollywood blacklist, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is using powerful tools to curtail the creative freedom of Bollywood—in particular the influence of Muslims, who have an outsize presence in the industry. The measures pushed by the Modi government include indiscriminate tax investigations, trumped-up accusations against actors and directors, intimidation and harassment in response to certain movies and TV shows, and the chilling rap of law enforcement at the door. Fearing worse to come, Bollywood has remained mostly silent in the face of the government’s catastrophic response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Riaz Haq said...

Alauddin Khilji was one of India’s greatest kings and one of the world’s greatest military geniuses.
He was born in Delhi in 1266 AD (and hence an Indian; not a foreign invader) and ruled as Sultan of Delhi from 1296 AD – 1316 AD. Khilji greatly expanded the empire that he inherited from his uncle.
during his rule, the Mongols of the Chagatai Khanate invaded India. Khilji, by his military brilliance, managed to defeat the Mongols not once, but *five* times: in 1298 AD (led by Ulugh Khan, and inflicting 20,000 casualties on the Mongols), 1299 AD in Sindh (led by Zafar Khan), 1299 AD in Delhi (leading the army himself against the Mongols), 1305 AD (led by Malik Nayak, and inflicting 8000 casualties on the Mongols), and 1306 AD (led by Malik Kafur); and a “draw” in the sixth Mongol invasion of 1303 AD (again personally leading the army), where the Mongols were unable to defeat Khilji, but were able to sack Delhi.
This was a military feat unprecedented in those days, because the Mongols were an unstoppable force wherever else they went. No one in the rest of the world – whether the Russian Empire or the mighty Persian empire or the Baghdad Caliphate – could stand up to the dreaded Mongols. Khilji defeated them 5 times and had a draw in a 6th confrontation. The armies of the Delhi sultanate under Khilji were some of the most disciplined and well-trained in the world, and that is why they could defeat the Mongols time and again.

Riaz Haq said...

The (Bollywood) film (Sooryavanshi) does not even pretend to mask its agenda — which is the right-wing Hindu nationalist agenda of Modi’s government. It justifies the abrogation of the special status accorded to Kashmir, where thousands of youth were detained and an Internet blackout was imposed in 2019. Like the government, the film argues that the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution has wiped out terrorism from the valley.

If the filmmakers had read any news about Kashmir, they could have had a brush with reality. But who wants to talk about reality when the purpose is propaganda?

Propaganda sells, obviously. News just gets in the way.

Recently the police in India filed a case against 102 Twitter accounts that include journalists, activists and lawyers who spoke out against the anti-Muslim violence that unfolded in the northeastern state of Tripura in October. Hindu nationalists vandalized mosques and attacked Muslim homes, but the Tripura police went after those who spoke against it, accusing them of sedition.

For weeks in New Delhi, Muslim Friday prayers have been obstructed by Hindu nationalists. The Muslims were finally displaced, and a grand Hindu prayer service was organized in the presence of a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Nov. 5.

In this context, a film like “Sooryavanshi” is not just entertainment. The film makes a point of repeating attacks carried out by Muslims, ignoring the numerous episodes of violence carried out by Hindu radicals. Kumar’s protagonist speaks about the 1993 blasts in Mumbai but conveniently ignores the 1992 anti-Muslim carnage that preceded it. He conveniently ignores the 2002 riots of Gujarat, the Malegaon blasts of 2006 that killed Muslims after Friday prayers and the Malegaon blasts of 2008, where retired officers in the Indian army were implicated.

In India, Muslim seminaries and organizations are being hounded by the Modi government for allegedly spreading terror in the country using foreign money. In the film, a Muslim scholar and priest who runs an organization is seen as the mastermind of a terrorist nexus that receives funding from Pakistan. The filmmakers should have at least given writing credits to Modi and his allies.

Disappointingly, the film is produced by Karan Johar, a well-respected director who made a film called “My Name Is Khan.” That movie addressed the demonization of Muslims post-9/11. But that was before Modi. Johar’s new worldview is celebrated by the government; he recently received one of country’s highest civilian honors in the presence of the prime minister and his powerful minister of home affairs, Amit Shah.

“Sooryavanshi” is dangerous. After watching it, it’s impossible not to think of Nazi Germany, where Hitler cultivated a film industry that paid obeisance to him and made propaganda films against Jews. In a sane world, India’s film industry — and actors, directors and producers from all over the world — would denounce it for its criminal and brazen Islamophobia. But maybe I’m asking too much. If Bollywood continues this aggressive descent into nationalism and hate, it will have blood on its hands. No box office record will be able to change that.

