Photograph of Anil Chawla


Original Article by Anil Chawla

Comments received from a wide variety of people on the article 'SAFFRON COLOURED FIRES AND A FILM NAMED WATER'

Interesting comments were received about my article Saffron Coloured Fires and A Film Named Water". The comments (and in some cases my replies) are enlcosed.

(Original Comments in Black, Reply of Anil Chawla in Green)

From: Ravi Shevade

Date sent: Sat, 12 Feb 2000

Dear Anil,

Thanks for sending this article. Here are my comments

  1. What the hell is "illicit" sex? Sex is a relationship that is casual or long term. A society that allows sex workers to exist can not talk about a voluntary union of two individuals; short term or long term, between the same or different genders as "illicit".

    I have used the term in a loose sense and it is used with reference to Christian morality. In Indian or Hindu system the concept of permissible sex is much wider. It may interest you to read my paper on Common Civil Code.

  2. How does a city become less sacred because some people in the city did something in the past that was not sacred? The muck that flows in the Ganga at Varanasi does not make the city less sacred but love relationships of a widow 70 years ago shown on film does.

    As I say in the first paragraph this business of treating a city as sacred is ridiculous. It is most irrational. Yet, one has to factor in or accept the feeling of millions of people for any meaningful analysis.

  3. When would our people understand something would become sacred or holy or whatever by the sum total of values that are embodied in that entity. Something does not remain holy by silencing anybody who speaks out adversely, however obliquely about the thing.

    I share your wish that religion becomes more rational. I have made some attempts in this regard. My article "WHO IS A HINDU" takes an extremely rational view in the matter. However, we live in a global village where the intolerant and irrational attitude of a growing number of fanatics and fundamentalist is affecting the Hindu mentality and it does not help to have people like Deepa Mehta rigging up unnecessary controversy to make profits.

  4. Finally it is alarming that we are becoming less and less tolerant of alternative, marginal and contrary views which is what is frightening.

Here, I disagree with you. By and large, Indian society especially Hindus are extremely tolerant provided the views are expressed with a sincerity of purpose and not with doubtful intentions. I have written in favour of cow slaughter and my article has been published in various newspapers including the ones affiliated to Sangh parivar. You will be surprised to know that some of the die-hard RSS oldtimers have even appreciated it.

Ravi Shevade

From: Chelvapila

Date sent: Sun, 13 Feb 2000

Sri Rama Jayam

Dear Anil Chawla,

I read your article or letter on film water . You make several valid and reasonable points.

But the fact is the atmosphere is so vitiated all these years by our own press and elite which pride themselves as being secular and progressive in berating anything connected to Hinduism, all such reasoning and logic does not stand a chance before the propaganda unleashed against us in world especially in US press, which portrays just as our own secular media as Deepa Mehta victim of fanatic and fundamentalist Hindu organizations.

Here we cannot really blame westerners or their press, since they learn to take their leads from Indian media itself which ofcourse tries to be in good books of west by catering to their whims and fancies. Thus goes the vicious cycle.

However uphill the struggle may be, this must be broken. And attempts like yours in this regard hence are praise worthy.

For too long ilk of Katherine Mayos, Deepa Mehtas had unopposed sway in berating and denigrating India and Hindus, it is time they encounter some protests.


From: Mark Frey

Date sent: Sun, 13 Feb 2000

Dear Mr Chawla,

It seems that you found your vocation in life and I hope that your articles find the success they deserve. I am almost certain, otherwise you would probably not write one after the other; after all you don't do it just for the pleasure of writing, or am I wrong?

You are right that I have discovered my true vocation, but this vocation cannot be a means of earning any money. In India, learning from writing is an almost impossible job. So, I do this writing for pleasure. But as I understand, that is what a vocation is all about. I am told that in Protestant belief system, vocation is what God has ordained each one of us to do and real pleasure can be obtained only by following the scheme of God. So I am following God's scheme of things without bothering about earning money from it or even about success.

