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Healthcare and the Medical Profession:

The increasing cost of medical treatment, the lack of effective checks by the state casts doubt on the level of ethics in the medical profession. The healthcare industry doing so admirably in India only enhances these worries. The editorial looks into what might be going wrong when a profession/ industry thrives but there is no improvement in the development indicators associated with it –infant mortality, life expectancy etc.
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The Tree of Life
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India’s ‘Foreign Policy’: A Long way from Bandung

Under External Affairs minister SM Krishna, India’s foreign affairs activity seems to have become restricted to registering protests of various sorts – at the indignities suffered by Indians in Australia, at a Russian court’s ban on the Bhagwad Gita in remote Siberia and at SRK being detained for two hours in a US airport. Are India’s foreign policy initiatives directed outward as they should be or are they directed towards influential private interests?
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Home > Contents > Article: Cecilia Cossio
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Wound Of Faith
Religion And Identity In Dharmputr (1961) And Zakhm (1998)
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Cecilia Cossio

This paper concerns two Hindi films, Dharmputr (Son by Faith, 1961), directed by Yash Chopra and based on Chatursen’s 1954 novel of the same name, and Zakhm (The Wound, 1998), by Mahesh Bhatt*. The two films have a similar theme, in the context of Hindu-Muslim relationship: a militant Hindu discovers his Muslim origins during a dramatic event, the Partition of 1947, in the first film, and the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, in the second (1). Both films point to the peaceful coexistence of the two great communities not only and not so much as a goal to attain, but rather as an established reality to rediscover against all attempts to conceal and destroy it, put into action by the vested interests of hostile forces: Hindu and Muslim conservative classes and extremist fringes of both communities in Dharmputr, mainly the Hindu extremism in Zakhm. Underlying the Hindu-Muslim antagonism, however, another theme surfaces in both films: the complex and disturbing issue of an individual identity, to be discovered or constructed after the loss of a communal/religious identity. This theme is touched on more in Dharmputr than in Zakhm, but is not really tackled by either film, and hangs over the narration as a an obscure and entangled knot.

Hindu-Muslim relations in Hindi cinema
In the Indian history of the last two centuries – and mainly with the birth of anti-colonialism and the national movement - the relations between the two communities became more and more strained until they broke in the dreadful violence of Partition in 1947. The subsequent social and cultural trauma resulted in a vast literary production in various languages of the affected regions. In Hindi, for instance, we may quote novels like Jhutha sach (The False Truth, 1958/60) by Yashpal; Adha ganv (Half-a-Village, 1966) by Rahi Masum Raza; Tamas (Darkness, 1974) by Bhishm Sahni; Zindaginama (The Book of Life, 1979) by Krishna Sobti; Guzra hua zamana (The Time Past, 1981) by Krishn Baldev Vaid, and a number of short stories by various writers, such as Ajñey, Mohan Rakesh, Kamleshvar, Vishnu Prabhakar, Upendrnath Ashk.

The cinema, too, born and developed together with the national movement, has often touched on the issue of Hindu-Muslim relations. Before 1947 the subject was too complex and delicate to be openly faced; later on, the deep lacerated wound caused by the division of the country made it even more difficult to deal with for many years after. In addition, the fundamentalist wave that in the eighties swept many shores of the globe found an easy way into the Indian soil, too, and became concrete in the bloodshed following the Babri Masjid demolition and, more recently, the Godhra incident.

As remarked in a previous article (Cossio 2002), the cinema - in particular Hindi cinema - is a medium that reaches a vast audience, much larger and more diversified than that of literature. It also exerts a much more penetrating influence on the public opinion. This is one reason that explains why, for instance, the subject of Partition has been avoided for such a long time. Great caution and attention are required to present such a delicate theme; in addition, strict censorship has always been imposed on such issues. Until 1947, Hindu-Muslim relations had generally been filtered through Rajput and Maratha sagas, or through representations of the Mughal period, considered an era of cultural syncretism. A prime example is Humayun (1945), by Mahbub Khan. At the same time there was an emphasis on harmony among communities. In the aftermath of Partition, this traditional representation was maintained, though the cinema adopts ‘metaphorical’ or ‘transferred’ ways to depict, if not the events of that tragic period, at least its psychological and social effects (i.e. the family dismemberment or spatial displacement which is to be found in many popular films).

Only at the beginning of the sixties did some works try to narrate the Partition in a more direct way, like Chhaliya (Chhaliya, 1960), by Manmohan Desai, who was later to become the king of the popular screen. Chhaliya presents a tragedy within the tragedy, which remained silenced until recent years; that is, the situation of thousands of women during the Partition. Together with Chhaliya, we find Dharmputr.

In the seventies, with the emergence of a different breed of filmmakers, a deeper interest in Indian history, and recent history in particular, began to show. In 1973, M.S. Sathyu directed Garm hava (Hot Wind), which is the first film that brings to the screen the situation of Muslim Indians after the Partition, and is also the first realistic social portrayal of the Indian Muslim community. After a long gap, in 1988, Govind Nihalani’s Tamas (Darkness), a film for television based on Bhishm Sahni’s novel, deals with the terrible events of the Partition in the Punjab. Tamas seems to pave the way for a more direct approach both to Partition and to Hindu-Muslim relations, at least for as far as the “new” or “parallel” or “art” cinema is concerned.

In fact, these issues acquire a particular interest when taken up by this new wave, itself born out of a ‘partition’, officially dated 1969, that was to mark the separation between this new type of production and the mainstream cinema (3). Tamas - and the demolition of the Babri Masjid – was followed by Mammo (Mammo, 1994), by Shyam Benegal, on a Pakistani woman who returns to India, her home, many years after the Partition; Nasim (Nasim, 1995), by Said Akhtar Mirza, which tells the story of a young Indian Muslim girl during the dramatic days of Ayodhya; Train to Pakistan (1997), by Pamela Rooks, based on the well-known novel by Khushvant Singh; 1947 Earth (1988), by Dipa Mehta, based on Bapsi Sidhva’s Ice Candy Man; and Karvan (Caravan, 1999) by Pankaj Butaliya, on the tragedy of women during Partition, and more. These films present the same traits found in many literary works: dismay in front of an event which appears devoid of historical and social motivations, and in front of a madness transforming ‘normal’ people into bloodthirsty beasts; a sense of bewilderment, an inability to understand a world suddenly turned alien; and memories of a time maybe not always peaceful and harmonious, but familiar, consolidated and reliable. The theme of Partition, the clash among communities, the agony of the bloodstained separation arrived on the screen just when Hindu militancy seemed to find a fertile ground in some layers of the Indian population. This may be the very reason why some film directors have decided to go through this tragic moment of Indian history again. In fact, it is a typical feature of the historical film to project on the past the problems and the fears of the present in order to understand and possibly settle them.