Riaz Haq said...

Dr. Audrey Truschke
The below tweet is steaming pile of Hindutva nonsense. I haven't done this in a while, but let's unpack, shall we?


Dr. Audrey Truschke
First of all sources -- Those making this ahistorical statement are not historians. Both men are Hindu Right ideologues, and the individual to whom the statement is attributed is a plagiarist and Savarkar sycophant.

What are they claiming and how does it hold up to scrutiny?


Dr. Audrey Truschke
There seems to be a claim of a single Islamic conquest of India. That's wrong.

Real story -- There were many Indo-Muslim dynasties who ruled parts of South Asia over the centuries. Some came from outside the subcontinent, and others did not. Nobody ever conquered all of India.


Dr. Audrey Truschke
I think we're talking here about early political conquests, because of the mention of Nalanda.

Here "Khalji" is said to have sacked Nalanda. Khalji is a dynastic name, so this would be a bit like saying "Tudor" or "Mughal" did something. Which Tudor? Which Mughal?


Dr. Audrey Truschke
I'm guessing (because some of us know both real South Asian history and Hindutva mythology pretty darn well) that he means Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji, a general who conducted raids and other military activities in Bihar in the late 12th–early 13th centuries.


Dr. Audrey Truschke
Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar hit various Buddhists sites, although there isn't especially strong or clear evidence that he sacked Nalanda specifically (a Buddhist monastery and site of elite learning).

I go into the evidence on this point here:

"I agree with Hodgson’s assessment of the lack of evidence for the proposition that Islam killed off Indian Buddhists or Indian Buddhism and also with
his contention that this narrative relies mainly on prejudices rather than facts.
Here I take up Hodgson’s call for “active revision” of the presumed destructive relationship between Islam and Buddhism by interrogating premodern
and modern limiting preconceptions.
I am far from the first scholar to take issue with the “Islam killed Indian
Buddhism” narrative, but my interests and interventions stand apart from earlier work in a few key ways. Several scholars have tried to undercut the assumption of a single-mindedly destructive relationship between Islam and
Buddhism by drawing attention to little known interactions between medieval Buddhists and Muslims. Johan Elverskog’s Buddhism and Islam is especially enlightening in this regard, but it ultimately takes us away from the
question of what happened to Indian Buddhism circa 1200, a query in which
I am invested. Scholars such as Jinah Kim and Arthur McKeown have presented new evidence about Indian Buddhist patronage and monks, respectively, in the early to mid-second millennium.11 I cite the insightful work
of both scholars here, but my lens is larger and more attuned to historiographic
and narrative issues. The idea that Islam violently undercut Indian Buddhism
cannot be overturned by new research alone because the theory does not rest"

Riaz Haq said...

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book, "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".
The book says, "Central to (Hindutva) perception is the belief that Muslim rulers indiscriminately demolished Hindu temples and broke Hindu idols. They relentlessly propagate the canard that 60,000 Hindu temples were demolished during Muslim rule, though there is hardly any credible evidence for the destruction of more than 80 of them."

Presenting what he calls "a limited survey of the desecration, destruction and appropriation of Buddhist stupas, monasteries and other structures by Brahminical forces", Jha says, "Evidence for such destruction dates as far back as the end of the reign of Ashoka, who is credited with making Buddhism a world religion."
He adds, "A tradition recorded in a twelfth-century Kashmiri text, the Rajatarangini of Kalhana, mentions one of Ashoka’s sons, Jalauka. Unlike his father, he was a Shaivite, and destroyed Buddhist monasteries. If this is given credence, the attacks on Shramanic religions seem to have begun either in the lifetime of Ashoka or soon after his death."

According to Jha, "Other early evidence of the persecution of Shramanas comes from the post-Mauryan period, recorded in the Divyavadana, a Buddhist Sanskrit, which describes the Brahmin ruler Pushyamitra Shunga as a great persecutor of Buddhists. He is said to have marched out with a large army, destroying stupas, burning monasteries and killing monks as far as Sakala, now known as Sialkot, where he announced a prize of one hundred dinars for every head of a Shramana."
Bringing up "evidence" from famous grammarian Patanjali, Jha says, he "famously stated in his Mahabhashya that Brahmins and Shramanas are eternal enemies, like the snake and the mongoose. All this taken together means that the stage was set for a Brahminical onslaught on Buddhism during the post-Mauryan period, especially under Pushyamitra Shunga, who may have destroyed the Ashokan Pillared Hall and the Kukutarama monastery at Pataliputra—modern-day Patna."

