Bollywood,Reality TV and Indian secularism

Bradistan Calling

Indian TV has seen numerous Bollywood reality shows, competition where common boys (and occasionally girls) have won places on movies by top directors. The Show that I want to talk about is Bollywood, blind-date and arranged (and staged) marriage all rolled into one big media circus.

The prize is the hand in marriage of a top “Item Girl” (meaning guest appearance in a sleazy dance song) Ms. Rakhi  Sawant.Ms. Sawant became a sensation in Bollywood thru her hard work and determination despite  an obvious lack of education and family background.

The eligible bachelors are invariably unknown wannabe actors and small time professional, without doubting their intentions, at first impression they all look as if they want to use Ms. Sawant’s moderate success in Bollywood movies as a stepping stone to fame and fortune. I do not want to talk about my cynicism  about limited talent and education or the apparent opportunism of the boys.

Last night’s show opened the Pandora’s Box of social, cultural and religious debate, not just for one contestant but also for the whole society of secular India and that’s precisely why, I wanted to write about reality TV in secular India.

The contestant in question is an elementary level police officer in state of Jammu Kashmir, a shy and handsome Muslim “Bachelor” Mr. Ather Parvez, the show started with gossip on the taboo of possibility of a Muslim marrying a ‘Hindu’ girl whose only claim to fame is glamour dancing. The issue of Hindu-Muslim marriage, even in a supposedly secular India, is an explosive one. Hindu  fundamentalist  BJP’s Members of Parliament accused the state  minister Mr. Nitin Raut of being complacent in the national conspiracy of Muslim boys converting  the religion of Hindu girls after marry them for religious motives.

Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state in India and a disputed territory between nuclear neighbors India and Pakistan. Since 1990s Kashmiris , and some outside Islamist groups, are involved in an armed struggle for independence from India. While the Kashmiri groups are predominantly secular, the population is approximately 70% Muslim and remaining 30% comprising of Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist. Prior to 1947 the Country of Kashmir was a British dominion ruled by a brutal family of Hindu Dogras, but essentially a multicultural and multi-religious society. Current troubles and interferences by fundamentalist Hindu and Islamic forces have resulted in a highly orthodox, fragmented and terrorized society.

Jammu Kashmir Police officer are considered brutal agents of Indian rule, notorious for rapes and other torture tactics. Mr. Parvez is not accused of any such crimes, but he had a “dark secret” to hide when he walked through the gates of Rajasthan fort (where the show was being filmed) and presented Ms. Sawant a small idol of Elephant god Ganesha, what a act of blasphemy by a Muslim . Despite his education, etiquettes and articulate language, Mr. Parvez failed to inform Ms. Sawant of his family background. What Mr. Parvez thought was a “minor” issue is a “major” misdemeanor for Hindu society.

The secret came out like a bomb shell in the recording of the show, when one of the female anchors asked Mr. Parvez some personal questions about his family life.  Ms. Sawant and all the male contestants were shocked to hear that the soft spoken police office was already married with three kids. Polygamy is acceptable for Muslims society but not for the major civilized societies whether in Europe, Americas or the current jurisprudence of eastern societies of India, Korea, China or Japan.

Mr. Parvez naivety was evident when he was unable to comprehend the full gravity of the situation and tried to give an honest explanation that his current wife is happy for him to find “love of his life” in Ms. Sawant’s holy matrimony and that as per Islamic law Mr. Parvez is permitted to marry four wives at the same time and that he has duly obtained “permission” from his first wife and his parents. The Policeman left with tears in his eyes for the Love of his life.

The fiasco reminded me of one of the best known defenders of Human rights in Pakistan, Ms. Mukhtaran Mai, who was gang raped by village elders for the punishment of a crime that her teenager brother was accused of. Ms. Mai refused to accept the stigma of rape and campaigned for the rights of women in Pakistan. International fame, profile and funding for her school projects, gave a local policeman the opportunism to approach Ms. Mai for a marriage proposal. When Ms. Mai refused, the policeman blackmailed Mai with threats of suicide and divorcing his First Wife and a divorce for that lady would have meant that lady’s brothers would have divorced their wives in revenge for family honour. In the end Ms. Mai agreed to marry this two-timing  police cheat, thus becoming a victim of the tribal system, she was fighting against, twice.

In Pakistan, a couple of days ago, a devout Muslim man killed his wife and their three daughters in the shame of not having son. The same night I saw; this lady British Judge and a convert to Islam Ms. Marilyn Mornington(visiting for course on ‘cultural diversity’)tell the interviewer from Pakistan TV, quote “Prophet Mohammed was The Biggest Feminist in the World” unquote.

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