As for the mainstream cinema, until recently it has largely remained, if not unaffected, at least less affected by communal sectarianism than other media, like the press and television. In general it has generally shown an (almost) impartial look, though not exactly ‘secular’: faith is considered a principle that cannot be set aside, whatever the religion through which it is expressed. No religion is extolled or belittled in comparison with another; individuals are good or bad, not Hindus or Muslims. Only individuals or groups of individuals are held responsible for an interruption in a sometimes strife-torn but steadily consolidated and shared living. Among the reasons for this attitude is the fact that the film is a collective enterprise; in India, and in Hindi cinema in particular, it is collective also in an ‘ethnic’ sense, as it is the result of a joint effort of professionals coming from different geographical, linguistic and religious areas: the cinema absorbs various cultural contributions and re-elaborates them in its own form, thus becoming the “major shaper of an emerging pan-Indian popular culture” (Kakar 1990: 26).

A closer reading of mainstream cinema, however, might reveal a subtler – and thus more insidious – acceptance and legitimization both of communal distinction and ideology (2). In the last two decades, mainstream cinema shows a flaking in its syncretic image. The ascent of Hindutva and the tragic events of Ayodhya and Godhra have brought a further deterioration in the Hindu-Muslim relations after Partition, enhanced by the ‘patronage’ granted to Hindu nationalism by the Bharatiya Janta Party’s increasing political weight. An analysis of a ‘light’ and seemingly innocent film like Hum apke hain kaun (Who am I to you?, 1994, dir. Suraj Bharjatya), carried out by Fareed Kazmi (1999: 137-162), shows how pervading and insidious this atmosphere may be. Its influence becomes much more visible in films dealing with the Indo-Pak conflict about Kashmir. See, for instance, Border (1977, dir. J.P. Datta), inspired by a battle fought between the Pakistani and Indian armies during the 1971 war for Bangladesh independence. Here, a conflict between nations, caused by economic and political reasons, assumes at one point a religious overtone, extolling the Hindu tolerance and respect for other faiths as compared with the fanaticism of Islam. In recent years, in fact, the long-lasting Indo-Pak clash over Kashmir has been the subject of many films, which require and deserve a separate discussion, as the issues brought up are many and complex, ranging from Hindu nationalism to anti-Pakistan feeling which more often than not conceals an anti-Islamic attitude, even - or particularly - in films over-emphasizing Hindu-Muslim brotherly bonds

Dharmutr and Zakhm: Synopses
Now let us turn our attention to Dharmputr and Zakhm. Released at a distance of 27 years, they are set in the midst of two dramatic periods – Partition and the demolition of the Babri Masjid – which represent the most serious stages in the deterioration of Hindu-Muslim relations. This is a major point in both films, but they end up raising deeper questions.

Delhi. The Hindu Gulab Ray and the Muslim navab (5) Badruddin share a deep brotherly friendship and live in the same street, opposite each other. At Gulab Ray’s death, Badruddin takes care of his friend’s son, Amrit Ray, who becomes a doctor. Bano, Badruddin’s daughter and Amrit Ray’s “sister”, becomes pregnant by Javed, a teacher of modest origins, who, unaware of Bano’s condition, has left Delhi when denied Bano’s hand by Badruddin. Amrit Ray and his wife Savitri decide to keep the baby as their own. The baby is named Dilip and is brought up as a Hindu. After his birth, Badruddin and Bano leave Delhi for a pilgrimage, meet Javed again and are reconciled with him, and he marries Bano. She soon becomes pregnant, but has an abortion and can no longer bear children. The two families decide to build a “bridge” between their houses so that Dilip may
go to and fro without danger. In the meantime the freedom struggle acquires strength. During an anti-British demonstration navab Badruddin is killed by the police and soon after, Bano and Javed leave Delhi and India.

When they come back, after almost twenty years, they find a very different environment. Hindus and Muslims have become estranged, but no change has occurred between the two families. Three more children have been born to Amrit Ray and Savitri, while Dilip has become a Hindu militant, affiliated to the Svayamsevak Sangh. He considers the Muslims as foreign invaders who tried to destroy the Indian - that is Hindu - civilisation and therefore have no right over India. He also regards as corrupted non-orthodox Hindus, like Mina, the girl chosen for him by his ‘parents’. Mina has become mlechchh - that is, alien, non-Aryan, lowly - because she studied and lived in England and thus cannot be a proper Hindu bahu (a wife and a daughter-in-law). When they meet, however, they fall in love and everything seems to be alright.

Partition takes place and the fratricide bloodshed reaches Delhi. Javed is wounded in a clash and is taken into Amrit Ray’s house. Dilip, who wanted his father to hand him over his “enemy”, incites his comrades to burn down the Muslim house tied to his own house by the “bridge”. On the very “bridge” he is met by Amrit Ray and Savitri, who are prepared to die with Bano and Javed. There Savitri tells Dilip the truth about his birth. Abased by the revelation, Dilip runs out to face his comrades’ wrath and is saved by the intervention of the police. Mina too is there: she will remain by Dilip’s side, whether Hindu or Muslim.

Bombay, during the bloodshed following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Ajay is a young and well-known music composer, married to Sonya, who is pregnant. She wants to move to London as she does not want to give birth to a baby in a land where people slaughter one another in the name of religion.

A phone call from his brother Anand – a follower of a militant Hindu organization headed by one Subodh - informs Ajay that a group of Muslims have tried to burn alive a Hindu woman, who turns out to be their mother, admitted to hospital in extremely serious conditions. While at the hospital, Ajay saves a young Muslim from Anand’s wrath: the man had been captured by Anand’s comrades, on suspicion of being one of their mother’s assaulters. The Muslim is taken into custody by a policeman and kept in a room at the hospital. Anand is cooled down by a phone call from Subodh, who explains his views to his acolytes:
their organization will gain a lot from the murderous death of Anand’s mother, giving them free hand for a justified revenge.

