Home » Film Festivals » LIFF » Reason (Vivek) [2019]: ‘LIFF’ Review – A Brilliant Discourse on the Pernicious Rise of Religious Extremism in India

Reason (Vivek) [2019]: ‘LIFF’ Review – A Brilliant Discourse on the Pernicious Rise of Religious Extremism in India

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Anand Patwardhan has consistently made outstanding documentaries on some of the burning issues plaguing Indian society. His works have exposed the ugliness and ignominies of our times, particularly the politics of caste and communal division. Above all else, Mr. Patwardhan lets his keenly observant camera to do all the talking, staying clear from the temptation of furnishing it with rhetoric. Reason (Vivek), similar to the documentarian’s incendiary work Jai Bhim Comrade (2011), deals with an epic subject: the rise of religious extremism and fascism in India and the continuing battle waged by rationalists against these powerful nefarious forces. It’s unembellished, hard-hitting and a reality check for people overlooking the toxic ideologies of Hindu Supremacy.




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“Hinduism is a dynamic composite of cultural practices, both indigenous and those borrowed from passing streams. Sanatan, Aryan, Vedic, Hindutva on the other hand, is a Brahminical project of supremacy,” remarks Anand Patwardhan (in one of the few voice-overs in the documentary), emphasizing how Hinduism is completely antithetical to political Hindutva. And this contagion of religious extremism is silencing its critics through the only way it knows: violence. Reason opens with the image of a motorbike cruising through dark roads and cuts to the candid speech of Narendra Dabholkar, social activist and founder of Anti-Blind Faith Movement. On August 20, 2013, Dabholkar was gunned down by two men in a motorbike. The Hindutva murderers continued to wreak havoc by answering the criticism stacked against them with the aid of bullets. Lawyer & Communist leader Govind Pansare, professor M M Kalburgi, and journalist Gauri Lankesh were all victims of these marauders.

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Reason (Vivek) is divided into eight chapters and the first part titled ‘Slaying the Demon’ reconstructs the life of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare (stitched together using photographs, footage, and interviews). Mr. Dabholkar’s wife, Dr. Shaila tearfully recalls how she initially refused him since she has to run the clinic, while he would be working full-time to counter superstition and blind faith. The work of Anti-Blind Faith Movement continues after the murder of Dabholkar as we see its members engaging common people to think for themselves, and not get persuaded by the ‘miracles’ performed by god-men. Pansare’s brand of activism is focused on exposing the lies broadcasted by right-wing parties like Shiv Sena, especially its vile tactics to mobilize Hindu sentiments by espousing the myth of 17th century Maratha King Shivaji. Pansare argues with wit and candor that Shivaji was more secular, compared to the popular branding of Shivaji as the ‘protector of cows and Brahmins’ and anti-Islamic.

Reason

Mr. Pansare’s works and speeches also lionized the life of little known Shahu Maharaj (1874-1922), whose Vedic School in Kolhapur enrolled non-Brahmin students. He also gave legal validity to inter-caste and inter-religious marriages (the organization initiated by Maharaj continues to assist in inter-caste marriages). The people in the organization, however, admit they avoid marrying a Hindu girl to a Muslim boy, fearing the backlash of Hindutva groups. Pansare’s egalitarian, altruistic nature is explored through his efforts as a lawyer to protect the religious minorities and the impoverished. One of the impactful remarks from Pansare sharply distinguishes the difference between people born into Brahmin caste and the ideology of Brahminism. He describes ‘Brahmanism’ as a ‘means of abhorring other as lowly…. a contagious disease’ which although ‘began amongst those born as Brahmins slowly spread amongst all other castes’. Patwardhan juxtaposes Pansare’s words with Maratha community march for reservation bill and demand to repeal the Anti-Atrocity act (a law for preventing discrimination and crimes against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes). The words could also be understood in the context of how backward castes across India are getting saffronized, only to find its ‘enemies’ among Dalits and religious minorities.




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The most disturbing aspect of Brahmanism could be found in its hold over educational institutions and stale ideas of nationalism. “Brahminism today is draped in the national flag, its storm troopers drew from amongst those it has dumbed down and made jobless.” The words are directed against the ABVP youth (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student-wing of RSS) whose diseased nationalism gave them the license to abuse left-wing and Dalit youth at Hyderabad Central University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The suicide of Dalit Ph.D. student Rohith Vemula (in Hyderabad) and the sedition charges on three JNU students (including the student leader Kanhaiya Kumar) showcases the unhealthy environment in public universities. What lies behind such ‘nationalism’ debates in the educational institutions are the furtive efforts to undermine reservation and scholarship. Couple of disillusioned Dalit students, who had recently left ABVP, admits how this student-wing simply serves as vanguard of Brahmanism in the college campus.

