Religion, Marxism and Slumdog

François Gautier
Source: Express buzz

First Published : 16 Mar 2009 02:09:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 16 Mar 2009 09:35:52 AM IST

WHY did a film like Slumdog Millionaire, which conveys an utterly negative image of India — slums, exploitation, poverty, corruption, anti Muslim pogroms — create so many waves in the West, pre and post Oscars? And why does not the Indian government protest, as the Chinese would indeed have, for a twisted and perverted portrayal of its own reality? There are several answers: When the missionaries began to evangelise India, they quickly realised that Hinduism was not only practised by a huge majority, but that it was so deeply rooted that it stood as the only barrier to their subjugating the entire subcontinent.

They therefore decided to demonise the religion, by multiplying what they perceived as its faults, by one hundred: caste, poverty, child marriage, superstition, widows, sati … Today, these exaggerations, which at best are based on quarter-truths, have come down to us and have been embedded not only in the minds of many Westerners, but also unfortunately, of much of India’s intelligentsia.

We Westerners continue to suffer from a superiority complex over the socalled Third World in general and India in particular. Sitting in front of our television sets during prime time news, with a hefty steak on our table, we love to feel sorry for the misery of others, it secretly flatters our ego and makes us proud of our so-called ‘achievements’.

That is why books such as The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre, which gives the impression that India is a vast slum, or a film like Slumdog Millionaire, have such an impact.

In this film, India’s foes have joined hands. Today, billions of dollars that innocent Westerners give to charity are used to convert the poorest of India with the help of enticements such as free medical aid, schooling and loans.

If you see the Tamil Nadu coast posttsunami, there is a church every 500 metres. Once converted, these new Christians are taught that it is a sin to enter a temple, do puja, or even put tilak on one’s head, thus creating an imbalance in the Indian psyche (In an interview to a British newspaper, Danny Boyle confessed he wanted to be a Christian missionary when he was young and that he is still very much guided by these ideals — so much for his impartiality).

Islamic fundamentalism also ruthlessly hounds India, as demonstrated by the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, which are reminiscent of the brutality and savagery of a Timur, who killed 1,00,000 Hindus in a single act of savagery.

Indian communists, in power in three states, are also hard at work to dismantle India’s cultural and spiritual inheritance. And finally, the Americanisation of India is creating havoc in the social and cultural fabric with its superficial glitter, even though it has proved a failure in the West. Slumdog plays cleverly with all these elements.

Many of the West’s India-specialists are staunchly anti-Hindu, both because of their Christian upbringing and also as they perpetuate the tradition of Max Mueller, the first ‘Sankritist’ who said: “The Vedas is full of childish, silly, even monstrous conceptions. It is tedious, low, commonplace, it represents human nature on a low level of selfishness and worldliness and only here and there are a few rare sentiments that come from the depths of the soul”.

This tradition is carried over by Indologists such as Witzel or Wendy Doniger in the US, and in France where scholars of the state-sponsored CNRS, and its affiliates such as EHESS, are always putting across in their books and articles detrimental images of India: caste, poverty, slums — and more than anything — their pet theories about ‘Hindu fundamentalism’.

Can there be a more blatant lie? Hinduism has given refuge throughout the ages to those who were persecuted at home: the Christians of Syria, the Parsees, Armenians, the Jews of Jerusalem, and today the Tibetans, allowing them all to practise their religion freely.

And finally, it is true that Indians, because they have been colonised for so long (unlike the Chinese) lack nationalism.

Today much of the intellectual elite of India has lost touch with its cultural roots and looks to the West to solve its problems, ignoring its own tools, such as pranayama, hata-yoga or meditation, which are very old and possess infinite wisdom.

Slumdog literally defecates on India from the first frame. Some scenes exist only in the perverted imagery of director Danny Boyle, because they are not in the book of Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat, on which the film is based. In the book, the hero of the film (who is not Muslim, but belongs to many religions: Ram Mohammad Thomas) does not spend his childhood in Bombay, but in a Catholic orphanage in Delhi. Jamal’s mother is not killed by “Hindu fanatics’, but she abandons her baby, of unknown religion, in a church. Jamal’s torture is not an idea of the television presenter, but of an American who is after the Russian who bought the television rights of the game. The tearful scene of the three children abandoned in the rain is also not in the book: Jamal and his heroine only meet when they are teenagers and they live in an apartment and not in a slum.

And finally, yes, there still exists in India a lot of poverty and glaring gaps between the very rich and the extremely poor, but there is also immense wealth, both physical, spiritual and cultural — much more than in the West as a matter of fact.