Riaz Haq said...

Indian culture and civilization have been enriched by Muslims. The biggest draw of tourists to India is the Taj Mahal built by a Muslim king. The Red Fort where Modi stands every year to deliver Independence Day speech was built by Muslims. Indian musical instruments like sitar and tabla were developed by Muslims. Choli and lehenga worn by Indian women were brought to India by Muslims. Biryani, samosa and nan came to India with Muslims. Indian language has been enriched by Arabic and Farsi words added by Muslims. Even the words Hindi and Hindu are of Arabic/Persian origin.

Now Hindutva rulers are trying to erase Muslim history in India. They can not succeed.

Muslims have given the world algebra, calculus, scientific method, physics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, social sciences and a whole lot more.

Watch Prof Roy Casagranda explain it in detail in the following video:

Riaz Haq said...

Did you know that the composition of Mahmood Ghaznavi's army when he raided the Somnath temple in 1025 was, solely not a Muslim Army. Out of 12 Generals, 5 were Hindus. Their names are:1. Tilak2. Rai3. Sondhi4. Hazran5. Not knownAfter the battle, Mahmood issued coins in his name with inscriptions in Sanskrit. He appointed a Hindu Raja as his representative in Somnath. Arab traders who had settled in Gujarat during the 8th and 9th century died to protect the Somnath temple against Ghaznavi's Army.

Just three years before Ghaznavi's raid on Somnath in 1022, a general acting on the authority of Rajendra I, Maharaja of the Chola empire (848–1279) had marched 1,600 kilometres north from the Cholas’ royal capital of Tanjavur. After subduing kings in Orissa, Chola warriors defeated Mahipala, maharaja of the Pala empire (c.750–1161), who was the dominant power in India’s easternmost region of Bengal. The Chola's crowned their victory by carrying off a bronze image of the deity Śiva, which they seized from a royal temple that Mahipala had patronized. In the course of this long campaign, the invaders also took from the Kalinga Raja of Orissa images of Bhairava, Bhairavi and Kali. These, together with precious gems looted from the Pala king, were taken down to the Chola capital as war booty.
The question arises why is Mahmud Ghaznavi demonized but not Rajendra Chola's plunder of Hindu temples?In fact, the demonization of Mahmud and the portrayal of his raid on Somnath as an assault on Hinduism by Muslim invaders dates only from the early 1840s.

In 1842, the British East India Company suffered the annihilation of an entire army of some 16,000 in the First Afghan War (1839–42). Seeking to regain face among their Hindu subjects after this humiliating defeat, the British contrived a bit of self-serving fiction, namely...that Mahmud, after sacking the temple of Somnath, carried off a pair of the temple’s gates on his way back to Afghanistan.
By ‘discovering’ these fictitious gates in Mahmud’s former capital of Ghazni, and by ‘restoring’ them to their rightful owners in India, British officials hoped to be admired for heroically rectifying what they construed heinous wrongs that had caused centuries of distress among Hindus. Though intended to win the letters' gratitude while distracting the locals from Britain’s catastrophic defeat just beyond the Khyber, this bit of colonial mischief has stoked Hindus’ ill-feeling towards Muslims ever since.By contrast, Rajendra Chola’s raid on Bengal remained largely forgotten outside the Chola country.12 years after the attack, a king from the Goa region recorded performing a pilgrimage to the temple, but he failed to mention Mahmud’s raid. Another inscription dated 1169 mentioned repairs made to the temple owing to normal deterioration, but again without mentioning Mahmud’s raid. In 1216 Somnath’s overlords fortified the temple to protect it not from attacks by invaders from beyond the Khyber Pass, but from those by Hindu rulers in neighbouring Malwa; apparently, such attacks were so frequent as to require precautionary measures; apparently, such attacks were so frequent as to require precautionary measures.
The silence of contemporary Hindu sources regarding Mahmud’s raid suggests that in Somnath itself it was either forgotten altogether or viewed as just another unfortunate attack by an outsider, and hence unremarkable.

1. “India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765” by Richard M. Eaton2. “Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History” by Romila Thapar

Riaz Haq said...

New Indian textbooks purged of nation’s Muslim history

By Anumita Kaur

The Taj Mahal is one of India’s most iconic sites. But this year, millions of students across India won’t delve into the Mughal Empire that constructed it.

Instead, Indian students have new textbooks that have been purged of details on the nation’s Muslim history, its caste discrimination and more, in what critics say warps the country’s rich history in an attempt to further Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda.

