PK and Hinduism

Some sections of the Hindutva groups are protesting that P.K. is ridiculing Hindu gods and Hindu belief systems and, in the process, hurting their religious sentiments. Therefore, they claim, the film must be banned. Many of these groups are actually shadow organisations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the umbrella organisation of all the Hindutva factions. RSS themselves don’t get their hands dirty in these things. Sri Ram Sena will barge into pubs and beat up all the uncultured women sitting there. Bajrang Dal will chase painters and writers out of the country and to demolish film sets. Siksha Bachao Andholan will intimidate academicians and researchers. Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) will help the wayward Hindus who lost their way into Islam and Christianity to ‘return home’ to Hindu-fold. RSS themselves will remain merely a ‘cultural organisation’.

Anyway, the question is, is P.K. a controversial film? Yes. The film indeed ridicules Hinduism to a large extent. Aamir Khan, the protagonist, puts up posters that depict Hindu gods with a caption ‘MISSING’. He distributes similar leaflets in metro stations. He questions and ridicules the practices followed in Hindu temples. He calls Hindu religious heads as ‘wrong numbers’. A key point here is, only one scene is dedicated to questioning Christianity in the whole film, and only one scene questions Islam, that too safely makes a veiled reference to an Afghani cultural practice. It is clear enough that the makers aimed to target only Hinduism.

Do these scenes hurt religious sentiments of Hindus? Would pious and conservative Hindus be offended by watching P.K.? The answer is, without mincing words, Yes. Would the movie have been released even if 10% of this criticism was directed towards Islam? The answer is a No. Also, if such a movie had been made, it would have caused riots across the country, even across the globe, and caused dozens of innocent lives.

Then, why shouldn’t this movie banned? If people have to think a hundred times to criticise Islam, but are able to make a full-length feature film ridiculing Hinduism, how is this fair?

My answer to this question is, ‘It isn’t fair, but isn’t it really a good thing?’

History teaches us that anything that goes through analytical criticism only grows and evolves. To understand this point, think about the political leaders in India who are considered as ‘beyond criticism’. What happens to them and their party? We know that when an individual allows others to criticise him and point out his mistakes, he grows and becomes a better person. Society that allows criticism ends up correcting its mistakes and eventually progresses. Europe today is considered a ‘rich and developed society’ largely thanks to the Enlightenment Movement that it had undergone. During this period, Europe moved away from the clutches of Christianity and began travel in the path of rationalism and scientific temperament. Social philosophers, scientists, economists and writers functioned without worrying about what God or the Church would think about their work. As a result, Europe witnessed a huge industrial and social revolution.

This had happened even in India. Today, people claim that airplanes existed in ancient India and even genetic engineering was practised. Although we know that these are nothing but bunkum, we do know that a lot of research activities took place in the field of mathematics, astronomy and literature. It is thanks largely to the freedom of expression that existed during that time that these works were created. Thanks to this freedom, ancient India could produce a user manual for sex and sculpt bizarre love-making postures in Kajuraho. Thanks to this culture of questioning, in Ramayana, Lord Rama could be severely criticised by the sage Jabali.

Even in the middle-east, when such freedom existed, developments in the field of maths, literature and natural sciences took place. In his seminal work ‘Civilization’, historian and economics researcher Niall Ferguson claims that somewhere during the third century these regions fell under the spell of religious clerics and, as a result, growth became constricted and soon disappeared.

Today, societies where religious fundamentalism is dominant are facing serious existential crises. A classic example is Pakistan. It was a relatively progressive society until the seventies and when Zia-Ul-Haq introduced religion-based curriculum and gave a free reign to the clerics, the whole country began to deteriorate. Anatol Lieven, professor of History in University of London, argues in his book ‘Pakistan – A Hard Country’ that Pakistan’s current state of crisis can be traced back to the programmes introduced by Zia-Ul-Haq.

Let us be aware that there are some grave problems that exist in critically analysing some fundamentalist tenets of Islam and attempting to loosen them. Societies that are expected to practise these tenets seriously are in grave danger of becoming failed states. In this backdrop, asking why Hinduism shouldn’t take itself equally seriously is akin to asking why India cannot be like Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia or Pakistan.

Therefore, to progress economically and intellectually, it is essential to relax the religion’s grip over society. In India, ‘wrong numbers’ can be seen in almost every neighbourhood. One sage claims to double your money if you perform a certain pooja to it. Another sage claims if he hugs and kisses women suffering from infertility, they can become pregnant. One sage materialises gold chains from his hair and mouth. Recently we saw one saint actually maintaining a quasi-army which was seen battling with a police force. And now, one saint from Punjab is acting in a movie and is bashing up bad guys a la Rajinikanth. Looking at these guys, I feel one P.K. won’t just be enough. We actually need hundred Raju Hiranis and Amir Khans to tackle these jokers.

Finally, the freedom of expression in India is not a complete freedom like they have in the US or Western Europe. The Indian one does come with some strings attached. At least, thanks to this limited freedom, we have managed show some progress. Even that is becoming intolerable to these Hindutva gangs. Let us remember one thing: these right-wing Hindu groups consider Hitler as their role model. We know Hitler burnt books and film reels. These groups too are burning books and film reels. And, when no books or film reels were remaining, Hitler began to burn people. So…