Indian Decade

The Cultural Purity Brigade

The controversy over Vishwa Hindu Parishad and a movie about Osama bin Laden undermines Indian democracy.

Yet again, another pseudo-patriotic organization has darkened India’s door through their crude and mindless antics. On this occasion, members of the right wing, Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) stopped the shooting of a film in Chandigarh (the shared capital of the states of Punjab and Haryana) on the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Parts of the city have been made to look like a Pakistani city replete with shops and signs in Urdu and with hundreds of extras playing the roles of ordinary men and women in suitable attire. The mere display of a Pakistani flag from a building where the film is being shot incurred the ire of the VHP.  With their all-too-familiar refrain that the “sentiments of Indians would be hurt” this cultural policing brigade insisted that the offending flag be removed before the filming could continue. Press reports suggest that the film crew agreed to remove the flags, and only then were they allowed to proceed.

Even though the police intervened it appears that nothing short of the removal of the Pakistani flags would appease these activists. The fact that state authorities couldn’t take a more firm stance and simply turn away the miscreants from the set is indicative of the power of religious zealots. It’s as if religious extremists of every stripe can now hold individuals and groups to ransom with complete impunity with the threat of political violence.

Unfortunately, the pliant and permissive attitudes of both state governments and the central government are simply allowing these groups to gain increasing traction. Sadly, their gains are a growing loss to the liberal space within the country – and deeply corrosive to the spirit of India’s democracy.