Is ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ India’s Shame?
This is a great movie and deserves all the attention it is getting. You see, the Indian government is spending millions of U.S. dollars – remember the ‘Incredible India’ campaign on CNN? – to hide exactly what this film reveals. The British director and the Indian novelist are amazing. But so are the unvarnished truths about India that come to the fore for the first time through this film.
By Sultan M. Hali
Monday, 9 February 2009.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—British movie “Slumdog Millionaire” emerged as the big winner at the 66th Golden Globes ceremony, scooping four awards to underline its credentials ahead of next month’s Oscars.
Director Danny Boyle’s blockbuster, based on the novel Q and A by Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup, bagged the awards for best drama, musical score, young actor and screenplay.
There is a great jubilation in India since the movie is set in Mumbai.
The story revolves around Jamal Malik, an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai who is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” But when the show breaks for the night, police arrest him on suspicion of cheating; how could a street kid know so much? Desperate to prove his innocence, Jamal tells the story of his life in the slum where he and his brother grew up, of their adventures together on the road, of vicious encounters with local gangs, and of Latika, the girl he loved and lost. Each chapter of his story reveals the key to the answer to one of the game show’s questions. Each chapter of Jamal’s increasingly layered story reveals where he learned the answers to the show’s seemingly impossible quizzes.
Indian elation at the Golden Globe Awards and success at the Academy awards are misplaced.
Danny Boyle’s Indian co-director, Loveleen Tandan, may be considered bold, but the duo has exposed the real ugliness of India. This is a sample of what this film reveals: The extremist Hindu mobs lynching ghetto Muslims, the underworld kidnapping children orphaned as a result of their organized pogroms, castrating the Muslim boys, forcibly teaching them Hindu Bhajans and turning them into beggars while selling Muslim girls to brothels. All of these instances in Slumdog Millionaire depict the sordid and gory side of India, which its regular Bollywood producers hide under the sheen and glamour of “shining India”.
Muslims in India, whom the movie highlights through the central character, are downtrodden and suffer the most among its minorities. Their squalid state was exposed through a national survey.
The seven-member Sachar committee Report, headed by former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajindar Sachar, commissioned by Indian Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh in March 2005, was tabled before the Indian Lok Sabha on 30 November 2006. The Sachar report reveals the appalling state of Muslims in India in the socio-economic and educational fields and concluding that their status is worse-off than the Dalits and the Adivasis (tribals). In urban areas, the report shows that Muslims mostly live in slums characterised by poor municipal infrastructure.
The salient features of the Sachar Committee report are:
· Like Slumdog’s protagonist, 94.9 per cent of Muslims are in Below Poverty Line (BPL); families in rural areas do not receive free food grains.
· While only 3.2 per cent of Muslims get subsidized loans, just 1.9 per cent of the community benefit from the Antyodaya Anna Yojana Scheme, a programme meant to prevent starvation among the poorest of poor by providing food grains at a subsidized rate.
· 60.2 per cent of Muslims do not have any land in rural areas.
· Just 2.1 per cent of Muslim farmers have tractors. With 15,25,000 tractors, India ranks No.4 after US, Japan and Italy
· A mere 1 per cent own hand pumps.
· On the educational front, the picture is equally dismal: 54.6 per cent Muslims in villages and 60 per cent in urban areas have never attended schools.
· Only 0.8 per cent of Muslims in rural areas are graduates.
· Although in urban areas, nearly 40 per cent of the Muslims now receive modern education, only 3.1 per cent of the community in urban areas is graduates. Just 1.2 per cent is post-graduates.
· Muslim population growth has slowed down as fertility has declined substantially; the growth rate for Muslims is bound to fall further and eventually reach a zero growth stage well before the end of the century.
· Muslims are altogether excluded from “sensitive” posts such as jobs in the intelligence agencies, especially the external-espionage Research & Analysis Wing, the National Security Guard and other elite protection forces. Their presence in the top national police and paramilitary agencies is nominal.
· However, there is one place where Muslims are over-represented: prisons. Muslims claim a grossly disproportionate share of prisoners, including convicts and those undergoing trials.
The study, revealed that being dressed as a Muslim was enough to create suspicion. Muslim men donning a beard and a ‘topi‘ [skull cap] are often picked up by police for interrogation from public places like parks, railway stations and markets. Muslim women wearing a face veil or full-body burqa complained of facing hostility at markets, hospitals, and schools and found it hard to get a job.
The Mumbai attacks exposed the hideous face of India. Its Hindu populace attacked Pakistani actors and sportsmen visiting India. If that were not enough, Muslim Indian movie stars and matinee idols are being targeted by the hate campaign. If ever there was a bigoted society, it is in India. On one hand, it boasts of secularism and being one of the biggest democracies in the world, on the other it is most intolerant of Muslims, Christians and other minorities. Top actors like Shabana Azmi have complained that despite entertaining Indian masses through their hard work in Indian cinema, they are not permitted to even purchase a house or property in Mumbai because of their religion.
“Slumdog Millionaire” exposes only the tip of the iceberg. India’s veneer of religious integration is but a farce as the storming of Sikh’s holiest shrine: Amritsar’s Golden Temple, massacre of Sikhs following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, razing of Babri Masjid, the organized ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Gujarat are all examples of Indian chauvinism.
The prejudice of Hindus is evident from its extremist Hindutva groups Sangh Parivar comprising Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Akhila Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Bajrang Dal and the newly revived Abhinav Bharat. Their contention is one and the same that Hindustan is for the Hindus. The Muslims and Christians of India were originally Hindus and were forcefully converted to Islam or Christianity.
This one film, Slumdog Millionnaire, is a microscopinc dissection of Indian through the eyes of foreigners, the British, and an enlightended Indian, the writer, who together undo the work of maybe tens of expensive image creation and promotion consultants hired by New Delhi over the past few years.
This article is published under special permission. It is a slightly edited version of the original by Mr. Hali, a renowned defense commentator and an expert on Indian affairs. The original piece appeared in the Pakistan Observer on Jan. 23. Mr. Hali can be reached at Sm_hali@yahoo.com