India has made headlines as an emerging superpower, a land of high-tech multimillionaires and a vast new market for American goods. But there is another India too, and it is not just the one of villages and ox carts that has always been best known in the West.
This is the disturbing India of the Hindu widow, a woman traditionally shunned as bad luck and forced to live in destitution on the edge of society. Her husband’s death is considered her fault, and she has to shave her head, shun hot food and sweets and never remarry. In the pre-independence India of the 1930’s, the tradition applied even to child brides of 5 or 6 who had been betrothed for the future by their families but had never laid eyes on their husbands
The sorrowful film is nonetheless a triumph of conscience over blind faith, and a powerful message about how much, and how little, has changed in India.
The film has provoked far more than that. In January 2000 Ms. Mehta was forced to shut down production of “Water” in Varanasi, one of India’s holy cities on the banks of the Ganges, after Hindu nationalists protested that the film was anti-Hindu. Some 500 demonstrators took to the streets, ransacked the set and burned Ms. Mehta in effigy. She appealed to the state government for help, but fearing more violence, local officials asked the film crew to leave.
Ms. Mehta, 55, is no stranger to Hindu protests. Her 1996 film about a lesbian relationship, “Fire,” the first in a trilogy, enraged fundamentalists in India, who burned down movie theaters. Her 1998 film, “Earth,” about the 1947 partition of India, caused no controversy, but it did contain scenes of the butchery that occurred between Muslims and Hindus at the time..
I have never been able to understand the Hindun right wing fundamentalists. They are a world apart from the right wingers we see here in Canada or US. I have a couple of such wingers in my family. Their moral compass superseeds everyone’s even in the face of logic. I remember when Fire came out, in many cities, riots occurred. All because the “sanctity of marriage” was attacked by this “bloody Canadian”. And the funny thing was that many rioters were the poor people from slums who had no idea what the movie was about. It was bizzare and totally devoid of logic. And the concept that if-you-don’t-like-it-don’t-see-it does not exist in their small minds. And throw in the dreaded M word (Muslims) then these crazy fuckers become totally maniacs. I have never been able to understand the thinking of these people.