Ajay is approached by a journalist, who was there when Ajay’s mother was hospitalized. To his surprise, the Hindu woman was invoking Allah’s name. In a flashback, Ajay’s memory goes back to his childhood days and to his mother. His father, Raman, did not live with them, though deeply affectionate and generously providing for their living. Ajay discovered that his father was going to marry another woman, Nimmi, in an arranged marriage, while his mother was pregnant and some time later gave birth to a second child. Raman was determined to take on his responsibility towards his children and the woman he loved. While driving towards the hospital, he died in an accident. During the funeral rites, Ajay’s mother tried to take the father’s blessing of the new-born baby by touching the dead man’s photograph, but was stopped by an enraged mother-in-law. When Nimmi had the baby’s head touch Raman’s image, her mother-in-law revealed the awful truth: Ajay’s mother was a Muslim. At home, Ajay’s mother made her son promise that he would never tell his brother about their origin and would let him believe that they were Hindu, as their father, with whom she hoped to be reunited in death. But in order to gain that reward, she had to be buried as a Muslim.

Ajay’s mother dies and Anand dashes to the supposed culprit to kill him. Ajay stops him and reveals their secret, a fact that Anand seems unable to accept. Subodh tries to persuade Ajay to conceal the truth and have his mother’s body burnt according to the Hindu rite, or at least handed over to the Medical College, as the situation outside is critical. But Ajay intends to obey his mother’s will. Eventually also Anand understands Subodh’s cynicism and joins his brother: their mother is buried as a Muslim and is shown to be reunited with her husband in heaven.

Dharmputr: From ‘Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai’ to ‘Jay Bajrangbali’-‘Allah-ho-Akbar’and back

In DHARMPUTR e la partizione dell’India (Cossio 2002), I analysed Dharmputr against the backdrop of the narrative representation - both in cinema and literature - of Partition. The focus was on the different position of the film and Chatursen’s novel, underlining how the literary text belongs to a branch of the Hindi historical narrative which is prone to read – or rather re-write -- the Indian history as the story of Hindu resistance against Muslim invasion. In this view, Partition is the result of a war between two peoples: the foreign invaders, the Muslims, and the ‘Indian’ people, the Hindus, in a word, who eventually repel the enemy.

In town, Sikh refugees and young members of the Rashtriy Sangh were moving to and fro as bold as free tigers. After seven hundred years they saw this day. This Delhi was indeed a city of Muslims. The language, the colour, riches, grace, urbanity of this place, all was Muslim. For seven hundred years the half-enslaved Hindus had touched the Delhi threshold with their foreheads. They [the Muslims] were going away, leaving this very Delhi, similar to a blooming garden; their eyes full of sorrow dwelling upon it, watching the Hindus, the age-old slaves, moving like tigers along its rich streets. (Chatursen: 160-61)

The film, on the contrary, offers a different vision from the very first scene, which is set in 1925. In this year the relationship between the two communities had already deteriorated, but a trace of the previous closeness is visible in a demonstration parade cheering the independence struggle with slogans like “Inqilab zindabad” (Long live the revolution) and “Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai” (Hindus and Muslims are brothers), while a voice over states :

The land of this country is our Mother. This land is our shroud. For her we will die. Hindus and Muslims are expressions of one reality, they are the name of one culture, one civilization. Hindus and Muslims are two children of one country, they share the same destiny of life and death, the same joy and the same pain. Hindus and Muslims were one, are one and will be one. Hindus and Muslims are brothers, both determined to die for their Motherland.

The film also shows a conventional perspective of a different kind: a ‘nehruvian’ and ‘Congress-oriented’ vision that considers the Muslim League as an association of Muslim privileged classes, connected with élitarian interests, unrepresentative of the larger Muslim community of India and therefore anti-nationalist; and the Congress as a national and secular organization, the sole representative of all the Indian people, forced to consent to the mutilation of the Motherland by a fanatic minority in order to avoid a worse evil.

In spite of these limitations, however, the film is outspoken in pointing to the responsibility of Hindu orthodox and conservative classes, flanked by extremist and intolerant fringes, for the creation and reinforcement of Muslim separatism. At the same time, it denies the commonplace of the Muslims as strangers who came to India and brought Islam with the sword; it separates the invasions of the past (Arab, Turk or Mughal invasions, not ‘Muslim’ invasions) from the social realities of the present.

Hindu-Muslim relations are symbolized first by the close friendship between navab Badruddin and Gulab Ray (to such an extent that they were playfully nicknamed “Laila-Majnun”) and then by the brotherly bond between Amrit Ray and Bano (see, for instance, the scene of the raksha bandhan (6), when he tells her that as a brother he would gladly give his life for her). There is nothing similar in the novel, where the description of the main Muslim characters (Mushtaq [Badruddin, in the film], Bano, Bano’s husband) follows the commonplace of the ‘lustful Muslim’ as embodied by the Mughals “drowned in wine and devoured by the fire of lust” (Chatursen 1985: 155). Accordingly, there is no Muslim nationalist in the novel, whereas in the film the only character shot dead while protesting against the British rule is navab Badruddin, who dies whispering: “Inqilab zindabad! Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai”. In the whole narrative, the idea and the memory of one shared history is perceivable and often overtly stated, a feeling of closeness and interrelation rather than a plain acceptance and respect of diversity, and the pain and dismay of the social and psychological laceration and of the growing hostile distancing, well expressed in the parting of the slogans: “Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai” becomes “Jay Bajrangbali” (Victory to Lord Hanuman) and “Allah-ho-Akbar” (Allah is great). These are the very features shared by most of the literary narrative of Partition (see Bhalla 1999), to which the novel Dharmputr is an exception, at least to some extent.