Although it is sometimes difficult for me as a distant observer to have a clear opinion, as I am not familiar enough with the situation, I feel that this time I must tell you that I do not agree with you. I do not want to comment the film which is the starting point of your article. I have not seen it and I do not know the background. If it is an old story which is today of no actuality, it may be right to question the motives for producing such a film. But when you compare it with the present, burning problem of AIDS among priests, then it is a fact which exists, whether the Catholic Church likes it or not when it is openly discussed. The people in the Vatican are only human beings, and when you look at the history of the Popes, you will find everything, from murder to mistresses, some had even children. Is the Vatican a holier place if nobody knew of all this outside its walls? Obviously the Pope does not like that there is a public debate, because everything which has to do with sex is a sin, except if it is for producing more Catholics. He is against everything which has to do with birth control; it is better to have a lot of children, even if they will almost certainly starve or have deadly deseases (especially in Africa and Latin America).

I agree with everything that you have said. I am all for serious debate. I have myself written on some very controversial religious issues (my article favouring cow slaughter can be an example). But the key difference is in terms of sincerity of purpose. It is not correct to sensationalise issues and try to make profits. Reformer's credentials and intentions must be honest and beyond any doubt. In case of Deepa Mehta, that has been the problem.

I think that most of your other foreign friends in the so called West who received your article think the same way. If there is something of what Karl Marx wrote which most of us agree with, then it is that "religion is opium for the people", i.e. something to make them obedient and dumb.

The situation may be different in India, but for how long? With TV in every village, it is no longer only the literate that have access to other ideas and I am convinced that this will have the same effect as the invention of printing had in Europe in the Middle Ages: it will open the eyes of the masses.

I am certainly not in favour of letting religion be an opium of the masses. I am all in favour of critical debate on religious issues. My only point is that the cause of critical debate is harmed by people who misuse the freedom of debate to serve their personal and petty interests.

Satisfied? I hope I was acidic enough. But do not expect that I shall reply each and every time, because I have neither the time, nor the necessary knowledge to do it.

No, you were neither acidic nor sugary. You are welcome to comment and reply as and when convenient. I can understand that it is not possible for you to take time from your busy schedule for each article sent by me.

Best regards,
Mark Frey

From: Nikunj Sanghvi

Date sent: Sat, 12 Feb 2000

Indeed a very good article! This exposed the truth about "Water" to me and opened my eyes - earlier, I was also one of the pro-"Water", free speech supporters; but this article has helped in correcting my opinion.

Thank you, Regards,

Nikunj Sanghvi

From: Pritam Sharma

Dear Mr Chawla,

Thank u for ur article on Water. I agree with ur view that we cannot allow an artist to play with people's sentiments. The fact is that Deepa Mehta is there to cash on the western audience who has always been keen to see the ugly face of India's past or for that reason its present.

People like Deepa have kept their western audience under a heavy dose of opium of misconception and misinformation about the glorious part of India,s rich cultural and religious heritage. We have allowed them to do so in the past. Hardly any voice has been raised earlier.

It was the hired uncritical critic like William Archer who even went on to ask Is India Civilised? Thank God that there was Aurbindo to respond and offend Archer at that time or else such idiots could have recieved acclaim in India and abroad! The planned conspiracy against india still continues. Deepa's effort is to continue the unaccomplished mission of William Archer. Let she be told that she can no longer befool us in the name of an art film.

Your's sincerely
PB Sharma

From: Amit Rajesh Nishar
Date sent: Sun, 20 Feb 2000

Dear Shri Govind,

Thanks for your well reasoned reply. In these times when most people are just not bothered about anything, it is a pleasure to hear from someone who is concerned about issues sincerely and is willing to spend some time to support his ideas.

The problem with word and arguments is that they can disclose only one side of the thoughts. Something like the story of an elephant and four blind-folded men describing it. To a casual reader your comments will look like a strong criticism of my article. But when I read your comments, I find myself agreeing with almost everything. If I sum up your views, you are in favour of a liberal Hinduism that has no parallel with other religions of the world and you are opposed to Deepa Mehta's film for reasons that are almost identical to mine - her foreign citizenship, insincerity, commercialisation of issues that need serious debate. I can say without even an iota of doubt, that I agree with your views. Regarding Hinduism, I request you to please download my article WHO IS A HINDU. The article tries to define Hinduism as a truly scientific religion of the world. You will find a resonance of your views in the article. Regarding Deepa Mehta's film, our views are similiar though the method of expressing them is very different.