When will the West learn to look with less prejudice at India, a country that will supplant China in this century as the main Asian power? But this will require a new generation of Indologists, more sincere, less attached to their outdated Christian values, and Indians more proud of their own culture and less subservient to the West.

16 responses to “Religion, Marxism and Slumdog

  1. yes indeed we Indians need a generation who are not impressed by the glitter of the west or by the so called convent education in our own country, infact the upeer middle classes and middle classes are waking up to blindly outdated ideals of convent education and large numbers of them are opting to send their kids to private schools and the such.. and it is quite a welcome move that yoga has been made compulsory in some schools…i also wish the so called indian intellegentsia would wake up to the fact that their nation has contributed a great deal and probably more than some of the western philosophies to the modern era… am sure the west would have been lostwithout the invention of zero, and an entire school of mathemaics, the it revolution would have come come 2 a standstill if not for hotmail and the chip, both of which were developed by indians…. its just that some indians choos eto live in a sense of ignorance and an attitude of the west is superior, thankfully there are indologists like you around whoo from time to time to bring indians back to their roots ..

  2. the hero in the film was lucky….he faced poverty , riots…but missed the one yearly phenomenon…..the bomb blasts inbombay.!!!

    lucky chap..

    i think by not showing the bomb blasts, the west is trying to please them muslims….this is the beginging of how they will show their sympathy towards the muslims…..
    next in line is banning modi in london…..this is how they will show that they love the musims….n show sympathy towards them

  3. After seeing ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ one can’t come away with the feeling that India’s image has improved in the eyes of the world. Danny Boyle has portrayed the filth and poverty in Jamal’s slum brutally with all the scatalogical details. Was it necessary to dwell on Jamal and his output when he is squatting languorously in the makeshift latrine? A perceptive and sensitive person like Gautier did not miss the mischief behind the magic this film has created. One can’t clap for India and the Oscar winners from India at the same time.
    N Sridhar

  4. Beautiful-Candid -Analysis.
    Very True- But, can the deterioration of ancient Indian culture, be arrested?
    The craze for money and fame without respect to patriotism has to stop.
    May God help India.

  5. I have a different new theory. The difference between the West and India is simple. In the West the individual life of a human being is considered mathematically unique by which I mean it is consudered a totally independent entity. In India it is a part of nature which itself is an integral part of the supreme. We rever nature. Hence differences are bound to come. The two beliefs are bound to attack each other until a solution is found. In the meantime films like Slumdog Millionnaire are bound to happen. I can only say that the film is filmatically okay. What it conveys is not a serious matter since films in general are not meant to display anything very serious. Please read “Bhagavatha in brief” written by me in There are nine basic emotions to man among which is “Bibhatsa”. This is a feeling of aversion. It is no less important than, say, feeling of love. This is so because we look at it from the nature’s point of view, not individuals’s. Now falling into a pond of shit creates “bibhatsa” and every dramatist or filmmaker wants at least one such scene in their play or film to create realism. If a film like this is pointed against India it is like throwing a small stone at an elephant. No affect is produced.

  6. A balanced review. Slum dog millionaire is a movie produced and directed by westerners. Even the actors in lead role are Indians only by ethnicity. And the Oscar is to the movie produced by westerners with their view point. It is for the presentation of the negative side of a culture that westerners never understand. They have a sadistic pleasure in presenting the suffering of the third world in artistic way and feel proud of their culture. There are slums and poverty everywhere in the world. In the west there are people who kill for a few dollars. Fathers who keep daughters in captivity and father children with them. Though slavery is abolished, the number of a particular race/colored people are still in abject poverty and the crime rate is very high in them. The number of jail in-mates in general is more of non whites than whites. The world is a mixture of various shades. It is not just black or white.
    There is nothing for Indians to be jubilant about Oscars to slum dog millionaire. It’s good that Mr. A.R. Rahman got Oscar for his music. That’s all for Oscars to sdm.
    In general, Indians should never think of Oscars. They are the westerner’s/white’s awards to the movies which they can understand from the view point of their culture and religion. As we are completely different from them it will be foolish on our part to aspire for those awards for our movies which expresses our culture and emotions and art inherent to our nation.

