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September 19th, 2002
Soul of India

About the Film

The bloody conflict between Hindus and Muslims in northwestern India is at the forefront of a struggle for India’s identity, led by an increasingly powerful Hindu nationalist movement whose goal is to turn India into a Hindu nation. Over the last three months, at least 850 Muslims have been killed — some estimates go as high as 2,000 — in the Province of Gujarat, and more than 100,000 Muslims have fled to refugee camps.

This outbreak of communal violence has a long history. The recent mob violence in Gujarat was kindled in late February, 2002, when a Muslim crowd in Godhra attacked a train carrying Hindu nationalists, killing 58 people. The victims of this attack were returning from a gathering in Ayodhya, where ten years earlier Hindu nationalists had torn down a centuries old Muslim temple.

The film focuses in part on the efforts of India’s supercop, K.P.S. Gill, a Sikh, sent by the federal government to quell the violence in Gujarat and on Harish Bhatt, a leader of the Bajrang Dal or Monkey Brigade, India’s largest Hindu youth movement. Amid recruitment drives and martial arts training, Bhatt imbues the young with the spirit of Hindu nationalism. At the same time, Gill attempts to keep order as preparations are made for the dramatic Rathyatra, an annual religious parade of painted elephants and Hindu songs.

The specter of communal violence has haunted India from its birth as an independent nation in 1947, when more than a million people died as the subcontinent was partitioned into India and Pakistan.

For more than 50 years, secular co-existence has survived in the world’s largest democratic nation. Will India, home to more than a billion people, continue to be the multi-ethnic, religiously diverse, secular, and tolerant society that Gujarat’s Mahatma Gandhi attempted to create? Or will the nation be split by an increasingly powerful Hindu nationalist movement?

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