Cinema and Secularism
Cinema and Secularism
Febuary 2005

Reality of reel life

In collaboration with the Xavier’s Institute of Communications, Mumbai, we organised a two-day workshop for the students of the institute in the first week of February. The theme: how and to what extent has Hindi cinema reflected the values of pluralism and democracy over the decades? We are grateful to such illustrious names from filmdom as Javed Akhtar, Mahesh Bhatt, Pooja Bhatt and Khalid Mohamed, as also serious writers and commentators on films, Rauf Ahmed, Jerry Pinto, Madan Gopal Singh and Bhawana Somaaya for leading the discussions.

The feedback from several students at the end of the workshop clearly showed that they had found the exercise both educative and enjoyable. We thought so too. We believe our readers too would like to know how those closely associated with the film world in different ways see the relationship between real life and reel life. That’s how the idea of this month’s cover story was born. Since for reasons of space we are not able to carry all the presentations in this issue, some will be published in the coming issues of CC.

In the realm of the real meanwhile, the last few weeks have witnessed a development that no one would have anticipated even a few months ago: the splintering of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). The splitters have announced the constitution of a separate Sunni board, and a Shia board. More significantly, some Muslim women have gone ahead to form a separate women’s board for personal law.

No one seems to quite know why but it is said that it was Indira Gandhi who conjured up the AIMPLB in the early ’70s. Though the legal status of this organisation is nothing more than an informal NGO, many within the Muslim community saw it as an influential body since, among others, the high priests from different sects of Indian Islam are part of it. The mass hysteria that the Board whipped up in the mid-’80s over the Shah Bano controversy reinforced this feeling. But most secularists and liberal Muslims who believe that all religion-based personal laws in India are unjust to women and therefore in urgent need of reform have long believed that nothing in the name of gender justice could be expected from this patriarchal outfit.

In recent months the Board had generated hope that at long last it was going to endorse a model nikahnama that would help curtail the obnoxious practice of triple talaq. But as a letter from the All India Democratic Women’s Association that we are publishing here shows, the nikahnama is far from model. If anything, it once again shows the male-centred mindset of the Board. Not surprising, therefore, to find Hasnath Mansur, a prominent woman activist from Bangalore, slamming the Board and dismissing it as an NGO irrelevant to Muslim women’s concerns in an interview also being published in this issue.

The Delhi-based Citizen’s Campaign for Preserving Democracy, an association of citizens committed to the defence of basic human rights and freedoms has just published a highly disturbing report on the predicament of Bangla speaking Muslims in Delhi. A lowly and oftentimes dubious police informer’s word that so and so is an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant is all the proof the police needs to round up poor and defenceless people, take them to the Indo-Bangla border and surreptitiously push them over to the other side. Ironically, such blatant infringement of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, gross violation of international human rights, and systematic derogation from due process of law and principles of natural justice is supposedly being monitored by the Delhi high court.

We join family members and innumerable friends and comrades from the community of social activists in mourning the sudden and untimely death of Sriprakash Sharma in Jaipur. A dear friend and colleague, he had for long been pushing us to start a Hindi edition of Communalism Combat, a project we intend to launch before this yearend and in which he was to play a major role. We will miss you, Sriprakash.

— Editors