A point wise reply is as follows:

This is a good article from Mr.Chawla but I do not agree with the way in which the author chooses to draw parallels between Hinduism and the two monotheistic religions of Islam and Christianity to support his argument. I do not understand why we Hindus feel the need to compare ourselves to Christianity and Islam to get our point across. For eg take the first sentence of this article:

I regret drawing of parallel between Hinduism and religions like Islam, Christianity and Judaism. We are different, yet you must realise that most of us are living in an environment where our thoughts are dictated to us by a media controlled and influenced by Western values and systems. To make oneself understood, it is necessary to talk the language of the listener. Moreover at the moment modern Indian and Hindu thought has yet to evolve its independent idiom, structure and form. I wish that one day it would be possible for us to talk without recourse to comparasions with other religions.

"For most Hindus Varanasi or Kashi is the same as Vatican is to Christians, Jerusalem is to Jews (and Christians) and Makka-Madina is to Muslims."

You will notice the use of world "most" instead of "all". For me personally Kashi has no great significance. My definition of Hinduism assigns no role to Kashi. In fact, I am extremely critical of the Church like influence that Kashi pandits tried to exercise on Hinduism and have in fact done great damage to Hinduism. Even Swami Vivekananda was not really recognised by pandits of Kashi. Very few people know that Kashmir problem would have been solved a hundred years ago, if it was not for the pandits of Kashi. Muslims of Kashmir wanted to convert back to Hinduism and approached their King who consulted Kashi pandits. The pandits of Kashi threatened to committ suicide if anyone was converted to Hinduism. In spite of all these, I respect the way some people look at Kashi and would not like to support anyone like Deepa Mehta.

The Vatican is important to Roman Catholics (and not to very many protestant Christians) because it is the seat of the largest, most oppressive, most backward organized religion on the planet from where the religio-political dictatorship of yesteryear Christendom, the 'Papacy', launched inquisitions, holy wars, crusades and general destruction of the life, liberty and property of all other 'religions' and 'cultures'. This is definitely not true in case of Kashi, which is the seat of many a sect of followers of various spiritual paths and religions, none of which is an organised religion in quite the same way as Christianity is.

The author says further "Yet, neither Vatican nor Jerusalem nor Makka-Madina will allow a film-maker to make a film on the darker side of the city. The sentimental and emotional appeal that the city has to millions of people will be hurt. In fact, the cities are oldest surviving super-brands and a projection of the evil in any of them can kill the super-brand and therefore the city."

Since when are Muslims, Christians and Jews the role models of Hindus? Since when is Kashi the equivalent of Mecca-Medina, the Vatican and Jerusalem? I don't know about other Hindus but it is THIS MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE that hurts the 'sentimental and the emotional appeal' that the Sanatan Dharma has for me. To me it sounds as horrible as an American comparing the US to China or the USSR and advocating Americans to adopt these as their role models. I do not for the life of me understand why we Hindus are deliberately patterning ourselves after these monimaniacal fanaticisms and diluting our own distinctiveness? It is these religions, obsessed with their own growth and expansion, who have made a business out of God. To them their cities might be super-brands but Hinduism is not in the business of selling itself to the rest of the world so that it can boast of itself as the largest, most powerful, or fastest-growing (the Islamic patent on this catch phrase is still pending) 'religion' in the world.

As I said above, the comparasion is regreted but is considered necessary at this point of time.

The author continues to state the following: "It is unreasonable for any artist or film-maker to hope to be welcomed by the city concerned while digging out skeletons from the history of the city and attacking at the root of the existence of the city.Deepa Mehta's proposed film "WATER" is a story about a portion of the history of Varanasi that the city would like to forget about."

This satement reminds me of that clutch of intellectual parasites that has been only recently so painfully extricated out of the Indian Council of Historical Research. Only they have been busy all the time trying to make us forget about that 1000 year long portion of our history in which Islam has repeatedly sodomized our country and our culture. (This continues to happen today of course in Pakistan, Kashmir and the mini-Pakistans in the Republic of India. Recall that famous remark by a Pakistani about his nation being sodomized by religion, which nation is really nothing but Islamic India at its worst. Or maybe that honor should be conferred upon Afghanistan?)