As far as the film is concerned, the novel is simply a starting point for a very different narrative. It emphasizes and insists on Hindu-Muslim togetherness, exemplified through the loving bond between the two families, linked by the material and symbolic bridge between their houses, built for little Dilip, heir of the two children of Mother India and son of two mothers, as we may see in a final scene, when with their bodies Bano and Savitri protect the grown-up Dilip from the assault of his former comrades. The bridge is an allegorical representation of an unbreakable bond between cultures of different origins, joined together to form another, richer culture, which at the same time keeps the specific characteristics of both. This fact, born out of a long shared living cannot be changed, not even by the 1947 collective tragedy: this is the pervading message of the film.

Zakhm: Ramjanmbhumi versus Babri Masjid
Zakhm does not have at its background the same shared memories as Dharmputr. What it faces instead are unhealed scars and new bleeding wounds. We must say that Dharmputr expressed an unduly optimistic vision of the Indian future. The efforts to normalize Hindu-Muslim relations were frustrated by the immediate India-Pakistan war over Kashmir and by the dramatic situation brought by Partition (the displacement and resettlement of refugees, their dramatic state of poverty, the tragedy of abducted women, the rejection by their original families when retraced, the situation of the deserted children and those born out of rape or forced marriage). These dramatic problems enhanced inter-communal tensions, thus creating among some Hindus a wall of resentment, distrust and suspicion towards the Indian Muslims. On the other hand, the Muslims found themselves strangers in their homeland and, to some extent, second-class citizens: their loyalty and belonging to India being continually questioned, because - as the Hindu protagonist of Topi Shukla, a novel of 1969 by Rahi Masum Raza, says – “In the heart of every Muslim there is a window open towards Pakistan” (Raza 1977: 82).

The uneasy economic and social conditions of large parts of the Indian population in the years following Independence, in spite of the policy of the five-year plans, and an increase of unemployment in the late fifties, contributed to a worsening of the already compromised relations between the two communities. In comparison with the Hindus, the Muslim community was more severely affected by these negative circumstances. Before Independence, a large section of Muslims belonged to the poorest strata; in 1947, a large part of Muslim middle class and intellectuals, who could have been their leaders, left for Pakistan, which led to a worsening of the general conditions of the community. As underlined by Embree (1989: 197), the problem of unemployment and competition for work was common to the poorest sections of all communities. In such a struggle for survival, the religious or communal differences may be identified as the main cause for a basically economic hardship, and religious and political leaders may exploit frustrations born out of poverty and unemployment in order to mobilize followers and voters under the banner of religion. As Rahi Masum Raza writes: “It seems that unemployment has something to do with the transformation of honest people into Hindus and Muslims” (Raza 1977: 13).

Moreover, in conditions of economic and social hardship, the majority community may also perceive concessions granted to minority communities as a threat to religious and cultural traditions (identified with the nation). We may think of the legal system, which provides for a State acknowledgement of special marriage, divorce and inheritance laws for Muslim and Christian citizens, whereas the Hindus are subject to the general laws of India passed in the fifties. In the eighties there was a strong Hindu campaign requesting the same laws for all Indians, as the concessions granted to religious communities were seen as a violation of the Constitution and a threat to national unity. This campaign may appear justified and irrefutable, but it conceals the fact that the major community may easily identify its own specific interests with the national interest: as a huge majority of the population is Hindu, the nation, too, appears Hindu. The call for ‘national unity’ may become a pretext to deny legitimate assertions of cultural pluralism (Embree 1989: 194 foll.).

Moreover, in conditions of economic and social hardship, the majority community may also perceive concessions granted to minority communities as a threat to religious and cultural traditions (identified with the nation). We may think of the legal system, which provides for a State acknowledgement of special marriage, divorce and inheritance laws for Muslim and Christian citizens, whereas the Hindus are subject to the general laws of India passed in the fifties. In the eighties there was a strong Hindu campaign requesting the same laws for all Indians, as the concessions granted to religious communities were seen as a violation of the Constitution and a threat to national unity. This campaign may appear justified and irrefutable, but it conceals the fact that the major community may easily identify its own specific interests with the national interest: as a huge majority of the population is Hindu, the nation, too, appears Hindu. The call for ‘national unity’ may become a pretext to deny legitimate assertions of cultural pluralism (Embree 1989: 194 foll.).

As a matter of fact, in the eighties and nineties, the Indian scene was taken up by the growth of militant Hinduism, supported by the political forces that were to rule the country from 1998 to 2004. During this period, economic issues (like the implementation of the OBC reservations (7) and dramatic events (the Ramjanmbhumi-Babri Masjid case; the Kashmir question with the growing Pakistani involvement leading to the Kargil crisis of 1999, an undeclared war which ended with a clean Indian victory; and the Godhra disaster followed by the Gujarat carnage in 2002) seem to push the re-establishment of communal harmony to the background.

The fact is that the epic of conquest and the epic of resistance still pervade a common reading of Indian history; that is, the history of Hindu resistance against the Muslim conquest. And it is not restricted to the historical narrative, like Chatursen’s Dharmputr. It has been re-elaborated in a very modern way, with technical competence and a sophisticated sense of media communication: as proof of this, we may mention the Sangh Parivar-led spectacular campaign of the Ramjanmbhumi-Babri Masjid (see Davis 1997). This is also visible in Zakhm, in particular in the character of Subodh, the leader of a militant Hindu Organization (sangathan, as it is called), in which we may recognize the Sangh Parivar or rather one of the affiliates of the Sangh, namely the Shiv Sena, owing to its political role in Maharashtra (8). As an icon, Subodh recalls the Shiv Sena Supremo, Bal Thakre, when he delivers an inflamed homily against those Hindus who have flushed their sanskar (“sacraments”) and the values of their forefathers down the drain. “But now” he goes on, “the time has come for national purification” (and he uses first ‘Hindustani’ or Urdu vocabulary: safai ka Waqt, promptly changed into shuddhi ka, rashtriya shuddhi), which consist in “tearing off and throw away the roots of the thorns grown in their eyes”, that is the Muslims.

