There aren’t many surprises for me through four hours of screen time as I sit through the documentary ‘Reason’. I imagine this also holds true for all of us who have been watching with great dread how those, following the ideology of the killers of Gandhi have taken upon themselves the task of ‘Hinduising’ India. I’ve been watching, and Anand Patwardhan, the filmmaker, true to his style, was right there in the middle of it, with his camera, inches away from folks for whom threatening, beating, maiming and killing has become a way of life. All in the name of a Hindu nation.
In ‘Reason’ Anand, a seasoned and independent filmmaker, whose films are funded by himself, exposes us to a multitude of voices on the side of reason: those who work non-violently, who mobilize, who demonstrate, who ask questions, who stand up, who speak, who show by example, who do the right thing against this rising tide of terror. Because that is what it is. This version of championing Hinduism looks to fascism as the ideology to adopt to ‘make India Hindu’, as one of its prominent members candidly declares.
One gets to see doctor Dhabolkar, who with his ‘anti blind faith’ movement tries to build awareness about what is behind the miracles that god men perform in the name of god. Dhabolkar, with his twinkling eyes and mischievous smile is an endearing figure, as is the wife who loves him. Widowed, after Dhabolkar was killed while on a walk by someone on a motorcycle. There’s Pansare, who with humour and tact is the moving force behind inter-caste marriages in his region. This version of building a society got him killed. By someone on a motorcycle. And there’s Gauri Lankesh. As Time put it ‘… a veteran Indian journalist known for her outspoken criticism of Hindu nationalist politics has been shot dead in Bangalore’. By someone on a motorcycle. The killers are hard to find under the present regime even as masses of people gather peacefully to demonstrate and declare ‘I am Gauri’. They wiped out the symptom, but the disease persists. For the Hindu nationalists and the killers, the name of this disease is freedom.
‘Freedom’ from this definition of nation is what the voice of reason cries out for, and we hear this voice in force on the screen before us.
And freedom is what a young and promising man chooses when he becomes his own killer. A Dalit, otherwise called ‘untouchable’, who was one of the very, very few to make it to the status of a PhD candidate in a university – ostracised and shunned passes on, and leaves behind a letter for us to read. In his words: ‘I have no complaints on anyone. It was with myself that I had problems. I feel a growing gap between my body and my soul. I have become a monster. I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science. Like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write. I loved science, stars, nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs coloured. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt. The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made of star dust’.
Rohith Vemula’s voice, now reproduced by Anand in his film, and by others, like me leaves us believing in miracles. That one who grew up in deprivation, one so young and so vulnerable could convey in so few words, in a foreign language, truths that we hear every day but cannot listen to. In the voice of a poet that surpasses the binaries of reason vs. faith.