Is there any difference between rightwing Hindutva and Islamist groups? Both have objected to the shooting of Kathryn Bigelow's film on Osama bin Laden. The director would, for obvious reasons, not be permitted to shoot in Abbotabad, so the natural choice seemed to be India. She chose to recreate the garrison town and other areas in Chandigarh and Patiala.
The first protests came from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists who removed the sign boards in Urdu put up in a few shops, raised slogans against Pakistan and removed its flags that were placed to recreate the spot in Abbotabad where American Navy SEALs killed Osama in May last year.
One would have imagined that the saffron group would be happy to see the terrorist killed again for celluloid and get a chance to hit out at the Islamists. So, what is the issue here? It cannot possibly be Urdu hoardings. It is one of the official Indian languages; there are schools and charitable trusts that use Urdu. Urdu writing is an important component of Indian literature. Urdu was taken to Pakistan from India.
Is it the sight of Pakistani flags that bothers them? When we play cricket matches against them, they are waved in the crowds and painted on faces of spectators. They are visible from the border. They are like any flag, representing another country. Besides, the purpose was to portray a scene. How can we forget that the Ram Sene, a rightwing group, had in fact hoisted the Pakistani flag in Karnataka outside the secretariat to cause a communal problem and make it seem that the Muslims were behind this move?
What is the problem then? Denial. The Hindu identity as seen by the rightwing groups is largely dependent on its largest minority. For them, this minority represents the faith of the ‘pure’ nation. Hindutva nationalism needs to be tethered to this otherness. Indian Muslims threaten both these ideas – of Ram Rajya and of not being Pakistani. However, instead of feeling empowered, they too suffer from denial, of the 'others' within and across the border.
While there are sections that might be considered sympathetic to our neighbour – a fact that would ordinarily have not had such a baggage, for after all they often have families there – the denial often arises due to insecurity.
Most Muslims would not consider the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind as their representative, that is if they have heard about the organisation or have anything to do with it. But when its North India General Secretary sent a memorandum to Chandigarh's Deputy Commissioner, the fear appeared palpable:
“We express our great concern over the shooting of Zero Dark Thirty or ZD 30. This picture will create more differences between Muslim and other communities. It will provoke other communities and law and order will be badly affected and the peaceful atmosphere of the region disturbed. If they have to shoot this film, they should go to Pakistan and not shoot it in India…The film will portray Muslims as terrorists, which is wrong.”
India has had several communal riots, so a peaceful atmosphere is one of those imaginative states. The reason for this statement has little to do with India and more to do with Pakistan. That Osama bin Laden was not Pakistani is of no consequence here. He was ‘found’ there. The “other communities” obviously refers to the small section of Hindutvawadis who will use the opportunity to question Muslims once again.
The characters in the film are shown wearing burqas, salwaar-kameez, chappals and skull caps. It is probably not much different from some of the local bazaars in predominantly Muslim areas. These are primarily places where people of a lower socio-economic strata live. The same can be said about much of Pakistan, although the veil has become a more visible identity these days.
While these are stereotypes, the film will certainly highlight this aspect. The death of Osama needs to examine jihad, and jihad cannot come without an obvious ‘characteristic’. The physical traits will be like the ones mentioned. The possibility of this ghetto being targeted is not unusual. It is always the poor and uneducated who are hit the most or seen as suspects.
When we think about the Hindu rightwing, there is almost a related pattern – saffron bandana-wearing kar sewaks, people with huge tilaks carrying trishuls. These are not symbols, but clichés, the faces we can recognise.
And recognition of these is also a denial of them being part of something larger or of not. This could be the cusp people, really. They do not hold the keys to the kingdom. Someone else does.
A film on Osama bin Laden, or any person who has to be hated before he is understood, would not go there. It would circle overhead like the drones and then reach for the kill. It is a strategy employed by vultures. To expect a cinematic portrayal by an outsider, and often insiders, to explore beyond this would be futile. In all these years, has anyone bothered to check out Laden’s considerable influence as a socially agreeable mover in the West before 9/11? If history itself is reduced to mere acts, how can one expect fictional reality to be anything else?
In this case, too, there is denial. Acceptance has become the exception rather than the rule.
(c) Farzana Versey
Published in Countercurrents