In the film Dharmputr, sharp criticism of the Hindu vision of Indian history comes with equally sharp criticism of the pro-British – therefore anti-national – sections of the Muslim community, while blaming the ‘religious’ fanaticism of both. In Zakhm, the sole target of a harsh condemnation is Hindu radicalism. This condemnation is not addressed to the character of Anand, who is a pawn in a game outside his understanding. Anand – as many sympathizers and activists of militant Hinduism – believes in the legitimacy of the ‘Hindu nation’ and of the war against the Muslims as foreigners and profaners of the Hindu motherland, temples and sanskars. Instead, fierce blame is put on the forces behind Anand, the Sangh Parivar/Shiv Sena, as we may easily infer. In the portrayal of its leadership, there is no trace of ‘good faith’. Subodh’s aim is only political power and the opportunity of mobilizing a huge number of unsatisfied, frustrated and poor citizens in order to keep that power, with the support of some sections of the police force, here represented by a police officer under Subodh’s orders. It is a bold step at a moment when the political representative of Hindu nationalism, the BJP, wins the general elections and the Kashmir question flares up again. 

Eventually the disintegrating forces embodied by Subodh are defeated by the fundamentally democratic, tolerant and syncretic essence of the ‘real’ India, here represented not only by Ajay, the manifest symbol of the ‘national integration’, but also by his two friends and neighbours (a Muslim and a Sikh, of course) and by an honest Hindu policeman who stands up for Ajay and Anand against the ‘villain’ officer, when the latter tries to prevent Ajay from taking his mother’s corpse from the hospital and burying her as a Muslim, according to her last will. The words used by the policeman to oppose his senior officer are noteworthy:

This is not a dead body, it is his mother... And the  permission [to take her away] is granted to him by the Constitution of India, by the culture of India and by the civilization of India.
 (Yah ‘daid badi’ nahi, yah ma hai inki… Aur inko ‘parmissan’ deta hai Hindustan ka sanvidhan, Bharat ki sanskriti aur yahan ki sabhyata)

The words in italic are English in the Hindi phrase, too, and are those used by the officer. For “India”, however, the policeman uses three words – Hindustan, Bharat and yahan – thus encompassing the whole meaning that the director attributes to India: the first is  a ‘foreign’ name, associated with the Muslims, indicating the north of India, later used as equivalent to the whole country, the pre-Independence land shared for centuries by Hindus and Muslims and other minor communities; the second is the Sanskrit name for a part of India, connected with the Hindus and adopted, along with the more common “India”, by the Constitution (“Bharat that is India”), indicating the independent secular state where all religions are given the same dignity; and the third should be read as the “homeland of the Indians”, as yahan does not simply mean “here”, but is also used as a synonym of “the house/place where one lives”.

In the aftermath of Partition and onwards Zakhm may be seen as a sort of sequel to Dharmputr, with Ajay and Anand as Mina’s and Dilip’s children or grandchildren. In both films there is a happy ending, unduly optimistic in retrospective. As a matter of fact, in one of the final scenes of Dharmputr, Dilip expresses his hope of a world without religion, where love and humanity should be the supreme values; but, as Mina remarks, “if there is no place for humanity in this country, we shall go elsewhere”. The same accent is to be found in the opening scenes of Zakhm: Sonya refuses to beget her baby in a land where people slaughter one another in the name of religion. Ajay himself shows similar feelings, though constantly asserting his will to live in India, but in an India “where no religion may prevent a son from performing his mother’s last will”. Yet, in the last scene of Dharmputr, we see Mina and Dilip with their families celebrating their union and India’s Independence on the linking ‘bridge’,  materialized allegory for Hindu-Muslim past, present and future harmony. Zakhm, in its turn, ends with Ajay’s vision of his mother’s awakening above the clouds, where she is welcomed by Ajay’s father, who puts the sindur, the bridal vermilion, on the parting of her hair, thus giving a heavenly sanction to their marriage. In the first case, Mina and Dilip’s love story was shown as a symbolic element, as was the ‘bridge’. In Zakhm the same love story becomes concrete and also bears its fruits. The ‘heavenly marriage’, however, may be acceptable only because it acknowledges the rights of the heart but does not compromise the social structure. As a matter of fact, the ‘earthly marriage’ – which would have been possible under the Special Marriage Act of 1954, that allows marriage for Indian nationals irrespective of the religion or faith followed by either party – is opportunely prevented by Raman’s fatal accident.
The situation of Indian Muslims after Partition and onwards has not been as positive as foreseen in these films. And it is also true that we do not find many films dealing with this issue, at least until recent years. For a long time, the Muslims brought onto the screen fell into the so-called Muslim socials, they generally belonged to aristocratic classes or at least well-to-do families and used to speak a sophisticated Urdu. There have been very few ‘raids’ into other milieus. As observed above, the first film that ventures into the condition of Indian Muslims after 1947 is Garm hava in 1973, an isolated case for a long period, then followed by other efforts (among them, Salim langre pe mat ro [Do not cry for Salim the Lame], 1989, and Nasim, 1995, both by Said Akhtar Mirza). As for Dharmputr, the film does not deal with this issue, but we may have a glimpse of it in the novel. Apart from a questionable reading of Indian history – an invention, we should say, and also humiliating: a vast and united Hindu people, spread in all directions of the subcontinent, proved in seven centuries unable to drive out a handful of invaders even though they are “drowned in wine and devoured by the fire of lust” – it is difficult even for Chatursen to link the ‘Muslim’ conquerors of the past (that is the Arabs, the Turks, the Afghans, the Mughals, as if they all belong to the same breed), to the Indian Muslims of the present, as they are for the most part Hindus in origin (Cossio 2002: 235). But in portraying Dilip as a Hindu extremist it is evident that the author has in mind a ‘fanatic’ Muslim, in the sense that according to him,  ‘fanaticism’ is inscribed in the Muslim DNA and it is this DNA that explains Dilip’s attitude. The Hindu sanskars, however, did penetrate Dilip’s nature; thus, when he is told the secret of his origins, he cannot but feel guilty for the deeds of his brethren, who kept the Hindus half-enslaved for so many centuries. At first, in fact, he is determined to go away with his real mother so that no harm may fall on Amrit Ray’s household. Eventually he agrees to remain with them as their son, marry Maya (Mina, in the film) and conceal his newly discovered identity. He will enjoy the privileges granted him by the generous ‘Victors’, but under false pretences and accepting the Muslims’ inferiority condition as the ‘Vanquished’.

