UK terror threat throws spotlight on India’s far right

By Savi Hensman
December 2, 2017

UK cinemas have postponed the opening of an Indian film after a far-right politician threatened that cinemas screening it would be set ablaze. This may be a step too far even for the government here, which has been soft on extremists appealing to a distorted form of Hinduism to try to justify their violence.

In India there have been protests over a Bollywood film about to be released, Padmavati, because it supposedly includes a Hindu-Muslim romance. Suraj Pal Amu, a leader of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the state of Haryana, offered a bounty of over £1million  to anyone beheading the lead actress and director. He was forced to step down as the party’s chief media coordinator in that state but threats continue.

The UK release date was originally 1 December 2017. This was postponed by Paramount Pictures, the distributors, until the situation in India – where censors are considering it – is clearer. There have been warnings of peaceful protests and threats of arson here too.

The film has been attacked for being historically inaccurate and unfair to the reputation of the Rajput queen Rani Padmini. Some suspect a money-grubbing aspect to the more extreme threats, especially since reportedly there are no such scenes and the queen probably never even existed. But in the current feverish atmosphere in India, and to a lesser extent among Indians overseas, there is a real risk of violence.

While the protesters’ case may lack historical credibility, this can mean little to those swept away by extremist rhetoric. Some members of the same ‘Hindutva’ movement (condemned by many Hindus) have whipped up controversy over the Taj Mahal. In October BJP politicians revived the notion put forward by the fringe historian PN Oak that this was once a Hindu temple .(He had made the same claim about Westminster Abbey.)

When the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014, he played down his violent past and ongoing membership of an extreme right-wing movement. This includes fanatics here, such as the organisers of a summer camp where children as young as 13 were drilled in military fashion and taught that "To destroy the Hindu history is the secret conspiracy of the Christians" 

Some supporters of the movement would no doubt deplore crime on the streets but are in denial about the activities of others whose power they bolster. Such groups received a boost when Narendra Modi came to the UK in 2015. He was fêted by government leaders keen on trade deals with India, and had lunch with the Queen.

Yet the pretence of mainstream democratic politics has been increasingly set aside. Muslims and Christians, Dalits and tribal people, independent journalists and human rights activists have been victimised, sometimes murdered.

The UK government’s willingness to play along with India’s far right, including delaying legal protection for Dalits against discrimination, is now proving embarrassing. After a Conservative MP hosted the extremist Tapan Ghosh in the Houses of Parliament, several ministers hastened to distance themselves from him after it turned out that they had attended an event in which he took part 

It remains to be seen what will happen if and when Padmavati opens. Even if morality is set aside, cultivating close links with governments which terrorise sections of their own people, and promote fanaticism abroad, is a risky approach.

------------

© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.