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The terrifying dimensions of Hindutva are detailed in the chapters ‘Sanatan Religion’, ‘In the Name of Cow’, and ‘Terror and Stories of Terror’. Villagers of Ramnathi, Goa fear the Sanatan Sanstha ashram, a radical Hindutva outfit whose members are responsible for the killings of aforementioned rationalists. Sanatan Sanstha, founded by Dr Jayant Athavale, seems to have innocuous aims like imparting spiritual knowledge. However, its affiliate organizations speak of establishing ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Sanatan Sanstha is also accused of providing weapons training to its ‘hypnotized’ young members. The 2009 Margao blasts which accidentally killed two of Sanatan Sanstha followers (while they were carrying the bomb in a scooter) led to police raids. But political patronage has perpetually saved the extremist organization.

The terror of cow vigilantism in the northern states of India has received the international media spotlight. Anand Patwardhan, however, details one of the earliest killings of ‘Gau Raksha’ groups (the brutal lynching of 52-year-old Akhlaq Saifi), through the calm and collected words of Akhlaq’s elder son, Sartaj, an Air Force corporal. The sad particulars of the case are well-known: the forensic report of meat possessed by Akhlaq family is mutton, not beef; and that the murder was pre-meditated. Patwardhan covers the human dimensions, finding moving moments while interviewing Sartaj and his helpful neighbors (only people in the village to show remorse over Akhlaq’s murder). Both Rohith Vemula’s mother and Akhlaq’s son continue to believe in their country, despite how the political establishment remains indifferent to their pain.




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‘Terror and Stories of Terror’ is clearly the most explosive segment of the documentary. It chronicles the doubts behind the death of ATS (Anti-Terrorist Squad) Chief, Hemant Karkare during the 2008 November terror attacks on Mumbai. The chapter talks of a conspiracy to eliminate Karkare, whose investigations into Malegaon Blast case (September 2006), unmasked the involvement of Hindutva organizations. Patwardhan interviews retired IG SM Mushrif who alleges how Karkare also came close to exposing the extremist religious outfits’ participation in the bomb blasts across India between 2002 and 2008, the cases in which Muslims are instantly charged with the crime. Mushrif offers a mountain of evidence on this theory in his book “Who Killed Karkare?” Rohini Salian, the Special Public Prosecutor in Malegaon case, also speaks of the laptop evidence which not only implicated Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur (now Madhya Pradesh BJP MP), Lt Col Prasad Purohit, and five others but also contained information on other sinister plans. These things weren’t reported much in the main-stream media and we know what happened to Malegaon case and how Karkare was maligned by the NIA (National Investigation Agency) which took over the bomb blast case. Unlike the previous segments that acutely present the facts, the SM Mushrif’s take on Karkare’s death is a theory (however close to truth it seems to be). But Patwardhan’s approach propels to watch it with an open mind. Considering the many strange theories endorsed by the government (for instance, the arrest of Maoist ideologues for allegedly plotting to assassinate PM Modi), the narrative of homegrown terror groups doing whatever necessary to achieve their agenda (of Hindu Rashtra) doesn’t seem far-fetched.

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If Reason sounds like a work propagating fear and anger about the future of democracy in India, it definitely isn’t. Patwardhan rummages through footage of martyred Dabholkar and Pansare’s speeches to declare the immense hope they had in their mission’s success. A street sweeper asserts hundreds of Dabholkars’ and Pansares’ have already born to continue the fight against Brahmanical Hindutva. Patwardhan captures poignant recital of songs, energizing slogans and chants which remains as the heart of these significant protests. From activist/poet Sheetal Sathe’s heart-warming songs (“O religious mercenaries! Can you stop the wheel of progress?”) to the peaceful march of Dalits across Gujarat after the Una incident, the atmosphere of rightful and lawful dissent raises the hope in our hearts. In an interview to ‘The Telegraph’, Anand Patwardhan said, “I’m not stupidly hopeful, but realistically hopeful.” That’s the mood Reason bestows upon us by detailing both the disastrous rise of religious extremist forces and the resistance of people, strongly believing in democracy and secularism.

Mohammad Sartaj, elder son of Mohammad Akhlaq who got lynched over beef rumors.