The cuts, first reported by the Indian Express, are wide-ranging. Chapters on the country’s historic Islamic rulers are either slimmed down or gone; an entire chapter in the 12th-grade history textbook, “Kings and Chronicles: The Mughal Courts" was deleted. The textbooks omit references to the 2002 riots in the Indian state of Gujarat, where hundreds of Indian-Muslims were killed while Modi was the state’s leader. Details on India’s caste system, caste discrimination and minority communities are missing.

Passages that connected Hindu extremism to independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi’s assassination were pruned as well, such as the 12th grade political science textbook line: Gandhi’s “steadfast pursuit of Hindu-Muslim unity provoked Hindu extremists so much that they made several attempts to assassinate [him].”

The new curriculum, developed by India’s National Council of Educational Research and Training, has been in the works since last year and will serve thousands of classrooms in at least 20 states across the country. It follows long-standing efforts by Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to craft a Hindu nationalist narrative for the country — a platform that Modi ran on in 2014 and secured reelection with in 2019.

“The minds of children are now under direct onslaught in this kind of intense way, where textbooks must not ever reflect South Asia’s dynamic, complex history,” said Utathya Chattopadhyaya, a history professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “So you basically create a body of students who come out knowing very little about the history of social justice, the history of democracy, the history of diversity, and so on.”

India has been home to Hindu, Muslim and many other religious communities for centuries. British rule stoked tensions among communities, leading to violence in 1947 after the country was partitioned into Pakistan and modern India.

Hindu nationalism has intensified under Modi. It has led to violent clashes, bulldozing of Indian-Muslim communities and deepening polarization throughout India and its global diaspora.

The curriculum change is another step in the trend, Chattopadhyaya argued. BJP-led state governments have launched textbook revisions for years. But now it’s stretched to the national level.

“This is actually an intensification of something that’s been happening. It is a way of ‘Hindu-izing’ South Asian history and ignoring all other kinds of diverse plural histories that have existed,” he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Opinion Modi’s political party has weaponized Bollywood

By Rana Ayyub

For weeks now, criticism has been building around Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington. The prime minister and his Bharatiya Janata Party have been rightly accused of stoking sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims. Missing in this discussion have been the surprising and quiet ways the BJP has managed to co-opt popular culture, and especially cinema, for its political ends.

“The Kerala Story,” a feature film released last month, is emblematic of this broader trend.

The film purports to be a dramatization of a supposedly widespread phenomenon, telling the tale of a Hindu woman who converts to Islam, only to be radicalized and eventually recruited to join the Islamic State. The trailer luridly shows a Muslim woman brainwashing her friends to shun Hinduism. It shows a Muslim priest asking men to seduce Hindu women, impregnate them, distance them from their families and later send them to fight a holy war.

The description of the trailer on YouTube by the film’s creators originally claimed that the film’s protagonist is a fictionalized composite that tells the story of some 32,000 women who have suffered the same fate. The trailer quickly went viral, with prominent Hindu nationalist activists urging their followers to watch the film to understand what is happening in their country.

The BJP campaigned very hard on the back of the film in the southern state of Karnataka, with close to 20 mass rallies and eight road shows. At one of the rallies, Modi himself emphatically endorsed viewing the film. He said it portrayed the true face of terrorism and accused the opposition of trying to block the film’s release.

The film was indeed broadly criticized for its lurid air. India’s fact-checking website Alt News demolished the claim that tens of thousands of Hindu women had been brainwashed and recruited. It pointed out that reporting in 2021 found that four Indian women verifiably ended up jailed in Afghanistan after following their husbands in joining the Islamic State in Khorasan Province.

The West Bengal state government did try to stop the film from being shown. A Supreme Court justice, while deploring that the film vilified an Indian community, affirmed that the court would protect free speech and overturned the ban. The court, however, did demand that the film’s makers add disclaimers to the effect that “there is no authentic data to back up the suggestion that the figure of conversion is 32,000 or any other established figure,” and that “the film represents a fictionalized account of the events which form the subject matter of the film.”

But the damage was done. The film grossed some $37 million worldwide, becoming the second-highest-grossing Hindi film of 2023.

“The Kerala Story” playbook is a refinement of what has come before. Last year, I wrote about “The Kashmir Files,” a film so vicious toward Muslims that I left the theater fearing for my safety. “The Kashmir Files” was a box office success, too, pulling in audiences despite covid. An interesting film industry report found that more than 60 percent of the “Kashmir Files” audience were not regular cinemagoers, and that many were drawn to it by a word-of-mouth marketing campaign with its roots in BJP messaging.

