While much of Canada remains indifferent to the growing repression of minorities and political dissidents in India, Anand Patwardhan’s documentary might help break the global silence over this inconvenient truth about the world's so-called largest democracy.
Shown at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), Reason reveals how attacks on oppressed groups, religious minorities, and civil-society groups have increased under the right-wing Hindu nationalist regime led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Mainly focused on four prominent rationalists and free thinkers who were assassinated by the extremists for challenging bigotry and superstition, Reason delves into the root causes of the emergence of the Hindu right.
The perpetrators of these crimes enjoy the political patronage of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which is trying to turn India into Hindu theocracy. And the party continues to shield those involved in terrorist attacks directed at Muslims.
Reason also takes into account the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Hindu fanatics in 1948. Even though his killers owed allegiance to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu supremacist group of which the BJP is a part, Modi has shamelessly appropriated Gandhi because of his worldwide acceptance as a pacifist leader.
Modi himself is a member of the RSS. Reason explores these complexities and contradictions to educate people about the BJP's motives.
Not surprisingly, there have been attempts to stop the public screening of the film in India. So much so, some Hindu leaders openly called for physical violence against Patwardhan during a news conference in his presence. Footage of this incident is included in the film.
Patwardhan has made similar documentaries in the past, including In Memory of Friends, which was based on the systematic murders of Communist revolutionaries by Sikh fundamentalists in Punjab during the 1980s. Ironically, the Sikh militants were liquidated through extrajudicial means to restore peace in Punjab, whereas Hindu extremists enjoy the backing of the Indian state.
Talking to the Straight, Patwardhan said that he is really concerned how the current government is patronizing violence and terror even as the space for secularism and the scientific temper mandated by the Indian constitution continues to shrink.
He pointed out that the problem isn’t just confined to India, as far-right movements are on the rise all over the world, including the United States. It is pertinent to mention that Spice Radio sponsored the VIFF screening of Reason. Its CEO, Shushma Datt, launched a long-running campaign against racism in 2015. Called #HandsAgainstRacism, it's part of the social justice movement that Patwardhan cares for. He said there is a need to make broader alliances against fascism in these difficult times.
In the meantime, members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI)—a Greater Vancouver group formed in response to the growing violence against minorities and efforts to turn India into a Hindu theocracy since Modi became prime minister—presented Patwardhan with the Radical Desi Medal of Courage. This occurred before the screening of Reason at the Vancity theatre on October 7.
Radical Desi is an online magazine coving alternative politics and it's been raising these issues in the Indian diaspora in partnership with IAPI. Patwardhan was presented with the medal by IAPI president, Parshotam Dosanjh. Others present on behalf of IAPI at the event were Rakesh Kumar, Tejinder Sharma, and myself.