We find something similar also in Zakhm. After her companion’s death, Ajay’s mother makes his son promise that he will never tell the truth to his younger brother and will bring him up as a Hindu, in the way of their father, so that at least Anand may not suffer their pain. She says: “My identity is a wound for your life. Keep this wound hidden in your heart, son”. Ajay keeps the promise: though refusing for himself any organized religion, he lets everybody believe that he is a Hindu. It is true that traditionally a son belongs to his father among both communities, and even for the civil code the father’s right prevails over the mother’s right, at least in some cases. Nevertheless, this choice of Ajay might be read as a director’s criticism of the Muslims, who seem to accept their subalternity to the Hindus as Indian citizens, considering the Muslim identity a kind of inferiority mark.

Of the two films, Dharmputr was a flop, one of the few in Yash Chopra’s career. Since then and until very recently, the director has carefully avoided such dangerous subjects. In fact, at the beginning of the sixties neither Hindi cinema nor the majority of the audience (at least in Northern India) were willing to go again through that period of darkness. In this sense, Dharmputr, with its equanimous attitude towards both communities and its sharp criticism of communal (particularly Hindu) interests, may be considered a path-breaker and is still waiting to be revaluated.

Zakhm, on the contrary, added to the director’s credibility: Mahesh Bhatt is a rather nonconformist figure, both as a person (which is beyond our interest) and as a filmmaker. Though Zakhm was released in a critical period for communal harmony, it was supported by other significant films, made before and after it, which dealt with the Hindu-Muslim question. Inter-community marriages and ‘mixed’ children had already been cleared by hit films like Bombay (1995, dir. Mani Ratnam), and later by Mission Kashmir (2000, dir. Vidhu Vinod Chopra). Following the stream, in 2005 Yash Chopra himself retraced his steps, making Vir-Zara (Vir and Zara), a love story between an Indian Hindu boy and a Pakistani Muslim girl, which met with fairly good success. In this panorama, however, Zakhm stands out for its harsh depiction of the Hindu fundamentalist leadership.

Communal identity vs individual identity
In Dharmputr (film), Dilip learns the truth about his origins standing on the symbolic space of the ‘bridge’: while he is about to demolish that very symbol, Savitri points at Bano shouting: “Kill her, she is your mother”. His whole world falls to pieces: “You put the shroud on my living body”, he later whispers, while his two families surround him supportively, “The fire I lit with my own hands today is going to burn me”. In Zakhm, the revelation appears more outspokenly dramatic. Anand, after learning of his mother’s death, attacks the Muslim prisoner, determined to kill him, shouting: “I hate that filthy blood”. Ajay holds him back, while showering on him the horrible truth:

You hate that filthy blood, don’t you? You want to throw these people  out of the land of your forefathers, don’t you? You want to kill them all, don’t you? So get started with me! You want to shed that filthy blood, don’t you? So shed your own blood, which is half-Muslim. Your mother, whom you want to avenge, was not a Hindu, she was a Muslim. You hate them, don’t you, you want to throw them out, don’t you? So first of all throw out your mother’s corpse, as she was a Muslim.

Like Dilip, Anand, too, is deranged by the revelation. He is not willing to accept it and runs for protection into Subodh’s arms. Only when the latter shows all his contempt for the “dead body” of Anand’s mother (he almost makes it fall on the ground with a violent push), does Anand understand the real nature of his Guide.

Knowing the truth might be a chance to recompose the broken link between the two communities, to attain real integration rather than mere respect and acceptance of diversity: in Dharmputr this goal is achieved through a marriage that officially unites a Hindu and a Muslim; while in Zakhm, Ajay and, later, Anand acknowledge themselves as  the offspring of such a union. In both films, this appeasing, reconciling conclusion opens a much more disturbing chapter. Dilip and Anand have for all their life, until the climax revelation, lived and perceived themselves as Hindus; they have strenuously struggled for the “purification” of the Hindu identity against the polluting threat of the Muslim “filthy blood”. How will they from now on adjust themselves to the loathsome Muslim identity? And above all, besides these Hindu or Muslim connotations, which is Dilip’s and Anand’s identity? This is a major theme emerging from both films: do Dilip and Anand have an identity of their own, an individual identity that may survive the loss of a religious-communal identity?

This point is not lingered on in Zakhm. The film was made in a period when the traditional social structure seemed to have lost much of its grip in the urban and metropolitan environment. Ajay is a successful music composer, he works for the cinema, which is itself a different world, where many social conventions have  - or seem to have – less weight than in other sectors. He also seems rather well-off; he lives in a large, bright  and luxuriously furnished flat, supplied with all amenities, including a grand piano, computer and hi-tech recording devices. And his relationship with Sonya is untraditional: they are married, probably, surely by their own choice; in their living together they seem to be on equal terms. Sonya has an independent and ‘secular’ personality; her education and maybe a previous employment took place in England, where she wants to go back for delivery. There is no traditional family around them, apart from Ajay’s mother and brother, who do not live with them. They are a modern well-to-do nuclear family, similar to millions of families of this kind in many parts of the (Western) world. As a matter of fact, neither of them has a specific self-perception as ‘Hindu’. Sonya does not even show a particular attachment to India, she would in fact prefer to go back to London: “What difference will it make for us to live here or there?” she asks.

And though Ajay does show a strong ‘Indian’ identity -- not only in the secular sense of being a citizen of the Indian Union but he also perceives himself as the son of Bharat  Mata, “Mother India” – this is in a cultural sense and not from a Hindu perspective, as we may infer from his words: “My home is here. If a fire threatens my home, I’ll try to put out the fire or I will burn together with my home. I will not seek shelter in others’ homes”. Thus, the question of Hindu or Muslim identity does not seem to directly touch Ajay, who on the surface has if not solved, at least passed over the problem. Or is his ‘secular’ face a reaction to the wound of a lost whole identity and of a half-breed origin discovered in his youth?

For his brother Anand, on the contrary, the truth is a shocking blow, but the psychological consequence is barely touched on, also because Anand is an undefined, faded character. About him we only know that he joins an organization of militant Hindus and this, too, not really out of conviction, but as a means to evade his brother’s shadow. He shows a grey, gregarious personality. His emancipation from Ajay’s guidance coincides with his migration under Subodh’s wing. Even his ‘awakening’ is not caused by an awareness of the constituent elements and reasons behind the communal conflicts. He is shocked instead by the insult to his Mother.