Anurag Kashyap, one of India’s most celebrated filmmakers, told me that producers are being asked to make films to government spec. “Powerful Hindu nationalist groups like the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] are meeting producers and telling them what films are to be made so it can empower the government’s own agenda,” Kashyap said.

Riaz Haq said...

Opinion Modi’s political party has weaponized Bollywood

By Rana Ayyub

Worse, some filmmakers are finding their films being unceremoniously dropped by streaming platforms in the past two years. Dibakar Banerjee, another prominent director, found his film “Tees,” which tells the story of a Muslim family coping with discrimination, shelved by Netflix. Banerjee said Netflix told him it felt it was not the right time to release the film. He surmised fear of political blowback scared off the streaming giant.

Meanwhile, several other films have been announced. “Swatantra Veer Savarkar” is a biopic about the founder of the Hindutva political ideology. “Godhra” will focus on the burning of a train in Gujarat in 2002 that killed nearly 60 Hindu pilgrims — an incident that triggered three days of anti-Muslim riots that cost more than a thousand lives (occurring while Modi was chief minister of the state). A promotional poster for “Hum do Hamare Barah,” a film that tackles the contentious topic of the population explosion in India, features a Muslim man, his pregnant wife in hijab and 11 children. And a teaser for a film titled “72 Hoorain” (“72 Virgins”) promises to show “the real face of Islam,” featuring visuals of known terrorists.

All these films will probably be released before the 2024 general election. Judging from the success of “The Kerala Story,” they are likely to find an enthusiastic audience — and provide more ammunition for the BJP’s campaigning.

It’s fortunate that the world is noticing what Modi and his party do in India to stir sectarianism. It should pay attention, too, to the means by which he sways the masses to align with his intolerant vision.

Riaz Haq said...

India’s theatrical politics: Bollywood, billionaires and the BJP
PM Modi controls the campaign trail narrative with cinema, tycoons and big business parroting his party’s divisive line

MAY 24, 2024

As the lights dim in theaters across the country, audiences are swept into narratives that do more than entertain; they subtly indoctrinate the masses in the right-wing, BJP-aligned Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteer paramilitary organization’s Hindu nationalism.

By shaping narratives that subtly endorse “Hindutva” ideologies, sometimes even employing Muslim actors to deliver skewed messages, Bollywood contributes to a socio-political echo chamber in favor of Modi’s BJP.

Consider “Pathan,” featuring a Muslim superstar, yet the film weaves a narrative that’s anything but supportive of the community he represents. It’s a clever ploy – use a beloved Muslim face to sell a story that subtly fans the flames of distrust against his own, masking the bitter pill of bias with the sugarcoat of mainstream cinema.

Then there’s “Border,” which dramatizes historical conflicts with Pakistan to such an extent that the enemy image becomes not just a wartime necessity but a peacetime norm. The movie, garbed in patriotism, perpetuates a narrative that sees India at endless odds with its neighbor, reinforcing the “them versus us” mindset that is so critical to the RSS’s broader Hindu nationalist agenda.

“Uri: The Surgical Strike” pumps up the volume on heroism and revenge. It’s not just a flick; it’s a full-blown rally cry that sings in tune with the RSS’s lines. The film turns real-life military drama into a thrilling show of bravery, getting folks riled up while skipping over the tricky questions about what these actions actually mean for everyone involved.

“Kurbaan” is dressed up like a love story but underneath plants seeds of mistrust toward Muslims, portraying them mostly as radicals or villains. The movie stealthily taps into the fears and biases that some might quietly harbor, bringing these ideas into the spotlight. That aligns perfectly with RSS’s strategy of marginalizing Muslims, relegating India’s largest minority to the sidelines under the guise of a blockbuster narrative.

“New York” had the potential to delve deep into the injustices faced by Muslims post-9/11. Instead, it falls back on old patterns, depicting its Muslim characters with an aura of suspicion and menace. The film weaves its storyline around the specter of terrorism in a manner that endorses the RSS’s perspective, subtly reinforcing misconceptions about Muslims both within India and beyond.

Bollywood movies transcend mere entertainment; they convey narratives cleverly crafted to align with the BJP’s political agenda. By consistently portraying Muslims and Pakistan in a negative spotlight, these Indian blockbusters perpetuate a cycle of fear and nationalistic fervor to garner votes for the BJP while discarding the imperative of forging national unity.