  7. A very candid and brilliant article. It is very clear what Danny Boyle’s intentions were. I think the West is getting increasingly alarmed at the rise of India which would eventually get translated into influence of the Hindu philosophy on the world psyche. So, I think we will see more of these aggressive movies aimed at spoiling the image of India in the international world. Some movies of these genre are the very recent movies : the sordid comedies, Love Guru (Mike Myers), The Darjeeling Limited, and now Slumdog Millionaire. The aim of all these movies is the same. To tarnish the image of India and Indians and also to pander to the missionary mindset which is still deep-rooted in the west. Even some of the so-called secular Europeans would silently support the conversion of India to christianity at the expense of killing this ancient beautiful religion, its culture, and festivals. However, India is in a very vulnerable and precarious situation and it is not clear if its culture will survive or will be overtaken by the gross materialism and culture of the west. Some of us however sense the danger. I was highly anglicised while growing up and had a great admiration for the western culture but I now realise the immense beauty and importance of Indian culture and feel very strongly about protecting it and propagating it to our future generation now. Perhaps, there are more like me. I think slowly but surely India is waking up again and we will surely find our real self again.

  8. Till the time Fundamentalist Islam has oil in its booty, the west will either appease them, kill them, err, LIBERATE them or plainly sympathize with them.

    So When Russia’s capture of Afghanistan was bad, while America’s capture of Iraq is termed as “Liberation”.

    All hail the Caesar.

  9. Interesting article!
    One can only be born a Hindu and there are no imposing forces to practice it daily or weekly; belief and devotion comes from within, just as Hinduism is a way of life not a religion!
    Just like Hinduism, India too is very tolerable country with rich history, long past, vast diversity and strengths. Whatever the West might initiate and propagate, we Indians, have at all the time surpassed all these adversities and we emerge with shining vigor and will continue to be the nation envied by all.

  10. To understand the West’s attitude toward Islam, you have to step outside what is discussed in this blog which is India focused.

    You would do better in looking up the works of writers such as Ibn Warraq whose writings are about Islam, and the West’s relationship with Islam, not India.

  11. Warraq gives a good explanation of how both Western conservatives and liberals came to favorable portray Islam.

    Why Conservatives in the past favored Islam:
    “…Many European apologists of Islam of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had a far greater knowledge of Islam and were, by contrast, devout Christians – priests, missionaries, curates – who realized that to be consistent they had to accord Islam a large measure of religious equality, to concede religious insight to Muhammed. They recognized that Islam was a sister religion, heavily influenced by Judeo-Chirstian ideas; and Christianity and Islam stood or fell together. They knew that if they started criticizing the dogmas, doctrines, and absurdities of Islam, their own fantastic structure would start to crumble and would eventually crash around them. They perceived a common danger in certain economic, philosophical,and social developments in the West – the rise of rationalism, skepticism, atheism, secularism; the Industrial Revolution; the Russian Revolution; and the rise of communism and materialism. Sir Hamilton Gibb writes of Islam as a Christian “engaged in a common spiritual enterprise.”

    I would advise remember how Islam here is seen especially as an ally against Russian communism. It was a key reason why the British wanted the creation of a new Islamic state out of India at the end of colonialism – protect British strategic interests against Communist Russia in Asia.

  12. Why liberals favored Islam:

    “…by the 1920s, left-wing and liberal intellectuals in the West had begun to feel decidedly uneasy about European colonialism and imperialism…Any criticism of Islam or Islamic countries was seen as a racist attack or worse, as a Western-Zionist conspiracy…By the mid 1960s and early 1970s, there was a growing minority of Muslims in Western Europe, and in the interests of multiculturism, we were taught that each civilization is its own miracle. Multicultural workshops arose in schools and universities, where even the thought of a critical attitude was an anathema…Suffice it to say here that in such a climate “criticism” was equated with racism, neocolonialism, and fascism.
    The wake of the [Salman] Rushdie affair bears striking parallels to the situation in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, when left-wing intellectuals were reluctant to criticize either the theory or practice of communism – there was, as Russell pointed out, “a conspiracy of concealment.” When Russell’s courageous book criticizing Soviet Russia and Communism in general came out in 1920, it met with hostility from the West. VS Naipaul’s ‘Amongst the Believers’ got a similar reception from intellectuals and Islamophiles, because the author dared to criticize the Iranian Revolution and, subtly, Islam itself…”

    Both excerpts are from Warraq’s book, ‘Why I am Not A Muslim.’ He was a former Muslim.

    To understand the West’s attitude towards Muslims in India, you should first look at historical favorable attitudes of Islam in the West.

  13. Correction: this sentence should read “When Russell’s courageous book criticizing Soviet Russia and Communism in general came out in 1920, it met with hostility from the left.” Left not West.

  14. Kinda not surprising that India gets the shaft from all three: Marxists (extreme left), Missionaries (extreme right), and Muslims (historically favored by both left and right).

  15. This book “The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible” by Ruth Hurmence Green will help anyone who wishes to refute missionary theological verbal attacks.

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