Tag Archives: Indian independence

The Lady, the Playwright and the Telepath

I have watched three films in short succession on oppressive regimes where freedom has been curtailed. One was a fictional story about a writer in East Germany, being spied on and censored by the secret police – something that happened to some of the cast of the film, one of whom died suddenly. This was the excellent Lives of Others or Die Leiben de Anderen. Then came The Lady, the Luc Besson film on Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent the best part of 20 years under house arrest, unable to take her voted in position of leader because the military rulers did not wish it. Lastly was Salman Rushdie’s novel brought to the screen, Midnight’s Children, about the struggles of India to regain independence from British rule, and then its own battles under Indira Gandhi. In all these, interrogation, torture, imprisonment, death were unleashed upon those who would speak out against the regime.


And much of me felt grateful to have never lived in such circumstances, but also great sadness and anger at the injustice – one my country has not faced in living memory.


But as much as some of the horrors in these countries and others are things I cannot say are experienced here, I also felt fearful. For some of the issues indeed resounded: bans against public meetings; surveillance (ever easier with the internet) of subversives; people taking power against the people’s wishes and making policies that clash with the values of the country, but are overridden for ideological reasons in the name of the interests of the people; and those who stand up to it being bullied into silence.


Just a peek at recent news reveals abuses of growing police powers – infiltrating political groups and having sexual relationship to gain information; and then wanting this to be tried in secret courts – if at all. I don’t feel free and safe in my country, where there are camera on every street corner, police have powers for compulsory stop and search; where the law that is meant to be part of the bedrock of a just and equal society is often not allowing ordinary people to claim that justice; creating poverty and increasing the power and wealth of the rich; forcing people into effective slave labour if they are not working or in a way that the government sanctions; forcing mind and body altering operations without consent. Our votes don’t get us who and what we ask for, and petitions and letters are often ignored or met with standard, disinterested responses. We too encourage fear of certain groups that are deemed a threat to those in authority who can be searched and arrested for vague reasons.


Countries like the above might look to those of us who have a supposed developed and running democracy, a freedom of speech, and their hopes and battles are to make their countries more like ours. We should be ashamed that I am not sure any country could really be a model for fairness and liberty. We’ve allowed a global system of greed to take over; we settle conflicts with warfare, and perhaps none of us can really feel we trust our leaders to be doing what they say and doing the best for us. Is anywhere above corruption yet? I cannot say my country is.


We should make this the year that we all strive to be the kind of democracy that has and is still being fought for – truly a rule of the people, for the people, without fear of reprisal for speaking out and wanting something different, achieved without the violence that sadly has come with so many other struggles.  We want the world to follow an example of transparency, not be impressed by a veneer of deceit. What is the best kind of family – the one that rules by iron rod, or the one that supports its diverse children to grow, even if that means questioning the parents sometimes? For a true, strong leader can cope with questions; only the insecure and fearful try to quell the queriers.


I know what sort of country I’d like to live in, one that we all should strive for – and if even a shadow of this oppression resonates in our leaders, they need to be changing away from these old orders and into the fair, just and peaceful lands we all deserve and desire.

Leave a comment

Filed under cinema, history, society

Going off Gandhi

I know this must sound like I’m doing a series dissing famous people. I wrote an article “Going off Austen” which to my surprise but pleasure was picked up by the official Austen magazine for a guest article. Not sure the Gandhi society will want this for their news letter, and I’m not writing to be rude about famous people for the sake of it, although I know I have also critiqued Shakespeare, the films Inception, Batman and generally like going against the grain.

[links no longer valid]

Like Janey, Gandhi began as someone I admired, also in my teens. It began with seeing the 1982 film starring Ben Kingsley, which so impressed me that I chose the scantily clad Indian for my school research project. I am pleased to see that even as a fifteen year old with narrow Christian views that I admired an inclusive Hindu and foreigner; and that I called myself a pacifist as soon as I heard the word – during that course.

But discussing my view of pacifism leads to why I soon parted company with the Mahatma, and why, until I found the project whilst tidying a cupboard, I have not thought about him or watched the film in 20 years.

One of Gandhi’s most distinctive ideals was what is translated as “truth weapon”. The Attenborough film has many disturbing scenes of Gandhi and his followers being repeatedly hit without hitting back. As the teenage me quoted, Gandhi saw that the hurt should be taken by us, not the opponent. I do not like this.

Ever since Gripper bullied Rowland on school TV series Grange Hill, I have hated to see victims not stand up for themselves, whatever the situation. My pacifism is not to take up arms in war, rebellion, or revenge. It is not to never defend.

Self suffering is another theme I have always rejected, which includes asceticism. I wonder how his wife felt about the decision to have no sex anymore. A sexual guilt that parallels St Augustine’s (father of Christianity’s Original Sin) came from Gandhi being in bed with his wife whilst his father died in the same house. Understandable, but it is sad to think that Gandhi saw this act as giving into carnality and letting his father down. Gandhi, the same age then as I was when I wrote the project, had spend many hours massaging his ill father’s feet. My view now would be that not only had Gandhi cared well for his father, but that his father chose his time of departure when his son was close but otherwise engaged in a positive act, not something unspiritual and undisciplined to feel shameful about.

What most stuck with me is the related subjects which I did not put in that project, but that I clearly recall, two decades on. To prove his lack of attachment to earthly desires, Gandhi would sleep naked with young pretty virgins to show his control. Recalling the elderly King David’s young human bedwarmers, this is gross and arrogant and abusive. There is a cult around him, with women flocking to his exposed though wrinkled body. Gandhi is strangely sexual and taunting, giving off a mixed message of abstinence and temptation, perhaps a little distorted by the thin aging body he sported. It also makes me think of the disgraced Sheffield vicar I deliberately won’t name who was put in prison for his posse of massaging women, as an abuser.

I was also struck by the cult status around Gandhi when he twice threatened to starve himself to death to quell his angry followers. At once it is a shrewd move, knowing his importance and death would stop the riots; but it’s a also egocentric and a form of masochistic blackmail, typically putting the suffering onto himself but demonstrating his truth weapon that you can make others suffer for what’s going on in your body. It is not overcoming through love but subjecting your opponent to an inverse torture until they too give in – like the show down with Wonder Woman and the Japanese relocation camp victim, to see whose willpower gives up first.

The possessionless leader is something I have thought about with other Hindus and societies, and may form a post in itself (I have written a sermon on it – the Wisdom of the Smurfs). Living without a home expects others to finance you, that those in the system allow you to stay out of it. And Gandhi’s ashrams do not appeal – a life of sewing, toilet cleaning and other practical tasks. You can clean toilets, Gandhi as a spiritual exercise – I shall find something else!

I can see why Gandhi fell off my list of favourite films and favourite or influential people, though it is good to be reminded of him and to work out my own spiritual and political beliefs in contrast to his. However, I do remain inspired that a man could head a movement to achieve so much, and rightly allow India to become free.

One thing did resonate – the story of how he confessed something to his father and instead of remonstrations or punishments, his father cried, and that moved Gandhi more than any chastisements could. Now, there is a sermon in that…

Leave a comment

Filed under cinema, history, society, spirituality