In this way the accent is shifted towards universal feelings: mother-son bond, man-woman love in particular when this love overcomes death. In Ajay’s case, it is shifted towards civic and secular values, these too are universal and common to any Indian citizen: the Indian Constitution, the Indian culture and civilization. The film message is that these universal and common feelings and values are the bases for national integration in India.

A fact remains, however: to discover oneself Muslim, after years of Hindu militancy, and that too when sectarian and communal conflicts reach frightful levels and forms, must necessarily imply a deep identity trauma. To start with, Dilip and Anand must confront themselves with the crystallized and seemingly immutable Muslim stereotype, that is, the foreign invader of the Hindu motherland, tireless marauder, defiler and destroyer of temples, indefatigable raper of Hindu women, cruel and lustful by nature, violent and fanatic by religion, constantly in arms against the infidels to convert them or kill them. As Sudhir Kakar writes: “The Muslim demon is… the traditional container of Hindu conflicts over aggressive impulses” (Kakar 1992: 138).

In Dharmputr, this issue has a more tortured profile. In comparison with the inconsistence of Anand’s character, Dilip has a complex and defined personality; also his characterization as a Hindu is much more elaborated. He is shown while practising yoga or while discussing his ideal woman with his mother Savitri: “A real Hindu bahu, like Sita and Savitri”, he says, “who will sit beside you and read the Ramayan, who will ritually bathe before sunrise, perform the puja (= worship) to the gods and her duties towards the family”. He scolds his brothers for their ‘westernization’ or for their acquiescence before the Muslims, invaders, marauders, and so on, according to the stale script. The harshest clash occurs between Dilip and his father Amrit Ray, when the latter has an extremely severe reaction against Dilip’s use of the word dharm. It is also the film’s more overt attack against the militant Hindu groups and against all sectarian and religious fanaticism:

Do not mention the word dharm, impious! ... Massacres in the name of dharm occur because of people like you who are the real destroyers of dharm. You use dharm as the light which can open for you the way to power. Today I have seen you. You are… the evil that is incessantly reborn in all centuries and brings destruction… You are the real enemy of the country, you are the destroyer of religion.

The concept of dharm reappears later in Dilip’s words as a question mark on individual identity when he is put face to face with the devastating truth of his origins. Here the film reaches its climax and it is perhaps also the first time that a film – or at least a mainstream film – touches on something that goes beyond the Hindu-Muslim question, when he says:

Why am I still alive? For whom am I still alive? You should have killed me before. Now that you told me this truth, no more am I what I used to be. You put the shroud upon me while I’m still living, Until yesterday I used to walk on this earth straight ahead; today I find myself standing at a crossroad. I ask each of you, am I a Hindu only because I grew up in a Hindu household? And you, are you a Muslim only because your father’s name was Fatah Muhammad? Isn’t dharm something that has its source from within? Or does it rise from without? Is it a sand dune that collapses when the wind blows?  A weak thread that breaks if you blow it?

Amrit Ray tries to relieve his pain saying that faith – whatever be the religion through which it is expressed – makes a man out of a human being. But Dilip objects that faith incites man to fight against other men. Those Hindus who were his close friends until the day before are now ready to kill him because he turned out to be what they all, including Dilip himself, hate: a Muslim. “Hindu dharm has left me and I don’t know Islam”, that is, like his Hindu friends, he hates something he does not even know. This is in itself a crucial consideration, both for the film and for the whole  Hindu-Muslim question. This consideration forces Dilip to face the real knot:

How can someone live without support?... Today I am an orphan, with no homeland. No land has any tie with me. Today I have neither a mother, nor a Motherland… Is there a reason for me to live? Today my name, my home, my dharm, my faith, everything is lost.

“Today I have no name”, again says Dilip to Mina, who answers: “I’m not in love with your name, it is you that I love”,  which may appear rather trivial, a commonplace, but it is the very essence of that you which is indeed crucial. As I pointed out, the question does not concern only the names Dilip or Fatah Muhammad, that is, the Hindu or Muslim identity, but the individual identity. The Indian constitution guarantees the inalienable rights of the individuals, regardless of gender, caste, religion and race; nevertheless, in Indian society the group – religion, caste or family – prevails  over the individual. (The identity considered in the two films is the Hindu identity, but in the Indian Muslim world the situation is not very different.). As some psychoanalytical and anthropological studies suggest, the nature of the person – which the West considers individual (that is “indivisible”), permanent and closed – for the Hindus seems to be dividual (and therefore “divisible”), open and fluid, based on interpersonal relations (McKim Mariott quoted in Kakar 1982: 274-275) (3). The hierarchic structure, both within the family and within the caste system, establishes roles and functions – and therefore also a range or mutual relations – according to the position that each person holds on a given moment. An identity based on role and function creates the need to give a place also to those who do not belong to the family: identifying community and caste and establishing a pseudo-family relation with the interlocutor allow the adoption of a proper code of behaviour. In this context, the “individual” would not be really recognizable as such, as it would be difficult for him to enter into relations with “dividuals” (4).

Nowadays, at least among the privileged, educated and urban classes, the concept of individualism has found its way in. This  concept “can also be related to the new social mobility that industrialization made possible, displacing man from his secure traditional niche, making him realize the unique potential of each human being, including himself, outside social hierarchy” (Mukherjee 1985: 4). This new dimension, however, is not always attained and not always without pain; on the contrary, it may imply the loss – or the fear of loss – of previous identities and certainties. This may occur in particular to those coming from a rural environment, from the “village”, transformed into the “refuge, the repository of traditions for the members of a family increasingly dispersed geographically and occupationally” (Das Gupta 1991: 108).
The fear of  separation, of losing a ‘relational’ identity may generate a deep anxiety and an urge to re-establish a harmonious connection between the person and his reference group. (Kakar 1982: 274). The very loss of that identity, in front of a too fast modernization of a Western kind, based on individualism and peculiar to the urban and metropolitan environment, may strengthen collective identities based in caste, religion, regional or ethnic affiliations. These collective identities – as Sudhir Kakar suggested at the end of the seventies – may become the refuge of those incapable of finding their balance in precarious and frustrating individual condition (Kakar 1996: 186-187).
In this context, Dilip’s despair and bewilderment – quite different in its essence from the instinctual panic experienced by Anand, who is a solid form of Sudir Kakar’s hypothesis – seem today to acquire a much deeper significance.

