TV UK, 2 August

The real-life Indian Summer sagas.

Dolan Cummings

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‘You guys must have been at the end of the line when they were handing out religions!’

Homer Simpson’s take on Hinduism is not the most sensitive, but to the uninitiated there is something odd about a religion dominated by assorted idols with elephant heads and multiple arms, and monkeys. (All right – I’m not sure about the monkeys.)

Hinduism is certainly no joke in Gujarat, where the religion is the focus of an aggressive nationalist movement determined to drive Muslims out of India. The conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is well known, but in Gujarat too there have been a series of bloody incidents, and it seems that the local authorities are involved in targeting Muslims. Unreported World: Saffron Warriors (last Sunday) was part of Channel 4’s Indian Summer season.

Burham Wazir, a Scottish reporter from an Indian Muslim family, was able to interview people directly in their own language and then translate for the camera. Sometimes translation was hardly necessary. After asking one Hindu what he thought should be done about the Muslims in Gujarat, Wazir turned wide-eyed to the camera and blew air in amazement. This Hindu was clearly not a hippie. Even (indeed especially) Hindu religious leaders are hawkish.

Meeting with Hindu nationalists under a pseudonym, Wazir joked to the camera that if they discovered his real name they’d have him bundled off to Guantanamo Bay. It was an important reminder of the global element of the conflict. The Indian government has tried to present its military campaign against Kashmiri rebels as part of the ‘war against terrorism’, and Hindu nationalists throughout India are rallying to this dubious cause.

Wazir noted that the movement seems predominantly middle class, and that in some respects the nationalists are quite Westernised, watching CNN and the BBC and enjoying the occasional drink before going to the temple to share soup with their poorer brothers. It is a fascinating movement: a religious-based nationalism tied to a quasi-modernising, pro-Western agenda.

Channel 4 News ran a story on 31 July about Mohammed Afroz, a Muslim amateur pilot who was arrested in Bombay last October (1). Afroz allegedly confessed to being a member of al-Qaeda, and said that he had been supposed to hijack a plane from Manchester on 11 September and fly it into the Houses of Parliament in London. While that obviously never happened, Afroz is charged with being at the centre of the global terrorist conspiracy.

Afroz now claims that this story was extracted under torture, and indeed the facts do not seem to correspond with his confession. British and Australian police are not cooperating with the Indian authorities, though he is supposed to have trained in both countries. Afroz says that since leaving England in a hurry to escape an arranged marriage he has become a pawn in India’s global power game.

Afroz’s brother is now in jail, accused of being an al-Qaeda financier, but his supporters insist that this is just because the Indian authorities promised George Bush they had an al-Qaeda kingpin, and they are determined to proceed regardless of the facts.

Of all the quirky Bollywood shenanigans going on as part of Channel 4’s Indian Summer, nothing compares with the realities of contemporary Indian politics.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

Read on:

spiked-issue: TV

(1) See the Channel 4 News story

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