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In the Name of God: India’s communal conflict and where it all began

Why Patwardhan’s documentary is more relevant now than ever.

By Tanishaa Vikas Jain

“They can build their mosques and we can make our temples. Once one exists, it is wrong to break it. Now, they’re both fighting, and no one will gain anything. There will only be losses”, remarks a Hindu man in the 1992 documentary, In the Name of God (Ram Ke Naam), foreshadowing the communal tension and violence, between Hindus and Muslims, that remains relevant even to this day.

Anand Patwardhan’s award-winning, bold and, one could even say, an uncomfortable documentary film on the Ram Janma Bhoomi movement explores the crusade waged by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other Hindu right-wing organisations that culminated in the destruction of Babri Masjid in 1992.

The documentary, filmed before the demolition, dwells into the events that unfolded post the spread of a rumour–—that the Hindu idols miraculously appeared at the mosque. The documentary debunks this rumour in an interview with Mahant Ram Sevak Das Shastri, one of the men that placed the idols inside the mosque by the order of then-District Magistrate K.K. Nayar. The government had also issued a warrant against the priest.

Immediately after the idols were placed, entry inside the mosque was forbidden. “This is a political game. Those who want to demolish the mosque, wish to create communal tensions in the country. They want to divide the communities and cash in on the Hindu vote”, said Pujari Laldas, a court-appointed priest, in his interview with Patwardhan. He wasn’t far wrong.

Following the communal divide and increasing Hindu extremism in the country, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) went from 2 to 85 seats in Parliament. This pattern can also be observed in the present political climate. A Yale University study maintains that “riots produce ethnic polarisation that benefits ethnoreligious parties” like BJP that “saw a 0.8 percentage point increase in their vote share” following communal riots before the 2014 elections.

In 2010, two judges of the Supreme Court of India, Justice P C Ghose and Justice R F Nariman called the demolition of Babri Masjid a “crime which shook the secular fabric of India.” Yet, on September 30, 2020, a special court situated in Raebareli of the Central Bureau of Investigation acquitted the 32 people accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case citing that there is “insufficient evidence” to prove that the incidents of December 6 were planned.

Then what is Patwardhan’s documentary if not evidence of how meticulously planned the demolition was?

Among other things, the documentary displays the role of BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani and the Rath Yatra in mobilising and enticing the Hindu mob to demolish the mosque. In the documentary, he can be seen addressing a gathering, claiming that the courts cannot decide whether Ram was born on the site. “All I can wish is that you don’t come in the way”, he says (read, threatens). Despite his complete disregard for the justice system, certain groups and individuals like him continue to be given impunity.

There have been several controversies around the documentary. Various universities like Kolkata’s Presidency University and Hyderabad Central University were barred from screening the film. Furthermore, after its recent release on YouTube, the platform put an age restriction on the documentary which was given a ‘U’ certificate from CBFC. Against You tube’s decision, Patwardhan’s post on Facebook read, “YouTube is at it again, catering to Hindutva goons who want to kill all secular content.”

The documentary becomes an insight into the beginning of an end. The end of communal harmony. It speaks of the motivations of Hindu militants, the repercussions of which prevail in the Indian subcontinent even today. It holds a mirror to religious intolerance and violence that has gripped the nation in the name of God.

Edited by Ananya Jain and Purvai Parma Shivam

Cover photo credits- purecinemabookshop.com