Pop Culture: the Final Solution to Communal Violence in India

I’ve just come from a screening of Final Solution, Ramesh Sharma’s documentary about the right-wing Hindu nationalist politics that have driven the post-Ghodra communal violence in Gujarat. The title, of course, evokes the genocidal rhetoric of Nazi Germany; and while the filmmaker poses the question of a final solution to the intra-religious violence in a more hopeful tone, the visage of state-sponsored intolerance is never out of the frame.

Films like Final Solution are important because they keep uncomfortable questions in the forefront of the mind; but they can also be unnerving. It is truly upsetting to watch BHP, VHP, and RSS apparatchiks give calm, deliberate, self-aware disquisitions on the virtues of ghettoizing, economically enslaving, and ultimately murderous approaches to ridding India of religious diversity. It is tempting to give into the despair that once such appalling bigotries find sponsorship in mainstream politics all is lost. But it is not. There are at least two social institutions far more powerful than politics: commerce and popular culture.

A number of theoreticians have noted the salutary effect of economic interdependence on communal harmony. When people work together, do business together, and rely on each other for their prosperity, it stands to reason that peace serves the common interest. An economic solution to communal strife is complicated, however, by factors such as competition, resource scarcity, and anti-competitive practices which might inflame, rather than sooth existing tensions.

Facile as it sounds, I place my faith in the power of popular culture to awaken the better angels of our nature. There is great power in the fact that four of Bollywood’s most popular leading men Shahrukh Khan, Ameer Khan, Salman Khan, and Salif Ali Khan are Muslim. (OK, it may not necessarily be a point of Muslim pride that Salman Khan is in that group, but you get the idea.) Bollywood already propagates messages of harmony, even if it prefers the implicit subplots of human fungibility to squarely taking on Hindu – Muslim conflict. A film like Mr. and Mrs. Iyer is the rare exception.

Communal tension stems, in part, from the fact that India is an intensely religious country. And in a country of religious fervor, cricket is the national religion. Hindutva notwithstanding, when the Indian pace attack goes to work, it more than likely will include Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan, two Gujarati Muslims. BCCI cooperated in a series of powerful public service announcements for television during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. In the ads, Mohammed Kaif’s mother asks Allah to see to batting success for Sachin Tendulkar (a Hindu); Virender Sehwag’s mother prays to Lord Shiva for Zaheer Khan (a Muslim); and Harbhajan Singh’s mother asks Sikh blessings from Guru Nanak for Rahul Dravid (a Hindu).

Bollywood and cricket are opinion-shapers of the first order. They can and should do more to foster communal harmony.


1 Response to “Pop Culture: the Final Solution to Communal Violence in India”

  1. 1 Hiren 13 November 2006 at 11:17 pm

    Very True. The film industry has always been a symbol of Hindu Muslim unity. Ultimately it all boils down to common interest- birds of the same feather flock together and that from a certain perspective can be deemed true religion.

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