The author says that: "There have always been unconfirmed stories about illicit sex in Vatican. Recently a newspaper published that the incidence of AIDS in Catholic Priests in USA is four times than in general population. It is not known whether the report is true or false but it cannot be denied even by the Pope that among Catholic priests there are some black sheep who are not living life as they profess. This presence of black sheep cannot give a license to any artist to go to Vatican and do a film with a story line about a priest having a homosexual affair with someone. The idea of such a film will be considered shocking and deserving condemnation by any sensible man and not just by a Catholic. Artistic freedom and liberty of expression cannot be allowed to hurt the basic belief structure cherished as sacred by millions."

OH YES IT CAN. The very meaning of artistic freedom and liberty is that it is not delimited or circumscribed by public opinion or religous, political, social, cultural, or nationalist dogmas and diktats or even RELIGIOUSLY ENFORCED BELIEF STRUCTURES. We Hindus have set the standard in this rebellion against authority. Witness the sculptures at Khajuraho. Pious Hindus, if they were anything like their Muslim or Christian role models, would have taken a hammer to these a long time back. The puritanical fanatics among us, if they were anything like their Muslim or Christian brethren, would also have come out with a revised edition of the Bhagavat Purana and removed any mention of Krishna's noctural pastimes with the Gopis. The 'Kamasutra' would by now be an underground scripture being circulated in the Hindu black market and only popular in the west as one more eastern tome on unbridled sexulaity. Why, even Buddhism would be bannned, and Buddhists slaughtered for preaching atheism and agnositicism in India. The Siva linga would be disavowed as a perverse worship of the male phallus and the worship of the naked goddess Kali denounced as worship of the demonic and the profane. Much that is here would be considered 'shocking', much would 'deserve condemnation' and offend the sensibilties of many a people. Now which should be the first to be banned?

But all these exist and thrive today in Hindu society, and form the fabric of the daily lives of Hindus because artistic freedom was not even an issue with us. It was something that the artist took for granted. Now that we have begun to pattern ourselves after our supremely self-righteous monomaniacal brethren we have finally begun to question this aspect of our culture as well. Where will we draw the line?

The line is in terms of intentions. I have mentioned this in my article. Hindus have never really hurt reformers. Swami Vivekanananda is respected though he spoke against all that Shankaracharyas and pandits of Kashi advocated. Deepa Mehta would have been welcomed in India and declared a great personality if she had dedicated her life to the subject of upliftment of widows in Kashi, Vrindawan etc and the film on the subject was a part of her mission. Freedom of expression and art cannot be misused as a freedom to hurt, insult and abuse with an intent to make profits.

It seems to me that we Hindus are bending over backwards to make our culture look like what it is not. If Islam and Christianity is monotheistic, Hindusim will declare its monotheism from the rooftops. If Islam and Christianity frown on idolatry Hinduism must also denounce idol-worship. If Islam has a Koran and Christianity has a Bible then Hinduism also has its Bhagavad-Gita. If Islam has Mecca and Christianity has the Vatican Hinduism will also have Kashi. If Muslims are continously getting offended at every little thing said about their bloody religion and Christians are always protesting against imaginary persecutions then Hindus must also become over-sensivitve fanatics who will preserve the sanctity of their holiest city, holiest book, holiest women (eg Sita and Radha) holiest this and holiest that, even though no such things actually exist in what we mistakenly, and in a typically servile manner, refer to as 'Hindusim' (an English word with its roots not in Sanskrit but Greek).

Our author says that "One cannot reform by hurting people's sentiments". But then how are we to determine if the sentiments of THE people have been hurt or is it just the sentiments of SOME people who want to maintain the HOLY COW staus of certain fondly held notions, whether they be the degree of holiness of a city or of some God or woman or animal etc? I for one refuse to believe that the majority of Hindus are anything like their primitive Mulsim and Christian brethren who will not tolerate so much as a pin-prick on the religous sanctity of their chosen icons (although they each are iconoclasts par excellence of all other systems of belief).

Hindus tolerate much more than just pin-pricks. Unfortunately this has been misused by some people. It is time that Hindus learnt to differentiate between pin-pricks caused by well-meaning reformers, friends etc. and pricks caused by people who have malicious motives.