Selected Bibliography
Bhalla, A., 1999, Memory, History and Fictional Representations of the Partition, in “Economic and Political Weekly”, October 30, pp. 3119-28.
Chatursen, Acharya. (1954) 1985. Dharmputr. Delhi: Rajpal and Sons, 2nd edition, 1st. ed. 1954.
Cossio, C., 2002, DHARMPUTR e la partizione dell'India, in "Annali di Ca' Foscari", XLI, 3, 2002 (Serie Orientale 33), pp. 211-237; republished in English as DHARMPUTR and the Partition of India, in Heidi R.M. Pauwels (ed.), 2007, Indian Literature and Popular Cinema. Recasting classics, Routledge, NY, pp. 220-238.
Das Gupta, C., 1991, The Painted Face. Studies in India’s Popular Cinema. New Delhi: Roli Books.
Embree, A.T., 1989, Imagining India. Essays on Indian History. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Kakar, S., 1982, Shamans, Mystics and Doctors. New York: Knopf.
Kakar, S., 1990, Intimate Relationships. Exploring Indian Sexuality. New Delhi: Viking, reprint, 1st. ed. 1989.
Kakar, S., 1992, Some Unconscious Aspects of Ethnic Violence in India, in V. Das (ed), 1992, Mirrors of Violence. Communities, Riots and Survivors in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 135-145.
Kakar, S., 1996, The Inner World. A Psycho-analytic Study of Childhood and Society in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 7th reprint, 2nd. ed., 1st. ed. 1978.
Kazmi, F., 1999, The Politics of India’s Conventional Cinema. Imaging a Universe, Subverting a Multiverse. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
Mukherjee, M. 1985, Realism and Reality. The Novel and Society in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Raza, R.M., 1977, Topi Shukla. Nayi Dilli: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2nd. ed., 1st. ed. 1969.

* This paper is a revised translation of an Italian original by the same author: Cossio, C., 2004, La ferita della fede: Individuo e comunità in DHARMPUTR e ZAKHM [Wound of Faith: Individual and Community in DHARMPUTR and ZAKHM], in "Annali di Ca' Foscari", XLIII, 3, 2004, pp. 189-214.


DHARMPUTR, 1961. Direction: Yash Chopra; production B.R. Copra; story: from Chatursen’s novel Dharmputr; screenplay: BR Films Story Department; dialogues: Akhtar-ul-Iman; editing: Pran Mehra; cinematography: Dharm Copra; music: N Datt; lyrics: Sahir Ludhiyanvi. Cast: Ashok Kumar (Navab Badruddin), Mala Sinha (Bano), Nirupa Ray (Savitri), Manmohan Krishna (Amrit Ray), Rahman (Javed), Shashi Kapur (Dilip).

ZAKHM, 1998. Story and direction: Mahesh Bhatt; production: Puja Bhatt; screenplay: Mahesh Bhatt and Tanuja Chandra; dialogues: Girish Damiya; editing: Sanjay Sankla; cinematography: Nirmal Jani; music: M.M. Krim; lyrics: Anand Bakshi. Cast: Puja Bhatt (Ajay’s mother); Nagarjun (Ajay’s father, Raman); Ajay Devgan (Ajay); Sonali Bendre (Sonya); Akshay Anand (Anand); Ashutosh Rana (Subodh); Madan Jain (the journalist).

See for instance Amar Akbar Anthony (Amar, Akbar, and Anthony, 1977, dir. Manmohan Desai): three brothers get lost as children and grow up in different milieus, Hindu, Muslim and Christian, each ignoring the others’ whereabouts. They meet again as young men and, after unspeakable events, discover the truth and are even reunited with their real parents. On the one hand, in the film there are no questions of a religion or of a community being superior to the others: each of them is shown as integral to the Indian world. This attitude is expressed in a scene where the three brothers, who are still unaware of their bond, give their blood to a seriously wounded and unknown woman who happens to be their mother and whose name is Bharti, feminine form of Bharat, India. However, while the Muslim and the Christian characters (Akbar and Anthony) have an identifiable religious/communal characterization (places and forms of worship or specific symbols related to their respective spheres) and also show some flaws in their behaviour, nothing of the kind applies to the Hindu character (Amar), who is a police inspector: he is the representative of the Institutions of the secular State, an extremely honest, strict but at the same time deeply sensitive ‘Indian’ policeman. In other words, the film acknowledges full rights of citizenship to Muslims and Christians, though heirs of foreign religions, but identifies Hindu as the natural condition of being Indian and suggests in the secular State the stamp of the Hindu ‘tolerance’: a vision that might be called ‘crypto-communalist’. This perspective, however, might even be in good faith, as perhaps in the case of D.G. Phalke (1870-1944), the father of Indian cinema, whose dream was to show ‘Indian’ images on the screen. His ‘Indianness’, however, has the colours of popular Hinduism (vishnuite branch)

McKim Marriott expressed these views in “The Open Hindu Person and Interpersonal Fluidity”, an unpublished paper read at Session 19, "The Indian Self," March 21, 1980, during a conference of the Association for Asian Studies, held in Washington D.C.

According to S. Kakar, however, this dichotomy between the Western “individual” and the Hindu “dividual”, though very useful for a deeper understanding of cultural differences, should not be overemphasized. On the grounds of his professional experience, he found that the Hindu (and in general Indian) patients are, in their unconscious, much more “individuals” than they themselves know. This very fact may be often source of psychological conflicts, as Indian culture tends indeed to give prominence to divisibility and relationality.

CECILIA COSSIO, former researcher of Hindi Language and Literature as well as teacher of Indian History at the Department of Eurasian Studies of Venice University (Italy) from 1978 to 2006, from 2008 to 2010 he has been the film consultant for India at the International Film Festival of Venice. She has extensively written on Hindi cinema and its interrelations with literature, history and society, and has also authored the book "Cinema in India. Lo strano caso di Shashi Kapur" (“Cinema in India. The Strange Fate of Shashi Kapoor”, 2005).


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