Anand Patwardhan’s works are all about presenting evidence on the burning social, political issues without overlooking the positivism of the oppressed populace’s dissent. From 1991 documentary Ram Ke Naam to Reason (Vivek), Patwardhan has bravely confronted the extremist forces and stood for the emancipation of Dalits. And Patwardhan, once again in Reason, underlines that the wicked designs of Brahmanism are deeply entrenched in our nation for over a hundred years. He traces the rise of Hindutva to Gandhi’s murder (whose murderer Godse is now valorized by the people in power) and in its propaganda of turning Gandhi into a ‘Muslim appeaser’ (Pansare argues plans for killing Gandhi started as back as 1934 when he commenced his fight against untouchability). The documentarian, however, is very subtle when it comes to addressing the ideological link between from fringe groups like Sanatan Sanstha to RSS, its vast network of affiliates (including ABVP, VHP, Bajrang Dal, etc) and the ruling BJP government. The fact that the police and judiciary forces were too slow in implicating the murderers of the rationalists plus the free rein enjoyed by atrociously prejudiced groups (including the hate-filled remarks of BJP MLAs & MPs) simply shows the patronage they relish. And Patwardhan to his credit never indicts one particular person or group as the sole reason behind the widespread display of hatred; since the tug of war is forever between savarna-dominated politics and rationalism.




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Patwardhan is known for his penchant for offering (visual) ironies within the space of an interview or incident. In the ‘Sanatan Religion’ chapter, Patwardhan juxtaposes the hate speeches delivered inside the ashram during the annual ‘Hindu Rashtra Convention’ with a Ramnathi villager’s reluctance to talk about the radical organization; an atmosphere where common man is not free to speak his mind, but deranged elements are broadcasting their intolerance. Later, when Rohith Vemula’s mother and other protestors are denied permission to peacefully march near India Gate (a symbol of martyrs), we see police barricading the roads near India Gate as if it’s not a symbol open to the ones martyred due to the system’s indifference. In one of Patwardhan’s conceptual contrasts, Pansare mocks Gandhi’s murderers: “What a bravery! Killing an unarmed old man”. The frame freezes and gunshot resounds, indicating the death of yet another old man in independent India under the hands of fundamentalists. Such improvisational metaphors and curious camerawork increase the staying power of complex issues discussed here. Moreover, Patwardhan’s direct confrontations with the extremist right-wing nutcases are full of dark humor (although some are scary). For the most part, Patwardhan stays in the background (in the form of concise voice-overs). But at one moment, Sanatan Sanstha lawyer named Sanjeev Punalekar in a press conference speaks of ‘breaking the bones of intellectuals like Anant Patwardhan’. Suddenly, the camera pans and Patwardhan, part of the press conference, confronts the lawyer. The film-maker doesn’t, however, individualize the threat posed against him; he just uses the moment to accentuate such fascist mindsets.

Reason shows us the importance of being the voice of reason in an atmosphere charged with war-cries and babble of past glories and pains. What it says about religious fundamentalism is familiar: that these sinister forces want us to lose all vestiges of individual worth and humanity. In one of the chapters, Patwardhan and his crew visits Haji Ali Dargah, a Sufi shrine in Mumbai where women are denied entry. This particular episode depicts how fanatical patriarchs bridge the religious divide when it comes to restricting women. Elsewhere, journalist and author Uttam Kamble says, “State power and religious power are two independent things. If a nation is not secular, it cannot give you liberty, equality and fraternity. It cannot encourage scientific temperament”, and he further adds, “In this modern-era things that should have withered away are re-emerging because the human in the modern-era is more insecure than ever before.” By embracing religious fundamentalism, the insecurity might be eradicated, but at the expense of one’s humanity. Finally, let’s hope Reason (Vivek) (240 minutes) prevails as more than a historical document of our times and reason prevails within the mind of average Indians to resist this ominous rise of extremism and systemic saffronisation.

Reason (Vivek) Rating: ★★★★1/2

“REASON (VIVEK)” WILL BE SCREENED AT THE 10TH LONDON INDIAN FILM FESTIVAL, 2019
CLICK HERE FOR OUR COMPLETE LIFF COVERAGE




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Trailer

Director: Anand Patwardhan
Starring: Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare
Run time: 240 mins | Recommended Certificate: 15
Language: Hindi, Marathi with English subtitles | Year: 2018 | Country: India
Links: IMDb, Letterboxd

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