Furthermore, each reformer in his time has been accused of heresy and has faced the charge of 'hurting the peoples sentiments', because peoples sentiments are tied to the irrational and dogmatic belief systems that form the supports of their world-view and sense of reality. Our author states that, "Artistic freedom and liberty of expression cannot be allowed to hurt the basic belief structure cherished as sacred by millions." But it is the modification or even eradication of these RELIGIOUSLY ENFORCED BELIEF STRUCTURES that forms the heart of the reformist message.

Please read my article in totality. I am always in favour of reformist message delivered with honest intention.

Indeed in a world in which more than a billion people are still subscribing to the Islamic 'belief structure', and an even greater number are addicted to tobacco in one form or another, if there is a choice between running the risk of HURTING PEOPLES SENTIMENTS (and at least as far as Mulsims are concerned any reformer, eg Ibn Warraq, will almost ALWAYS end up hurting their sentiments, although in the end it is likely to hurt the reformer more than the devout Muslims, eg the hanging of the great mystic Al-Hallaj), and letting them remain the way they are, the courageus and the righteous thing to do would be to choose the former.

Again, I repeat, I agree with you that one must support the reformist message. My next article (due within a week) is about Indian Muslims and I support Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer who is a Muslim reformer.(Political Parties and Indian Muslims)

All this is not to say that I am in favor of Deepa Mehta's attention-hogging. Generally speaking one has the right to admonish and to advice, but to insult is an entirely different matter. But it is one thing to OFFEND someone intentionally and another to TAKE OFFENCE at something because it attacks ones long cheished 'belief structures', the latter tendency manifesting most remarkably in India's social, political and cultural parlance. Personally speaking, I think that Ms.Mehta can very legitimately be deported for causing tensions in India. She does not have the God given right to make a movie in India. She needs our permission and we can very well deny it to her. Furthermore, I don't like the idea of someone who has chucked the citizenship of India coming back to twist the knife in our festering wounds.

Yet, in my opinion those who hurt Hindus and the Sanatan Dharma the most are those who bring it down to the level of these violent, monotheistic intolerances like Islam and Christianity. And the Hindus who do this are legion. They are everywhere. From spiritual institutions like the Sri Ramakrishna Mission with its amazing capacity for hypocricy to hardcore Hindutva-vadis who would compare the relevance that an Ayodhya has for a Hindu to the relevance that a Grand Mosque in Mecca has for a Muslim or a Holy Roman Church in the Vatican has for a Christian. (Ayodhya is definitely not the holiest shrine of Hinduism. It has however become the paramount symbol of the havoc that Islam has been causing in India for the past ten or more centuries)

I share your concerns about Hinduism becoming monotheistic and a carbon copy of either Christianity or Islam. In fact I refer to this as Churchification of Hinduism. The way to avoid the churchification of Hinduism is not by giving freedom to people like Deepa Mehta who do more harm than good but it is by building an intellectual campaign about the true nature of Hinduism.

At the end of the day it is freedom of expression that matters most, if for no other reason than at least because it is one of the most distinctive features of Indian spirituality that sets it apart from these self-proclaimed 'great religions'. Just recently an issue of Time magazine carrying an interview of Gopal Godse has been senselessly and thoughtlessly banned. Many Gandhians would definitely have felt insulted by what was written in that article, their sentiments hurt, their sensibilities offended and their 'belief structures' attacked. Does that justify banning the issue of that magazine? Is this how we Hindus want to handle things when our sentiments are hurt, our sensibilities offended, our 'belief structures' questioned?

Islam and Christianity have much to hide and so they have a very high regard for a mafia-like 'Omerta' or code of silence. Let us not choose these violent 'religions' as our role models. Let us not think like them, let us not talk like them but most importantly let us not act like them. And please, for the good of Hindus, India and humanity in generel, let us not draw parallels betwen the way of life that we call Sanatana Dharma and these imperialist ideologies out to conquer, subjugate, convert and terrorise the world in the name of their Chosen God.

Jai Hind,

Thanks once again. I appreciate your concerns and share all of them. Our methods of expression may be different but we are talking the same.

Anil Chawla

Please write to me your comments about the above debate.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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